How well can you ride without a saddle? Can you post without stirrups? How well do you ride without your reins? If you struggle to ride in any of these circumstances, you may need to work on your riding skills. While time in the saddle does help to improve your riding, there are certain exercises that will improve your balance and equitation.
As you are working to improve the areas in you riding that are weak remember no horse or environment is completely controllable. Take safety precautions when doing riding exercises. Wear a helmet to protect your head. Ride in a safe environment with minimal distractions such as a riding arena or preferably a round pen. It’s also a good idea to start out on a lunge line with a grounds person to control your horse. Start out at the slowest pace that you are comfortable with and do not progress until you’re proficient at the slower gaits. Also use a well- trained horse that will tolerate inconsistencies in balance and gripping on their sides.
The first common exercise is riding bareback. Make sure you are not wearing spurs when you work on this exercise. Riding bareback allows you to feel the movement of your horse so that you become in tune to how they move. You can also work on balance. Your goal in riding bareback is to be able to stay on without having to grip with your legs.
Another common exercise is riding without stirrups. This also gives you a chance to work on balance and leg strength. You can add intensity to this exercise by posting at a walk and trot without your stirrups. This helps to build leg strength and develop timing with your horse. When posting at either gait remember to rise and fall with the leg on the wall. In other words, when the outside leg is up, you should also be in time and up in the air as well.
Whether we realize it or not, our balance is often dependent on having the reins in our hands. Sometimes we use the tension in the reins to balance, but also the mere act of just having something in our hands impacts our balance as well. A good exercise to counteract this dependency is to ride in the saddle with your arms straight out to the sides or straight up above your head. This develops steady and independent hands.
Where we look and how we carry our heads has an influence on our balance. If you look down at the ground or ride with your chin tucked, your weight will shift forward. Riding with your chin down originates from insecurity in riding. One exercise to improve this insecurity is to ride with your eyes looking at the sky. While you might not think this exercise would have that much of an impact on how you ride, once you attempt this exercise you’ll quickly see how hard it is to do.
Improving horsemanship and riding skills is a lifelong process. Time well spent in the saddle with these exercises will help you to improve your balance and timing with your horse.