Having mastered the basics of riding, it is a good idea to do some simple exercises to improve your balance and control.
At first, you probably ache after a lesson because your muscles are doing work they never had to do before. These exercises will help make you stronger and more supple so riding becomes easier and more natural. Also, these exercises help you to develop a good seat, by building up suppleness, balance and poise (sitting up straight).
Before you start
You should remember to warm up before exercising for any sport. Riding is no exception. If you sit still for too long without moving, your muscles stiffen up. Ride for a few minutes before you start your exercises.
All these movements should be done slowly to avoid strain. Increase the number of times you do each one as you get fitter. Feel as though you have worked and stretched but do not hurt yourself. If you are nervous about trying a new exercise, ask your teacher to help. Don‘t give up too easily: it’s amazing how much your confidence improves if you are prepared to have a go.
For all the exercises in this section you have to let go of the reins. ‘Tie them in a knot out of the way and make sure someone holds the pony so he does not move off suddenly.
This exercise, called Half Scissors because of the way your legs move, is an effective way of improving your co-ordination and suppleness. It is very important that somebody holds the pony for you throughout the exercise as you have no control over him.
- Before starting the exercise, cross the stirrups. Hold on to the pommel with your left hand. Hold on behind with your right hand to maintain your balance. Swing your right leg over the front of the saddle.
- Bring your right leg all the way over to the left, without kicking the pony’s neck, so both legs are on the same side. When you need to, adjust the position of your hands to keep your body balanced.
- When both legs are on the same side, turn your body round so that you are facing the saddle. Keep your legs straight and suspended in the air – at no point must your feet touch the ground. Your arms carry all the weight during this exercise.
- At this stage it’s as if you are halfway through mounting, but without stirrups, Swing your right leg up and over the pony’s hindquarters. Then you are back in your original position.
- Now you are ready to do the exercise the other way round. Simply start with your leg rather than the right – but don’t do this exercise too many times to begin with, as it’s quite a strain!
Round the World
This another good exercise for building up suppleness and making you feel at home in the saddle. Throughout the exercise, try to keep one hand on the pommel and one hand on the cantle to steady yourself.
- Cross the stirrups and move your right leg over the pony’s neck. Swing yourself sideways, until both legs are together and your back is against the pony’s near side.
- Carefully lift your leg over the pony’s hindquarters. You will soon see why this series of movements is called Round the World!
- At this stage you should be sitting as though you had mounted the pony the wrong way, facing the tail. Try hard to keep your back straight while moving around and changing position on the saddle.
- Next, swing your right leg up and over the back of the pony. As you become more and more tired toward the end of this exercise, take extra care not to bump or kick him.
- You are now sitting sideways again, but facing in the opposite direction, with both legs on the pony’s off side. Remember to keep your head up and don’t round your shoulders.
- Finally, lift your left leg over the pony’s neck and you’re back where you started. At first you’ll feel slow and clumsy doing this exercise, but the more you practice the easier it will become!
Lying Backward and Forward
- Attempt this exercise only when you feel confident about the previous ones. You can’t hold on in this exercise so you need to be well balanced. Start by sitting deep in the saddle, with your arms by your sides. Carefully lean backward until you are lying along the pony’s back. Then sit up in the saddle, without using your arms or legs to help you.
- Now lean forward along the neck of the pony. Try to keep your knees and feet in position. If you feel able to, cross your arms behind your back and push yourself back into a sitting position, unaided by your arms. Lying backward and forward without using your arms or your legs to help you back into sitting position strengthens your stomach muscles better than any other exercise. It’s a real effort at first, but it’s worth it!
Touching Poll and Tail
- You must have your feet in the stirrups for this exercise so uncross them before you do anything else. You might want to hold on with your free hand to start with. Stretch up with one hand above your head. Keeping your back straight and your lower leg still, stretch forward and down to place your hand between the pony’s ears, on the poll. If you can’t reach, push your hand along the pony’s mane as far as you can. Hold on for a few seconds, then sit up.
- Raise your hand above your head again. Stretch over and round behind you, watching your hand, to touch the top of the pony’s tail. Once again, raise your hand above your head and then let your arm drop to your side. Repeat with the other hand. This will strengthen your back and legs and improve your balance. Remember to push your heels down throughout and keep your legs in position.