Archive for the ‘Back in the Saddle’ Category

Ms Hill,

I am 59, rode for 40 years but  had a hip  replaced about four years ago and need to get the other done sometime in the not to distant future. 

Talking to my physical therapist about getting back in the saddle and asking for exercises or what-ever to try to improve the range of motion in both hip sockets is like trying to get an answer out of my dog.  (and due to restrictions of my medical insurance I can’t go to another therapist.)

Do you know of any books that address this issue, or know of any group that works with rider disabilities who might be able to help me get back in the saddle? 


Hi Dianne,

I’m posting this in hopes that one of the readers of this blog might be able to help you specifically with a group or book recommendation. I don’t know of any specifically related to hip replacements and riding.

However I have heard that hip replacements enable people to ride, rather than disable, so I’d think of it that way !

I’d start by asking your doctor and/or physical therapist specifically what limitations you have in terms of exercise, such as you shouldn’t go past a certain angle with your artificial hip joint. Also in terms of the other hip joint that will need to be replaced in the future, ask which exercises would exacerbate whatever the condition is that is going to require you to get that hip replaced too. Just like with horses, some exercises would accelerate damage to an already deteriorated joint. So ask which movements are safe and which are not for each hip as they currently are.

Once you know what you shouldn’t do, that will rule out certain yoga poses, certain Pilates exercises and some general fitness and stretching exercises.

Also, again asking your doctor and/or PT – they probably have a standard handout or booklet they give patients of exercises to prepare for and recover from surgery. This will make a good basis for your program.

I hesitate to go much further than that because I’m not a doctor or a PT and every person’s situation is different.

Hip Flexor Stretch

If it were me, I’d find out what I shouldn’t do and then start with simple exercises, adding repetitions, weight or difficulty…..always listening to your body.

And finally, one of the best ways to get back in the saddle is to get back in the saddle with the help of a mounting block. Even if for a few minutes every day, gentle walking, moseying around.

Best of luck and please feel free to post any comments, information directly here on this blog.


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Hi Cherry,

I am soon to be 57 and started the horse thing 3 yrs ago due to I had lived in the city all my life.

I now live in the country with only 1 1/2 acer’s and 2 horse’s.  I work full time and I am a sissy with the extreme cold or heat.

I need incourgement with training.  Whats the least amount of time I need to spend with horse in order to get results and how many months should I look forward to the results. I am looking to get closer to the 2 I have and really get them to trust me so I will feel safer on them.  I have round bin now and am looking at some of the Perrelli DVD’s to learn.   I just got bucketed off my 10 yr old walker last wk on to my head and she has never done that or kicked at me. But we were near home and she heard the other marer and I think she just wanted to go back–I let her put her head down which I no better but just not enough experence.

What can you tell me that would help me.

Thanks, Trish

Hi Trish,

First of all, congratulations on your move to the country to make your dream come true of owning a horse !

As far as how much time? Even professional horse trainers will tell you that it takes a lot of time to get a horse to the point where the horse is confident and solid in his desirable responses.

In fact, a common answer to “How long will it take…..??” is often “Take the time it takes.” In other words, you have to measure your horse handling, training and riding by results rather than a clock or a calendar.

Your horse will tell you each day what you need to work on and when it is time to move on to something new. Start with something simple like catching and haltering. If that goes smoothly, then you can move on to some other ground work or tacking up and riding. But if the catching and haltering has some issues such as avoidance, high headedness, being distracted by other horses, invasion of your personal space or other such things, you need to iron those things out first before you move on.

Specifically in regards to your letter, the horse you were riding was exhibiting barn sour, herd bound, or buddy bound behavior. As you know from landing on your head, you need to work on that first and foremost. There are a number of articles on that topic on my Horse Information Roundup.

In addition, my latest book What Every Horse Should Know discusses the importance of developing Respect, Patience, and Partnership and NO FEAR of People, Things, Restriction or Restraint.

Best of luck,


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Dear Cherry,

My name is Kelsey. I’m 16 years old and I have been learning to ride for about 6-9 months now and have yet to go any further than a jog on my 4-year-old quarter horse. My first riding instructor said she could no longer teach me no more because I’m, according to her, “Way behind the rest of the students and wont go any further”. I know I have a fear of loping because my first bad experience with a horse was when she spooked and started loping. I fell off but was being dragged by the stirrup till I grabbed a hold of the paddock fencing and was free. My horse spooked recently and went into a lope and I had to get off and didn’t have the courage to get back on him. Today I started loping on a lunge line but I was so scared I needed to take an adivan in able to calm down. When I tried to lope for the 3rd time my foot came out of my stirrup and I was scared I was going to fall so my new teacher had to quickly act to make him stop. I want more than anything to lope, but this fear keeps holding me back from actually wanting to do it and do have to courage to do so. I’m scared I’ll never be able to lope on my horse and will be stuck in novice class events forever and will always be considered a nervous and novice rider when all my peers have learned how to lope in less than 6-9 months. Is there anything I can do to help get rid of this fear and be able to actually run with my horse and lope like my peers without having to rely on drugs to calm me down to do so?

Thanks for your time Cherry!

Hi Kelsey,

Well, if you were here, I’d say, just hop on behind me and we’d go loping off. That way you wouldn’t have to be in control of the horse, you could hold onto me around the waist, and just soak in the feeling of the rhythm of the lope. After a few minutes, you’d be thinking, “Wow, this feels wonderful” and you’d relax and soon become addicted to loping ! On a well trained, smooth gaited horse, the lope is wonderful rolling gait with a soothing, rocking motion to it. You’ll love it once you find a steady horse and can relax. Relaxation is the key because if you are tense, you probably are making the horse tense….and worrying your instructor.

But you should know that MANY people are afraid to lope, so don’t feel like the Lone Ranger ! It is because the lope is such a free, rolling motion, and that the horse’s feet come off the ground, that you might feel like you are floating and have lost control for a second in each stride. AND if the horse is not absolutely steady and well trained, you might not feel as confident.

So, if you know someone with a kind, gentle horse with smooth gaits, and the rider is very experienced and the horse has been ridden “double” (two riders), ask if you can hop on behind. If that is not an option, then I would suggest to continue to pursue longe lessons because that is a great way to allow you to focus on your balance and rhythm without needing to control the horse.

How do you feel about heights in general? Do you have the same fear when your ride a bike or motorcycle? How about skiing? Sometimes you can overcome one fear by facing another.

Best of luck and have a great ride.

Cherry Hill

for more information on riding see Becoming an Effective Rider

Becoming an Effective Rider by Cherry Hill

Becoming an Effective Rider by Cherry Hill

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A reader wrote:

I am just starting to go thru your informative tidbits. I have the 101 tips on tape and love the hints. Now if I could only find an answer to my mare’s obsession to switching her tail so much it turns into a hair club. She is a pasture horse, rarely groomed and comes to a whistle from anywhere on the ranch. She also loves ANY open gate! LOL.

Thanks for the visit. Horses develop some repetitive behavior patterns that originally might have been caused by a specific reason, but even after the reason is gone, the habit persists. Tail switching is often like that. If you purchased the horse from someone else, you may never know how the habit started initially.
Tail switching basically indicates irritation – either physical or mental. A horse might start obsessive tail switching due to many reasons which can include irritation at training, bad fitting tack, restriction by the bridle, more pressure than than horse can handle mentally, a dirty sheath or udder, parasites or ticks in the tail or anal area, skin problems on the hindquarters or belly, general mare behavior related to estrus and many other causes.

When a horse switches its tail continually, it whips the hair into “witches curls”, like the wind does in a long mane, and those, in turn, make the “club” you are referring to. As I see it, given the pasture status of your horse, you have 3 basic choices:

1. Untangle the tail and condition it every couple of weeks with a detangler. There are those that are creams that are rubbed in, spray on types and gels. These make the hair slick or glassy and less apt to tangle.

2. Braid the tail in a pasture braid like I demonstrate in my video 101 Horsekeeping Tips– since you have that DVD, you can refer to it.

3. Ignore the club.

But really, the best choice might be to change your horse’s status from pasture horse to riding horse ! Then you can keep her tail untangled each day as you get her ready to ride and you can enjoy her tail flowing out behind you as you gallop off in the Texas dawn……………
101 Horsekeeping Tips DVD by Cherry Hill

101 Horsekeeping Tips DVD by Cherry Hill

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Companion Sports

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

So that you can keep in shape year round, even during the non-riding season, continue walking, stretching exercises and strength training. In addition, try to find other activities that will keep you ready to ride. Companion sports will help you minimize weight gain, prevent muscle atrophy, and reduce chance of injury when you do return to active riding. Even if you ride all year, it is a good idea to participate in other sports or activities to make you a well-rounded person mentally and physically.

Brisk walking and bicycling provide great cardiopulmonary benefits and fine-tune your rhythm and equilibrium. Cross-country skiing is a wonderful off-season sport to keep your muscles and cardiopulmonary system in shape. The characteristic crouch of the skier uses many of the same muscles as riding does, and the aerobic exercise is unequaled in winter sports.

Indoor cross-training can include various types of dancing. Ballet improves flexibility and the ability to execute patterned movements. Ballroom or country and western dancing can improve your coordination and the ability to perform sequenced movements. Fencing utilizes some of the same leg muscles as riding and can improve your reaction time as well as developing a sense of poise in your body carriage. Gymnastics can improve balance, strength, poise, and focus.

East Meets West

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese system of relaxed concentration that focuses the mind, balances the body and enhances energy. It is practiced through a series of hand and body movements with a great emphasis on breathing. Tai Chi can help a rider gain body awareness and coordination and when it comes time to sit on a horse, many riders have found that Tai Chi helps them to be a more balanced and perceptive rider.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Endurance is resistance to fatigue and the ability to recover quickly from fatigue. In order to increase either muscular endurance or cardiopulmonary endurance, you must work beyond your present level of endurance to experience the effect of progressive overloading. Long, slow distance work develops a base for more intense conditioning. Walking requires minimal equipment and is a safe form of exercise. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of brisk walking at least 3 times a week. Other alternatives are stair stepping, aerobic exercise, treadmill, rowing machine and other companion sports (see sidebar).

To increase your fitness level so you’re capable of handling high stress events, use interval training. Interval training consists of brief work periods or “works” interspersed with rest or light work. You might begin with ten minutes of standing in the stirrups or trotting (either mounted or alongside your horse) followed by a five-minute walk break, repeating for 45-60 minutes. Within two months you may have moved up to an hour-and-a-half session with fifteen-minute lope and trot works and two-minute breaks. With interval training you can increase your endurance potential by:

      • increasing the number of works
      • increasing the length of the works
      • increasing the intensity of the works
      • decreasing the number of rest periods
      • decreasing the length of the rest periods
      • performing the work in hot weather.

Riding is an athletic pursuit that requires mental preparation, conditioning and skill development. Whether you are learning to ride or getting back in the saddle, take the time to prepare yourself for it so you can enjoy riding, the best activity out there.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Strength is the ability of your body or a part of your body to apply a force. You can use isometric exercises to increase strength of various muscles. Isometric exercises consist of muscular contractions performed in a fixed, non-moving fashion. Isometrics can be performed in almost any place for short periods of time, wearing everyday street clothing. You can perform isometrics as you drive your car, work at a desk, or wash dishes. An observer will probably not detect that you are exercising.

Breathing is especially important during isometrics or blood pressure can rise, decreasing the flow of blood to your heart. On the other hand, if you breathe excessively (hyperventilate) before you exercise, and then hold your breath, you may faint.

Isometrics help you target specific muscle groups and strengthen them through prolonged contractions. The abdominals, for example, which keep the lower back and buttocks deep in the saddle, need to be strong. The abdominal contraction required for riding is more of a pushing out rather than a sucking in. To learn how to contract your abdominals without hollowing your back, place your hands on your abdomen and press your muscles against your palms. Exhale as your press your abdominals out and inhale as you relax the contraction. Once you have identified the feeling of an abdominal contraction using your hands, you will be able to perform this isometric exercise anywhere, any time.

To strengthen the inner and outer thighs, find an immovable object (the wall, the side of a desk, a footstool, etc.) that you can place your knees or ankles alongside. Then push outward to strengthen the outer thigh muscles and push inward to strengthen the inner thigh muscles.

An ideal way to increase the strength of specific muscles is to follow a training program using free weights and/or weighted resistance via a weight machine. Start with minimal weights and concentrate on establishing good form before you add more weight. Three 30-minute sessions per week will show great improvement in 4-6 weeks. Monitor your body’s response carefully and make weight changes accordingly.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Durability is the toughness, strength, and soundness of your joints. The best way to become a more durable rider is to ride more! As you are strengthening your knees and ankles give them an occasional break by riding at a walk with your feet out of the stirrups or get off and lead.

Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM – they’re not just for your horse!

Vet supply and drug store shelves are packed with glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate supplements which claim the ability to repair joint cartilage and/or slow degeneration. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is marketed as an anti-inflammatory especially helpful in pain relief of soft tissue injury. While studies on the effectiveness of these products have various conclusions, their margin of safety is high. And first-hand testimonies abound from folks with previously frozen or creaky joints who can now use their arms and knees in a full range of motion. Such nutraceuticals may be well worth a personal look and test. (Note that some folks have an allergy to shark cartilage which is the source of some MSM.)

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Coordination is a combination of balance, timing, agility, and maneuverability.

Since your nervous system is the last to respond to training, it may take years to fine-tune your neuromuscular skills. That’s one of the reasons why a smooth performance is so greatly admired in top-notch riders – it takes time to develop! Once you have developed riding skills, however, they are much easier to regain. Like riding a bike, you never forget.

Practice is the most valuable way to improve your sense of timing, providing you don’t practice something so many times that it makes you sore or your horse hyper-anticipatory, resentful, or sour. Imagine or anticipate the action just prior to a particular movement in order to get your muscles ready. Use quiet verbal or mental preparatory commands to help develop a sense of timing for the aids. Participation in active companion sports will also increase your coordination and timing.

Be absolutely sure that you are practicing a component correctly because it will become a habit whether it is right or wrong. If you ride incorrectly, you may be faced with a very difficult and time-intensive relearning process. Many riders have lamented, “I rode wrong for twenty years and am now trying to retrain my body to ride correctly.” It is much more difficult to change deeply ingrained old habits than it is to learn correct ones the first time around.

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Flexibility is the range of motion of a joint. A rider must be especially flexible in the pelvis and hips. The rhythmic movement of a horse can improve your flexibility because the movement of the horse closely approximates the movement of your pelvis during walking. That is the basis of hippotherapy, a form of physical therapy that uses a well-trained and balanced horse to improve a person’s posture, balance, muscle tone, mobility, and function.

The older you are, the more time and attention you will have to spend to ensure that you are comfortable during riding and after. It is best if you work stretching into your everyday life. I have the following rule written on the activity board in my barn, “Make things less convenient”. More than one person has asked me, “What the heck does that mean??!!” It is just a way of reminding myself that convenient is seldom better when it comes to maintaining flexibility. So I design some of my barn chores (and office and domestic tasks) to be less convenient. I walk out to feed each horse on pasture twice a day; I put frequently used items on the top shelf so I have to stretch to reach for them; I bend over to use a short brush and pan to pick up manure and debris in the grooming area.

You can use isotonic exercises to tone and stretch your body. Isotonics are exercises in motion, the kind you probably have done all of your life. Perform these exercises with slow, steady stretches. Bouncing can dangerously exceed a tissue’s extensibility and result in injury.

Here are some of my favorites:

The quadriceps stretch – to improve flexibility of the large muscles on the front of the thigh. If quads are tense, they may prevent you from developing a long leg as you ride. Stand on one leg (you may need to grasp a support) and grab your other ankle with the hand on the same side. Smoothly pull your heel toward your buttocks. Keep your back straight and extend your hip (downward). Hold. Repeat with the other leg. You can do this exercise before you mount, during a break, and after you ride.

Hamstring stretch – to lengthen the large muscles at the back of the thigh for a deep seat and long leg. Stand keeping one leg straight. Bend the other leg slightly at the knee and move its foot around the front to the floor on the outside of the other foot. Bend at the waist and reach for the floor. You will feel the “burn” at the back of your straight leg.

Side stretch – to elongate the side of your body, especially beneficial for a rider with a collapsed side. With your feet hip-width apart, raise one hand over your head. Reach for the ceiling as you stand on your tiptoes and feel your entire side elongate.

Lunge – to strengthen the quadriceps and stretch the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon for “heels down”. Place one foot 2 feet ahead of the other. Bend the knee of the front leg, keeping the back leg straight and the back heel on the floor. Hold your arms out to your sides, horizontal to the floor, keeping your back straight. You should feel a strengthening in the quadriceps of the front leg and a stretch of the gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon of the back leg. Repeat with other leg.

The stirrup stretch – to improve the balance, coordination, and stretching of the obliques required for mounting. With one foot flat on the floor and the opposite hand on your hip, raise the other leg with the knee bent so the thigh is at least horizontal. Reach the opposite elbow toward the knee. Hold. Repeat with the other leg.

Symmetry stance – to improve your overall balance, symmetry and poise. You’ll need a mirror or a friend to critique you. With your feet placed wider than your shoulders to approximate the position on a horse, arms out horizontally from shoulders, tuck your buttocks as if to sit. Keeping your lower back straight, squat as far as you can toward the floor while keeping your correct position. Regulate your breathing.

Calf stretch – to stretch your gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon in order to help you ride with a long leg and low heel. Stand with your knees straight and the balls of your feet on the edge of a 2-4-inch step. Let your heels stretch down. Hold five seconds. Rest or raise above the step on your toes.

Back stretch – to stretch your lower back and hamstrings for preventing a hollow back. Lie flat on a floor or mat. Bring one or both knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around your upper shins and hug your legs toward your chest for a better stretch. Keeping your back flat, slowly raise your head and touch your nose to your knees. Hold for five seconds. Slowly uncurl. Repeat. Don’t forget to breathe.

Lower back relaxer – to stretch and relax your lower back and hamstrings and round your lower back. This exercise is convenient in the arena or along the trail. Use it before, during, or after riding. With your feet flat on the ground, squat so your seat reaches for your ankles. Clasp your arms around your legs, rest your chin on your knees, and let your muscles relax. Once you have practiced this relaxer, you will find your body remembers it and will automatically configure in that position when you squat to put bandages or boots on your horse’s legs or to clip his legs.

Abdominal strengthener – to tighten and strengthen the abdominal muscles for protecting your lower back as you ride. With knees bent and feet flat on floor, your back, shoulders, and head flat on the floor, point your arms forward toward your knees. Exhale and slowly begin lifting your head, one vertebra at a time, to raise your shoulders off the floor. Inhale as you let yourself down just as slowly.

Lateral leg lifts – to improve the range of motion of the hip joint and to strengthen the thigh muscles for effective leg aids.

Version A. Lying on one side, support your upper body with a bent elbow. Keeping your lower leg extended on the floor, raise the other leg. With your foot parallel to the floor, alternate extending your toe and heel.

Version B. In the same position, bend your upper leg and place the foot on the lower leg at the knee. Raise and lower the lower leg. The added weight of the upper leg creates more work for your lower leg.

Hip stretch – to stretch and relax some of those difficult-to-reach hip and buttock muscles that can get tight as a result of riding. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Bend one leg at the knee and cross that foot over to the outside of the opposite thigh. Draw the leg close to your body, keeping your back straight. Hold.

When it comes to riding, be sure to warm up both yourself and your horse. Take it easy. Don’t risk injury. Here is one of those situations where the slower you go, the faster you will get there. Tack your horse up and lead him around the arena or use longeing or ground driving to warm him up and be sure you get plenty of walking and stretching in before you mount up.

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