Struggling to sqeeze in a ride before the sun sets? Try these time saving exercises to keep your horse happy and healthy.
As the nights begin to draw in, it can seem like there are never enough hours in the day, with riding falling to the bottom of the to-do list.
If you’re struggling for riding time, fear not because we’ve teamed up with show jumping star Jay Halim, who’s a bit of an expert when it comes to maximising his time. With a yard full of horses, he knows how important it is to make the most of training, without spending hours cantering round and round in circles.
Here, he explains a range of effective exercises that, when combined, can be used in three time-saving workouts that you can do to beat the clock and keep your horse in perfect condition.
Walk to halt
We often don’t think much about the slower paces, but practising walk-to-halt transitions can get your horse listening and also encourages you to control his every step.
“It sounds strange but try to do this in stages, gradually slowing up each step of the walk with half-halts,” says Jay. “This will give you more control over each step and you’ll be better able to regulate the speed of your walk.”
Work him in walk
If you only have time for a quick march around the block, there’s still a lot you can do in walk. As Jay explains, riding at a slower pace gives you the chance to get the basics right.
“When walking, think about your position,” he says. “Are you sitting up straight, is your weight even in both of your heels and are your elbows in, with your thumbs on top? Go through your checklist and check your position is correct.”
You can make all these checks as you’re warming your horse up, so by the time he’s warm, you’re both focussed on the job in hand.
Leg-yield is the most basic lateral movement and is where your horse moves sideways and forwards at the same time, crossing his outside legs over the inside. It helps to supple him and get him moving away from your leg.
“This is one of the first exercises I’d do once my horse is warm as it gets him listening to your aids,” says Jay. “You can try it along a hedge line or down a quiet country lane if you’re hacking. Look for a point where you want your horse’s shoulder to go and try to keep him as straight as possible. Always go for a little bit of outside flexion but not too much bend in his neck.”
How to ride it
a) Move to the left-hand side of the track and look for a marker ahead of you on the right-hand side of the track (for example a tree).
b) Push your horse over to the right using your left leg. Support his hindquarters with your right leg and ask for slight inside flexion with your left rein, while your right rein controls the pace.
c) Once on the right side, straighten up and walk forwards for two to five paces.
d) Repeat the leg-yield, going from right to left.
If you’re working in a school, then turn down the ¾ quarter line, and do the above, leg-yielding back towards the track.
Keep him fit with interval training
Just because you haven’t got hours to spend hacking through the countryside doesn’t mean your horse’s fitness has to suffer. One of the most effective ways at getting fit (in people as well as horses) is to do interval training.
“Interval training is where you mix up bursts of high-intensity exercise with breaks for recovery,” says Jay. “It’s a great way to keep your horse fit.”
Cantering is great cardio and as Jay explains, it’s ideal for loosening off any tight muscles.
“When cantering for interval training, I prefer to be off the saddle,” he says. “This helps your horse to stretch the muscles out over his back and can help him to soften more over his topline.”
What’s more, standing up out of the saddle is a great way to strengthen your core muscles – who needs the gym?!
In trot, keep your horse as balanced as possible. Establish a rhythm and maintain this as much as you can throughout. It sounds simple but maintaining a steady pace for several minutes can be a challenge and helps practise the control of his trot.
10 mins: Walk to warm up
3 mins: Trot
1 min: Walk
Repeat trot and walk three times
3 mins: Canter
1 min: Walk
Repeat canter and walk three times
10 mins: Walk to cool down
If you’re just starting, three minutes will be a lot to ask of your horse, so start with one minute, making sure you do three cycles of each. A stopwatch can make it easier to time. Alternatively, you can use markers, for example, while hacking, trot to one tree, walk to the next and so on.
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