As riders, we tend to focus a lot on our horses and not so much on ourselves. Event rider Gemma Stevens (née Tattersall) offers three exercises to help you concentrate on your riding, as well as on your horse.

When schooling my horses at home, I like to work on my own position, as well as on how my horse is going. How you sit in the saddle and apply your aids are vital in ensuring a strong partnership with your horse, and they lead on to establishing a good rhythm.

These exercises are ideal for anyone wanting to add variety into their everyday schooling and also for developing rhythm, fine-tuning your aids and perfecting your position.

Exercise 1: Feel the rhythm

Time: 10 minutes

Using raised poles is excellent for creating a good rhythm, control, rider position and footwork. This exercise is great to use as part of a schooling session.

Set it up: Lay out three canter poles with one stride between each, on a curve at one end of your school, with the central pole across the corner. Leave a distance of one or two non-jumping strides, then set up three more canter poles.

How to ride it:

  1. After warming up in walk, trot and canter, ride over the poles in canter, maintaining a steady rhythm.
  2. Once your horse is going nicely, turn them into raised poles and repeat.
  3. When you’re both feeling confident and the sequence is flowing, put up the middle fence of each three, so you now have a raised pole, small jump, raised pole.

Don’t forget to change direction and ride each exercise equally on both reins.

Exercise 2: Testing reactions

Time: 10 minutes

This exercise is ideal for focusing you and your horse’s mind and body awareness.

This exercise requires rider discipline, and your horse must be listening to your aids as you incorporate transitions.

Set it up: In the centre of your arena, set up three to four plastic jumping blocks next to each other. Place a pole on the top and add two more poles as ground lines, one on each side of the blocks.

How to ride it:

  1. Trot over the blocks, but then bring your horse to a halt before you reach the end of the school.
  2. Turn around and repeat, trotting over the blocks from the other side.
  3. As you get more confident, remove the poles, then take away the blocks one at a time until you end up jumping just one. Your horse will need to think about where their feet are, plus halting at each end encourages a positive reaction to your aids and is an excellent strengthening exercise thanks to the transitions. It’s also a great build up to skinny fence training.

Exercise 3: Jumping on a circle

Time: 10 minutes

This exercise is excellent for riding accurately, creating and maintaining a steady tempo and riding the rhythm, rather than worrying too much about strides.

This exercise is easier than it sounds and valuable to your horse’s training.

Set it up: At one end of the arena, on a 20m circle, set up four small fences at points north, south, east and west, so each jump is equally spread around the circle.

How to ride it:

  1. Canter around the circle, but jump just one of the fences.
  2. Now add the fence on the opposite side.
  3. Once you’re feeling confident, add a third and keep building up until you can canter around the circle jumping all four fences.
  4. Remember to have regular breaks and change the rein so you work equally on both sides.

Meet the expert: Gemma Stevens (nee Tattersall) is a British Olympic eventer. She took the first 5 title at Bicton in 2021 and is a former U25 national champion and team gold medallist. She’s produced numerous young horses and taken them through the ranks of international eventing.

Lead image by Shutterstock

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