As athletes, every equestrian knows the key to maintaining and improving skill is to practice. We get in the saddle as often as we can and continually strive to be better horseback riders. The challenge comes in, however, when getting on your horse isn’t an option. Whether you can’t ride because of distance, circumstance, injury, or illness, being separated from your horse can be a difficult reality to face. Not only do you miss spending time at the barn, you also miss out on valuable practice. But don’t worry.
If you can’t ride your horse, there are other activities and exercises that can help improve your skill and keep you fresh. You don’t need a horse, or even a saddle, to stay in shape and improve your riding.
1. Commit to cardio
No matter what non-horse people say, horseback riding involves a lot more than “just sitting there.” Being in the saddle for a long period of time takes impressive stamina and endurance. There’s conditioning involved in preparing your body for extended amounts of riding.
To improve your endurance, use your time out of the saddle to commit to a cardio routine. Regular cardio will boost your overall fitness and help you last longer in the ring. When your body is exhausted, you’re more likely to make mistakes. But when you work on your endurance, you can focus on technique.
If you’re used to riding every day, substitute that time with a cardio workout. Run, swim, ride bike—do any kind of exercise that will raise your heart rate.
2. Work on your core strength
Core strength is something every equestrian needs. It doesn’t matter if you do dressage or barrel racing, your core muscles are what keep you balanced and centered in the saddle. Having a strong core will help improve your overall riding as well as prevent injuries and general back pain.
While you’re planning your cardio workouts, it’s a good idea to incorporate core exercises into a regular workout routine. Any exercise that works your abs will benefit your horseback riding in the long run. Planks, leg lifts, supermans, bicycles, and crunches are all great exercises for when you can’t ride.
3. Practice yoga
Yoga is a type of exercise that blends body and mind. It consists of focused moves that tone and strengthen the body alongside practiced breathing and mindfulness. For equestrians, yoga can be a foundation for improved posture, flexibility, balance, coordination, and body-mind awareness.
Yoga is a low-impact exercise equestrians can do right at home or at the barn. Dressage Rider Trainer lists dolphin pose, warrior II, and pigeon pose as being especially beneficial for equestrians.
4. Read articles and watch videos
Horseback riding is a physical sport, but it’s also knowledge-based. The more knowledge you have, the better your riding will be. Books, videos, and online articles can be great resources. Learning the basics behind certain techniques is the first step to mastering them. And before you can try them out in the saddle, it’s good to have a fundamental understanding of each skill.
Take advantage of the time you can’t ride by diving into the educational side of horseback riding. Buy books or e-books on your chosen discipline, research blogs, and watch videos of training tips. By the time you’re ready to get back in the saddle, your mind will be prepared to help your body learn what to do.
5. Re-watch your own riding videos
If you have videos of yourself riding, now is the perfect time to assess your skills. Re-watch videos taken at shows or even just fooling around. Seeing yourself in the saddle will help you realize exactly what mistakes you usually make and how you can improve.
When you’re focused on riding, it might feel like you’re doing everything right. And if your trainer isn’t around to make corrections, you might not notice your mistakes. But as soon as you see yourself on video, you can tell if your heels were up or your knees were out. Compare your riding videos with footage of professional equestrians and take notes on what you need to work on.
6. Start adjusting your mindset
Horseback riding is incredibly physical, but it’s also mental. Being good means having the right attitude and mental strength. You need to sit in the saddle with confidence and determination. Getting into the right mindset doesn’t always come naturally. It’s easy to become discouraged, nervous, or even unmotivated.
When you can’t ride as often as you want, you can at least work on your overall attitude and mental discipline. You want to be in a positive head-space that will encourage you to work hard and continue to improve. Try finding motivational quotes to read every day. You can also make specific goals and visualize your success. When your mind is on your side, you’ll be in a better position to improve your riding.
7. Practice out-of-the-saddle exercises
When you can’t ride your horse but still want to work on basic riding skills, Olympic dressage rider Belinda Trussel suggests practicing a few out-of-saddle exercises. She spoke with Horse Journals about how riders can correct their technique without even being at the barn. All you’ll need is a partner and some make-shift reigns.
For one of these exercises, Trussel says to wrap a lunge line around your partner’s chest and shoulders. Hold the line as if they were reigns and practice maintaining steady pressure with your hands and arms. Your partner should tell you if you’re using too much pressure. You can learn more about these exercises here.
Regardless of the situation, not being able to ride your horse doesn’t need to be the end of your training. There are plenty of exercises you can do at home to continually improve on your skill. By the time you and your horse are reunited, you’ll feel like you never left the ring.