Posts Tagged ‘ambidextrous’

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information


Although you have been able to prepare the young horse for almost every sensation he will experience during the first ride, three things that will be new to him are the feel of your legs on his sides, the feel of your weight on his back, and the sight of you above and behind him.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillYou can get your horse used to your weight on his back by stepping up on a mounting block so you can lean your body over his bareback. You can either have someone hold the horse while you do this or hold onto the leadrope yourself. Be sure to remove any belt buckles that could dig into the horse’s back as you practice this exercise. At first just get him used to the idea of seeing you on both sides of him at the same time. Then lean your weight onto his back, but still keep contact with your feet and the mounting block. Finally lift yourself all the way up on his back and lean all the way over him.

When it comes time to mount and ride, I like to start young horses with a Western saddle even if they are destined to be used as English horses. First of all, the weight of an empty Western saddle does a better job of accustoming a horse’s back to carrying. Second Western Longeing and Long Lining the Western Horsestirrups and fenders familiarize the young horse with movement against his sides preparing him for the feel of your legs. Third, when properly fitted, a Western saddle has less of a tendency to shift when a rider mounts. This is due to the friction of the large contact area of the skirts and the wrapping and enveloping effect that a Western saddle tends to have. And fourth, and perhaps most important, a Western saddle has a larger bearing surface than an English saddle so distributes a rider’s weight over a larger area of the horse’s back muscles. A horse’s back is like a suspension bridge, not really well designed to carry weight. The horse’s neck, abdominals, and back muscles already have a big job suspending the weight of his abdomen and now the muscles must work even harder to keep the back from sagging under the weight of the saddle and rider. The longer, wider bars of a properly fitted Western saddle make bearing the weight of the rider more comfortable for the young horse. Once the horse’s back has begun to strengthen and develop, it can more easily bear a rider’s weight via the panels of a properly fitted English saddle.

To prepare a horse for you being above him during riding, when you groom or clip him, step up on a box or when he is turned out, sit on the top rail of his pen and let him come up and investigate you.

Evaluate Your Every Day Mounting Habits

Become aware of your everyday mounting habits that could use improvement.

  • Do the toes of your left boot dig into a horse’s side as you rise to mount? Pointed toe boots are particularly inappropriate when mounting unless you choose to mount facing forward.

  • Does the saddle shift way off to the left side because you have to pull yourself up with your arms rather than lift yourself up with the muscles of your left leg?

  • Do you wobble as you swing over the horse and throw him off balance or bump him on the croup?

  • Does your seat land with a thud in the saddle or do you have the muscle control to lower yourself softly into the saddle?

  • Does your right leg slap his side as you find your position or do you let your leg settle softly on his side?

If you have any of these problems, practice mounting a safe, trained horse until your bad habits are replaced with good ones. Here is one place where being in good physical condition will help you perform more effectively and safely.

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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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Improving Balance

Balance is equilibrium, a state where weight is equally distributed. 90 percent of humans are right-handed but both left- and right-handed riders need to be ambidextrous. The rider who is equally strong and coordinated on both sides has a better chance of having a comfortable and safe ride. Stretching and strength-training exercises can help you even your left and rights sides. When riding, first pay attention to your posture at the halt and walk. Work on form before you add speed. Stand in your stirrups at all 3 gaits to improve your balance.

Switch Sides

  • When cleaning stalls, switch the normal position of your hands on the fork.
  • When grooming, hold the curry in the opposite hand.
  • Comb your hair and brush your teeth with your opposite hand (and get ready to laugh!)
  • Open gates and stalls with a different hand every day.
  • Lead from the off side.
  • Mount from the off side.

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