Everything happens fast between the jumps. Small losses of balance on route from one jump to another can become big issues when getting closer to the fence. Here’s just one scenario: breathing becomes shallow (some riders seemingly stop breathing altogether!) and/or fast, muscles brace, tension creeps up the shoulders and inhibits soft hands. Nerves can be overwhelming but so can the speed with which decisions need to be made: a little more impulsion, a little less, wide turn, sharper turn, shorter stride, longer stride, light seat, full seat…then there are things around the arena the horse can spook at. Jumping filers that can cause run outs and stops.
It is difficult for a one horse rider to create enough training challenges to work on various training behaviours with sufficient repetitions so if you are a learner rider learning to jump or you find some of the above issues apply to you, have a play with the below exercise as your warm up.
You will need:
a gym ball
something to hold on to
distractions for further challenge 😉
Stand on the gym ball. This in itself will give you a raised heart rate and muscle workout similar to being taken off with on a long one and landed with the reins flapping 😉 Don’t give up if you can’t do it at the first go. Keep climbing on that ball, hang on to something near you and don’t let go!
Once you can remain with both feet firmly on the ball for several seconds, assume a light seat/two point seat position and try to become aware of the tension through your upper body so you can release it by breathing and consciously relaxing your shoulders/neck/arms.
You want to remain in this position coordinating tiny shifts of weight that need to happen in your body in order to stay put. The feeling of the world slipping from underneath you is going to be there with you but don’t give up, breathe, consciously look around, smile, check if you can move your arms as if releasing the reins.
Calmer, more aware state of mind when in the saddle. Heightened awareness of where the tension is in the body and how to release it. Stronger core. Stronger mind.
If all goes well, you can introduce variety of distractions 😉
This exercise is a fun one for any rider who tends to balance with their hands, whether they end up pulling on the reins or not. Horses sense tension in the arms and shoulders so even if you don’t pull on the reins for balance but feel like your arms and shoulders try to help you way too much in achieving a good position in the saddle, grab a gym ball and have a go at this 🙂
You will need:
a few objects easy to throw
a Springer Spaniel is optional
Your first mission is to kneel on the ball. This alone might take you some time to master well enough to take both hands off the ball and have them free to catch any objects thrown at you!
Once you can comfortably kneel on the ball with your hands free, arms and shoulders relaxed, your centre of gravity low (feel like your upper body’s weight drops into your pelvis and settles there, then drops into your legs – the feeling of supple and “relaxed” upper body is important) you are ready to start
Ask your helper to throw something to you, catch it, then throw it back
Start with simple, slow throws and if you are good at catching those, ask your helper to challenge you with aiming for each side of you instead of only doing centred throws
To up the game: ask your helper to throw the objects faster, multiply the objects and throw back and forth, catch above your head, to your right, to your left, low below the knees.
Make up your own challenges and share them with us! 🙂
The first time you try to stand on the gym ball you might conclude it a mission impossible. Your joints might go all stiff, muscles all rigid and you might try to grasp for anything and anyone to grab hold of for balance.
If this sounds a bit like you when your horse is playful and fresh or when he takes off awkwardly over a jump or when you feel nervous in the saddle for whatever reason, you might want to try this exercise at home.
The ability to relax during an intense effort is something that is possible to learn. That “active relaxation” allows for a positive tension to keep muscles in a state of readiness without the negative tension creeping in and making you rigid and and stilted in your movements.
For the above exercise you’ll need:
a gym ball (65cm should work well unless you are very tall or very short! – go for 75cm if the former or 55cm if the latter)
a helper, someone to catch you 😉
safe area around you
we used a couple of poles to stabilise the ball a little and this worked well for Caitlin’s first go. You can slowly build up towards no outside help.
a Pilates band (black one we used gives a good amount of stretch without feeling too much like pulling on a chewing gum!)
somewhere to attach the band to (or you can have a second helper holding the band)
Benefits (if you persevere with this exercise) :
huge dose of balance effort – it’s like learning to walk again 😉 You’ll feel like an earthquake and white water rafting happened to you at the same time!
you’ll find muscles you never thought you had
you’ll make discoveries about your balance that you won’t make walking on an even pavement
you’ll learn to breathe through a state of mild panic 😉
you’ll learn that your arms can move quietly even if your body is fighting a crazy battle to remain on top of the ball (not to unlike a calm balance required during playful bucking episodes, jumping efforts, XC etc)
you’ll learn a different dimension of relaxation, one that perhaps you have not experienced before: relation inside an immense effort…It’s when you are able to let go of negative tension in your muscles but remain engaged and positively toned. The skill that takes riding to higher level.
stand on the ball (simple but not easy 😉 )
the position you are aiming for is a correct squat with your knees in line with your toes, your centre of gravity low (not up in your shoulders – feel like you drop your weight into your hips and like your shoulder blades relax down your ribs)
you want to feel supple and loose in your shoulder joint, elbow and wrists
your back needs to stay as neutral as possible (avoid hollowing your back or rounding your back). A nice little video about neutral spine below: