We ride for different reasons, and those reasons can change over time. So, I asked J. Michael Plumb (JMP) what he likes to work on when not preparing for a competition … and … now that he no longer competes, he brought it up — being ‘in it for the riding.’ But what does that mean?
What do you need to work on? This is not, “Oh, I curl my wrists.” Or “I look down when I ask for the canter.” This is digging deep and doing some real soul-searching. Sometimes it’s not so pretty and quite uncomfortable, too.
‘In it for the riding’ to become a better rider. ‘In it for the riding’ for your horse. Really improving your horsemanship communication skills.
Here are some exercises that can help us all become better equestrians:
- Riding without stirrups, with a relaxed lower leg, is a great way to work on position and use of aids. Leave your stirrups on your saddle (if your horse will not tolerate them or cross them over in front of the saddle) — this is not “No Stirrup November.” Benefits of this include sitting in balance and practicing using your seat and legs. If you can only do this safely at the walk, then so be it; if you can do this at the trot, then great; moreover if you can canter this way safely, then, super.
- Holding the reins in one hand and putting your other hand behind your back is a good ‘test’ of testing whether you are riding with seat and legs — or are you riding using only your hands? Try doing the same exercise and using your free hand to hold the pommel of the saddle to pull your seat down into the saddle. This is a great exercise to find your seat in the saddle.
- Practice downward transitions without your reins. Can you go from a trot to a walk with just your seat, legs and core (without your hands)? How about a halt transition, keeping your horse straight, and not pulling on the reins?
As JMP went on to say, “Without competitions, or even schooling shows, we can really focus on what the *horse* needs.” What does your horse need? Mine has a great walk, but not so-great canter which sometimes makes it hard to find my spot to a jump … Guess what we are working on?! (Jumping is not the correct answer.)
Take your horse and these exercises out of the ring. Can you go out on the trails and practice the same? Getting our horses out of the ring is so good for their minds! Always keep safety as a priority.
Additionally, is your horse more relaxed at the end of your session? If not, look back at what you can do differently tomorrow to help your horse understand what you are asking. Try smarter, not harder.
Dare yourself to be better with your equitation, with your horsemanship. And, dare yourself to be better…
So many riders’ plans have been upended in these uncharted waters in which we find ourselves. Take this opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons and use this precious time to work on your horse and yourself. You might surprise yourself and your horse!
If you missed the last installment with JMP, you can read it here: Back to BASICs with J. Michael Plumb.