I’ve been doing a lot of theory blogs recently so I thought it might be fun to mix it up and do something a little bit more accessible that you can incorporate with your horse right away. When I was trying to come up with a topic I kept going back to what I do with my horses that I feel like so many people don’t do. So I decided to write down my three top exercises for finding connection in the saddle.
When I say finding connection I’m talking about getting to the place where you feel like your horse is with you and you are one with the horse. Basically getting to a place where your mind is enough to move your horses body and perform the exercises he would like to perform. I think ultimately this is everyone’s goal whether they call it building a partnership like I do or they call it creating a response of horse. So without further ado let’s look at the exercises.
Exercise 1: Standing and Breathing
This exercise is perhaps my favorite and the most accessible exercise. Simply stand while sitting on your horse and let your mind clear. Relax and let your body soften as the tension leaves it. If you are comfortable you can do a mini meditation from atop your horse’s back. As you do this exercise you should see your horse relax and drop his head. As you take deeper breaths so will he and you will come together in the relaxation.
The first step to connecting with your horse always involves you both being relaxed and free of tension so this simple exercise helps get you there.
Exercise 2: Wandering on a Loose Rein
This exercise is perhaps the most powerful one I use and I use it in most of my warmups with horses in training. Begin by walking around on the buckle. If you are nervous with riding at the buckle you can start with a slight contact and over time loosen your rein as your horse stretches and takes up the loop.
As you are wandering first make sure you breathing is slow and steady as your muscles relax and flow with your horse.
Next, feel your horse’s footfalls while paying attention to how your hips love with the horse. Feel the lift and fall as your hips move in a figure eight in time with your horse’s hind feet. Feel the sway of his shoulders as he carries you forward. Don’t worry about where you are going, just feel what is happening.
As you feel the horse’s footfalls begin to pay attention to where he is going and how his movement affects it. As he begins to curve to the right feel how your right seat bone is pushed back and your left seat bone is brought forward with the curve of his spine. Feel whether or not his legs step evenly and rhythmically through your turn. Feel as he crosses under with his hind leg to maneuver his body like a ship and continue to flow with his stride.
Feel all the changes of pace as he steps bigger, smaller, faster, and slower. Feel how your body responds to all the changes as you follow his lead.
After you are following him steadily and feeling how every foot is placed then you can begin to influence it. Use your hips to initiate the turn or the slow or the speed up. Use your body to initiate the same movements you felt as you flowed with his movement through the turns. Maybe weight a seat bone and let your horse drift sideways in a spot, the straighten and find the flow straight.
Play with how your body feels and how it can influence your horse with the subtlest signals. Alternate between following and leading until the difference is almost imperceptible.
This exercise is a good candidate for bareback because it will allow you to feel even more of your horse’s movement and how your own body follows. You should feel connected like you are moving as one after this exercise.
Exercise 3: Transitions with your Seat
This exercise is a bit more advanced, but a wonderful follow up to the previous exercise. Begin on a loose rein at the walk moving with your horse. Use your seat to increase the horse’s movement and ask for a bigger step. If you are unsure of how to do this start by asking in your normal way and feel how your seat is changed as you softly follow your horse.
Do the same thing to slow your horse down. Slowly quiet your movement as your horse walks slower. If this is a struggle again use your normal aids and feel how you must move to follow the slowing pace.
Once you feel confident making transitions within the walk you can begin to make transitions between the walk and trot. Build your walk until your horse is about to trot and then trot with your body and let the horse rise with you into the trot. If your horse doesn’t get it the first time try a few times to encourage him to follow you up to the trot and then use a light encouragement with the leg to help him figure it out.
In your trot set a smooth and steady rhythm with your post feeling the horse moving with your movement. Make transitions within the trot focusing on staying in rhythm with your horse.
When your are ready to walk simply slow your post and wait until the horse is about to walk. Then sit into your walk and wait for the horse to join you.
Practice these transitions until you are no longer building and slowing the paces for the transitions but simply thinking and doing them.
If you struggle with these transitions simply keep trying and use your normal aids slightly to help your horse figure out that you really do want him to follow you. Normally horses catch on fairly quickly if they are relaxed. If either of you get tense repeat exercise 1.
The same can be done into the canter and down to the halt, but those are a bit harder so best left until walk and trot transitions are clean and easy.
Each of these exercises focus on subtlety, relaxation, trust, a positive mindset. If you struggle with one of more of these skills you may need to work on them on the ground before mounting up. If you doubt your abilities or worry about if you can do something it will be infinitely harder to achieve your goals.
Hopefully you enjoy these exercises and if you have any questions or struggles with them leave a comment down below and I would love to answer them for you.