Developing timing in riding skill aka How to “try better” ;)

Teenage rider on Aspire Equestrian Foundation Programme. Riding skills need more time to develop than any other motor skills because we are not only learning how to use our own body but we also learn the patterns of the horse’s body. To *know* this and to be at peace with that is to be a horse-friendly learner 🙂

This will probably be a short and sweet post but let’s see how we go 🙂 The content is, as always, inspired by my pupils so hopefully some other riders out there can relate with some of the issues discussed today.

Picture this: you are standing opposite a person you have never seen in your life; you are about 10m apart and facing each other and you hold a tennis ball in your hand. You throw the ball at the person all of a sudden and they got to catch it. The mission is for the ball not to be dropped, be passed as many times as possible within 15 minutes and there is a reward for both speed and no-drops afterwards. Let’s say, you threw it a little awkwardly and the other person had to run forward to catch it. Did they do so? How fast did they run? Did they catch the ball? Next, they throw. How did they do it? Straight towards you or did the ball go a little sideways? You make these observations because the goal is not to drop the ball so you want to make sure you can throw and catch it well next time. If your other person was slow and sluggish you might make more effort to throw accurately and if they proved to be quick and agile perhaps you will go for faster throws. You observe each other and try to perfect your technique of both catching and throwing so you achieve the goals. The longer you keep going the more information you gather about each other’s skills and body language. You start spotting if the ball has a chance to be caught and when it’s most likely going to be dropped, you are getting to know each other’s dexterity, reactions and reflexes. After 15 minutes you are likely to have decent amount of information about each other’s movements and you start to throw more confidently. You are starting to develop better timing…

Anything that lasts longer than a rider’s body reflex when correcting reaction [of a horse] is already too late…Steffen Peters

When we are at the beginning of riding education – i.e. some good few years of regular riding – most of our reactions are either too slow or too fast. We don’t see how the ball will be thrown, we don’t have the capacity to imagine the trajectory of the flight of it based on random observations of an unknown person…In similar manner, our riding aids do not speak at the right time for correct muscle contraction, for the right weight shift that will create the right movement etc

The key lies in patient repetition and that’s where I am heading with  this post. Sometimes riders tell me, I have a problem with sitting trot and have tried to do it but can’t, can we do something else. The problem is not them not trying enough or being unable to get it but on the area of focus. To ride a good sitting trot, the body of the rider has to coordinate (time) intricate interplay between allowing mobile pelvis, retaining stable thighs, maintaining upper body posture AND remain supple.

Most movements and aids will require similar combination of body behaviours and when you keep “trying and trying” and you “can’t” do it, check what it is that you are training/practising. Break down a movement or exercise into elements that can be seen from timing point of view (for example: when you want to leg yield right but you start the movement by leaning left towards the aiding leg, you are messing up with your horse’s timing for weight shifts; he needs to momentarily shift his weight onto his right hind leg in order to lift and cross the left hind leg).

If you struggle with the left canter, check if in the moment of transition you are in fact able to maintain weight shift onto your inside left seat bone to help the horse depart from outside hindleg. If not, train that ability of timely pelvis positioning and weight shifts rather than “canter left” itself.

If you struggle with sitting straight in sitting trot, practice front to back coordination (timing of muscle contraction through your back vs your abdominal muscles) rather than simply “trying to sit straight”.

Break it all down to observation of timing and no other “trying” will ever feel the same 🙂

Leave a comment if you struggle with anything in particular and let’s see if we can “break it down to timing” for you!

Have a great ride!


If you want to learn with me, here is where to find me: CLICK ME 🙂


3 thoughts on “Developing timing in riding skill aka How to “try better” ;)”

  1. Thanks for that helpful advice! My problem are my legs in the trot. I tighten my knee and ankles. Plus with the balls of my feet I tend to push me up in the stirrup (which brings my point of weight high above the saddle instead of down and centered). Any hint is very welcome! Thanks, Wiola. You blog is a great help to my humble riding efforts 🙂

  2. Hello Nadja,
    Glad you find the tips helpful 🙂 To address tightening through the joints in the rising trot it is best to look closely at the rising technique and positioning of the thighs. For the effortless, back friendly rising trot, your thigh bones need to be ever so slightly rotated inwards (think: knocked need-pigeon toed position but only to minimal degree). As you rise, allow your thigh bones to rotate ever so slightly so the outer thigh muscles will start working and stabilising your leg.

    Check these posts for more thoughts and ideas:

    All the best 🙂

  3. This is a wonderful message. The quote by Steffen resonates with me. I’m a large old man and for years I thought one turned a horse like one turns a heavy truck without power steering, crank and hold. I was in my fifties before I took my first riding lesson. I know experience with a different perspective will help, but are there ways I can speed the learning when it comes to focusing more on seat and leg, and immediately, confidently giving the right light aid and releasing pressure instinctively? A soft trained horse is a pleasure I’m learning to enjoy, but I find myself getting into a tug of war with young, green or hard horses. I think any horse I ride should be softer, more responsive, more trusting after our ride. It is a goal I have yet to achieve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s