We all know flatwork can be boring—for both you and your horse. Spice up your routine with some horse riding exercises! Riding exercises can help encourage suppleness, collection, and bending. Certain exercises can be great for riders too, improving your seat and building core muscles. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, every horse rider will benefit from these exercises.
1. Who Needs Stirrups?
You’ve probably heard of No Stirrup November. It is beloved by trainers and loathed by riders. It is unquestionably difficult to master, but it is an unbeatable exercise for building strength, balance, and confidence in the saddle. You do not have to restrict your progress to one month. Slowly incorporate stirrupless exercises into your rides. You can start by dropping your stirrups while you are cooling off to get used to the feel of being without them. Then, maybe try sitting a light jog. Over time, you will be able to start posting and canter without stirrups. You will see firsthand how much going stirrupless can improve your riding!
2. Arm Exercises
Balance is something we have all struggled with from time to time. However, good balance is essential to make a harmonious horse and rider. Arm exercises can help improve your balance. Try keeping one hand on the reins while you stick the opposite arm out and make small circles in the air. Then, switch arms and exercise the other. If you can, have somebody put your horse on a lunge line so they have control, and try to do this exercise with both arms at the same time. Bonus points if you can maintain the posting trot while doing it!
The spiral exercise puts a fun twist on circles and helps your horse with bending. To get started, place a cone in the center of your arena. Begin this exercise at the walk, making large 20-meter circles around the cone. Slowly start to spiral inwards towards the cone, making your circles smaller and smaller until your horse is unable to make them any tighter. Once your circles are as small as possible, slowly start to spiral outwards until you are back in your original 20-meter circle. Then, repeat the exercise at a trot and canter. Be sure to practice the spiral exercise in both directions so your horse builds up strength on each side.
4. Fun and Games!
If you are an instructor, you know that sometimes implementing fun into lessons is the best way for kids to learn. There are several riding exercises out there that can help improve riding skills and confidence without making it boring. One popular riding game is Egg and Spoon. It is pretty much exactly how it sounds: put an egg on a spoon and try to keep the egg from falling while you ride. Riders must remain balanced and stable to keep the egg on the spoon. Another one to try is Simon Says, which puts an equestrian-style twist on the classic game. It is a clever way to direct your riders while still keeping it light and fun. Red Light, Green Light is another classic game you can use in the arena. This will help riders gain confidence in their transitions as it requires them to speed up and slow down quickly.
5. Backing Exercises
You do not always have to be focused on going forwards, sometimes going backwards can be just as beneficial! Backing up engages your horse’s core and builds muscle in their hind end. If your horse does not back up often under saddle, they might be resistant to it at first. You can begin with groundwork to help them gain confidence before you implement it into your riding routine. Once they are comfortable backing up under saddle, you can make it more challenging by creating patterns with cones, poles, or cavalettis to back through. Create a serpentine pattern out of cones or an L shape out of cavalettis and try to maneuver through it backwards!
Speaking of cavalettis, they are perfect for building muscle while promoting flexibility. They encourage horses to lift themselves up and utilize their core and back. Randomly sprinkle some cavalettis around your arena to give your horse a challenge. Once your horse gets used to them, you can create a circle out of cavalettis, which will simultaneously help with bending, collection, suppleness, and build muscle!
7. Figure Eights
Figure eights: the classic riding exercise. It may seem like a no-brainer, but figure eights are a beneficial addition to your riding routine! It helps with balance, bending, and suppleness. Plus, there are a million ways to make figure eights fun. Make the center your point of transition. Try making one circle slow and collected, and at the center, switch gears into an extension. Then, come back down to the slow gait at the center. Or use the center to transition from gait to gait. Do one walk circle, then switch to the trot in the center, then move into the canter when you reach the middle again, and then go back down to the walk and start over. Be creative with it!
Flatwork doesn’t have to be boring. Riding exercises are beneficial for both you and your horse. There are a myriad of horse riding exercises out there to help with all kinds of problems riders face. They can build muscle and improve suppleness, balance, collection, and boost your confidence! Try adding some of these exercises into your next ride. Let us know how it goes in the comments below!