(Hi everyone - I've been tied up with some other things lately so got a little behind with the blog but all's well and I'm back now and have several more written and ready to go so........ read on!)
Those of you who know me know that I strongly believe that everytime you touch a horse "you're either training it or untraining it". So whether you ride for fun or for show, it's can be really beneficial to have a plan in mind when you begin any ride. First, you must have a general goal or aim in mind. Maybe you just want your horse to walk when it's on the trail next time it's out with other horses. Or maybe you need to work on improving passing on the rail or backing up in a straight line before your next show. Ideas can run the gamut so look critically at your rides and determine what part might benefit from a thoughtful strategy.
I advise people to identify problems or weak areas but there is also always room for improvement on most everything and since horses are animals, not machines, they are always changing. Horses are not static so they're never fully "set". And riders keep learning for their entire "riding career". Even the best broke horse and most accomplished rider can benefit from a "tune up" ride.
So, after you have identified your goal, you'll need to think of the exercises - for horse or rider - or perhaps the patterns, that will help you and your horse achieve the goal. I also really like to vary my rides. I find that horses blossom under training regimens that differ daily, offering different challenges for their body and mind. This really helps keep a horse "fresh".
Those exercises might include reverse arcs to help with shoulder issues, or backing up a step at a time to overcome an issue with rushing. Exercises might be for you too - such as riding without stirrups to work on your posture or looking up and "aiming" at something in the distance and riding a perfectly straight line to it - feeling your horse and making sure they never lean on your hands or legs. Or, you might ride with a focus on your own shoulders to make sure one isn't drooping to the inside. Exercises for your horse could include putting out a cone and attempting to ride a perfect large circle around it, then spiraling down to a perfect small circle (harder than it seems! Don't let your horse lean in - everything must remain balanced!)
Side passes, shoulders in (or out), canter/lope a circle-halt-pivot-canter/lope-repeat, shorten a walking stride to one step-count to five-one step-count to five, trot or jog over a pole and on and on and on - the possibilities are nearly endless but different exercises and routines all accomplish different things.
To incorporate a plan into your training ride you must also understand what the different routines and exercises accomplish and you need to be able to ride them properly so ask your trainer or a professional to suggest some "home work" if you're not sure where to begin. And remember that something that works with one horse may not work well with another. You'll also find that given your horse's discipline, some exercises just are not appropriate, maybe even counter productive - like trying to teach an English horse to do roll-backs.
I hope this gives you ideas about how to ride with a plan next time you're enjoying your horse! Talk to you next week, JD.