Olivia Miller joined Sharon White’s team at Last Frontier Farm in 2021 after spending time working in California with Tamie Smith. This year, Olivia participated in her first “Hell Week”, an annual intensive training event inspired by Jim Wofford and intended to strengthen riders’ bodies in preparation for the season. Olivia checks in with her top takeaways in the blog below, and you can follow her on Instagram for more updates from behind the scenes at Last Frontier Farm!
As a working student for Sharon White, I had heard buzz around the barn about “Hell Week”, which is a series of exercises designed to increase strength, balance and coordination. I was excited to experience it for myself and continue to build tools to enhance my riding. Going into Hell Week I had seen a bit of what I was getting myself into after watching riders before me, and it was definitely something that had piqued my interest.
The ability to maneuver yourself and perform different strength-developing and flexibility exercises on your horse is not something we often think about. But after breaking it down and putting the Hell Week exercises in motion on the horse, they really help develop the rider’s ability to be more connected.
To start Hell Week, we reevaluated how the rider’s position, balance, and intentions affect the horse. Horses go how they are ridden, so being able to manipulate yourself in a way that does not hinder your horse is key. We then practiced a series of stretches at the walk, trot, and canter to help relieve any tension and stiffness the rider carries. This included ankle rolls, arm circles, body twisters (bringing your arms out to the side like and airplane and then twisting from side to side), thigh stretchers (trying to touch your heel to your butt).
You can see these exercises in the video below:
Following those stretches, we then moved into more specific exercises such as sit-ups at the walk and canter — to do this, you lean forward with your arms across your chest, touching your head to your horse’s neck, then lean back and touch your head on the horse’s back and repeat. This exercise engages the rider’s core and promotes balance in the seat.
A second Hell Week exercise is to practice sending your horse forward and then collecting them without reins or stirrups on a lunge line. Not only does this make the horses more aware and responsive to how your position and balance affects them, it also shows the rider how much we can influence our horses without reins and stirrups.
We also did side-saddle at the walk, trot and canter, where we first practiced bringing our legs over the neck and switching sides and then, once we established that, doing the same at the trot and canter. Part of being an eventer is knowing how to instinctively find your balance when you don’t have anything to wrap your legs around, and this is a great exercise that can help riders sit more centered when they are in a normal seated position.
One of our final exercises was what we called “extreme jockey position” which is exactly what is sounds like. To do this, bring your knees up until they are above the pommel and then use your balance, inner thigh strength, and core to hold yourself up. Finding your balance in this position without stirrups or reins is a really good exercise to make your two-point much more secure. This exercise forces you to use your entire body to create a correct position when the only points of contact are your knees on the saddle (the weight distribution is really about the same as riding normally — when you are using your muscles to hold your position, you aren’t dead weight!).
These exercises are a great way to go out and try something new with your horse while still being productive (and remember, be safe!). After a few days of Hell Week, the exercises made normal riding seem that much easier and we all left with more confidence.