Try these three exercises to help you boost your confidence on your horse. 

If you’re a bit of a ‘nervous Nelly’ in the saddle, chances are you rarely stray out of your comfort zone, but could this be making things worse?

Danny Anholt FBHS, Director of Riding at Millfield School, thinks so. Speaking recently at the BHS Coaching Convention 2017, he explained how to challenge riders to improve ‘emotional robustness’, or mental strength.

Keeping calm is the aim of the game and by practising exercises like the ones detailed below regularly, riders will soon be able to handle anything the horse or the environment throws at you.

The perfect warm up for your horse
Before you get going, it’s important that you’ve established an effective warm up.

“I like my riders to have a prescriptive warm up,” Danny says. “This means that their warm up will follow the same routine each time.

“Warming up like this each time you ride can be really helpful – especially when you head to a competition. It’ll make your horse to think he’s doing the same everyday routine and helps to give the rider a clear focus when under stress.”

Danny’s warm-up routine

  • To start, walk your horse on a long rein around your school for about five minutes, making sure to change the rein at least once
  • Still in walk, begin to gather up a light contact and leg yield away from the track a few times on both reins
  • Move your horse up into trot
  • In trot, ride a serpentine. As you cross the centre line, ask your horse to walk for a few paces, before going back up into trot again. Repeat a number of times
  • Go large around the school and ask your horse to canter. Ride out of the saddle to help ease any stiffness in your horse. Canter once around the school and then repeat on the other rein
  • Make transitions within the canter, lengthening and shortening

Exercise 1: Tighten your turns

This exercise requires you to ride between three cones in canter. Place three cones in a horizontal line on the floor, with around 5yrds between each. You can always bring the cones in closer as your become more confident.

a. On a left rein, ask your horse to canter.

b. Turn off the track and ride towards the cones, going between the centre and right-hand side cone.

c. Turn tightly and canter back between the middle and left-hand side cone.

d. Repeat this a couple of times on each rein.

The challenge: If you knock a cone or don’t quite make the turn, you lose a stirrup. If you do it twice, take away your second stirrup. This puts the pressure on you and makes you more determined to get it right.

Exercise 2: Improve your listening skills

For this exercise you’ll need four jumps. The first jump will be in the middle of your school, on the centre line. The second jump will be roughly three canter strides away from the first fence, on the centre line. The third and fourth fences will be to the right and left of the second fence, at a slight angle back to the track.

You’ll need someone to help you with this exercise, so try it next time you’re with your instructor, or grab a friend to come and help.

a. Ask your horse to canter and jump the first fence.

b. As you land, have your helper shout out ‘right’, ‘middle’, or ‘left’.

c. Depending on what your helper shouts, turn and jump that fence. For example, if they shout ‘left’, you jump the fence on the left.

d. Repeat this three or four times.

The challenge: As you become more well-practised, delay when your helper shouts the command, giving you less time to prepare for the second jump.

Exercise 3: Improve his speed and accuracy

The final exercise requires you to ride a jump off. Set yourself up a course of jumps at a level you’re happy with and decide on your route round.

This exercise can be really fun if you try it with a friend. Time each other and see who can win. It’ll bring out your competitive side and help train your mind for a competition.
Danny Anholt FBHS is the Director of Riding at Millfield School. To find out more about Millfield School go to their website