Newbie Rider, Starting Late.. Looking for Ways to Improve Faster!
Hello everyone. :) I'm new to the forum (oh no, fresh meat!) and I'm glad to be here after some searching through other forums. I'm glad to find one so wonderfully ACTIVE!
I've always loved horses and used to do a little riding when I was younger (nothing special, just simple walk/trot hack stuff, really). It definitely wasn't much and at this point I don't remember much now, thirteen years later. I recall some terms and practices, but altogether I'm pretty rusty and it really shows when I'm around life long horse people.
I'm 23 now and since I've moved out I finally have the time, money, and opportunity to pursue riding seriously. I'm interested in all English disciplines, but mostly dressage. I love watching the upper level tests and I'm so impressed by the skill of the riders to be able to do the movements they do with such subtle aids. It's a bit daunting, because I feel like I may never be able to do even simple things considering I've started so late (and I imagine anyone who is testing at the higher levels must've started as children, right?). One of my major goals is to be able to participate in dressage tests and horse shows in general.. but of course to get there I'd need to start at the beginning..
I don't own my own horse and will likely begin taking lessons once a week, but I'm wondering if there are any things I can do in between lessons to make myself stronger and/or help me pick things up faster? I ride a few times a week on my own, doing some light walk/trot workouts on a horse at the barn I volunteer time at and I've noticed some frustrating problems with my riding. First, my balance is terrible! It makes it difficult to keep quiet hands and I feel just awful because I feel like I'm going to haul back on the poor guy's mouth unless I grab mane. I feel like I have a secure seat at the walk, but as soon as I attempt to post the trot it seems to all go right out the window. I often hear the term "drive from the seat" and also how much of the control of the horse should come from the leg and seat aids and rely less on the rein aids, but as soon as we break into a trot I feel a little overwhelmed trying to post AND steer AND figure out what I should be feeling. Somehow I feel like there's something I'm missing and as soon as I get that I'll have an AHA! moment. I have wondered if I'm just terribly out of shape. :( It makes me want to kick myself when little girls smaller and younger than me manage to ace the things I'm struggling with.
I spend a lot of time reading and studying. My rekindled passion for horses has me absorbing every bit of info I can find when I'm not at the barn. It's both wonderful and intimidating that there's SO MUCH and often conflicting information, not to mention the terminology and descriptions might be better suited to a more advanced rider than myself, but I have found some helpful tidbits.
So.. the TL;DR version of this is:
- I will be taking weekly lessons after the new year.
- My goal is to be able to show/test.
- I'm looking for things I can do during all those hours OFF the horse to help my success for the time I'm on the horse.
- Help? :)
Welcome to our forum! it is pretty active , which I gather is not always the case with other forums?
I did not read in detail your entire post, I do admit (so sorry). But the general gist of it was that you feel that you are starting "late" at , gasp! 23? I am saying that because we have members here who start in the 40's and 50's, so 23 is very young to me (53).
IN any case, every single one of us goes through the stage you are at now; feeling that posting is hard to coordinate, that falling is iminant at any time, that balance is fleeting. It is unavoidable, as far as I know.
So, really, you can't skip this stage or wish it to pass faster than it takes. Just enjoy the process, give yourself positive feedback, dont' waste time comparing yourself to others, and thank God (or what you like) that you have a good day with horses, every day that you do.
Welcome to the forum, I hope you continue to enjoy yourself here and if you have any concerns, remember that you can always have a quiet word with a moderator or admin :)
Great to hear that you are taking up riding - it's never too late to start, you're still only a baby at 23, plenty of time to learn!
Dressage is a fantastic discipline (though I am a little bias as it is my discipline of choice) but it does require a lot of hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn (a thick skin helps as well!).
I highly recommend starting some pilates, it is brilliant for strengthening your core muscles. Your core is the most vital part of your body to keep strong if you want to be a dressage rider. Just about all of our balance and aids comes soley from our seat, so good core strength will provide you with a very good starting point.
Once you get more confident around and on a horse, ask your instructor to give you some lessons on the lunge, without stirrups, and eventually without reins. The 'independent seat' is something you will hear a lot about as you get into dressage, and it goes hand in hand with good core strength. You need to be able to balance on the horse, with your ear, shoulder, hip and heel in line, without relying on reins or stirrups to keep your balance. Thats right - it's all from your core!
If you're not already, getting fit will really help your riding. I find running is great for loosening up my muscles and improving cardio fitness off the horse.
Don't expect to be out riding grand prix straight away. Dressage is much, MUCH more difficult than it looks. Very few riders make it to Grand Prix, or even above medium level dressage. It requires significant monetary funds, an excellent natural feel, a hell of a lot of determination... and did I mention money?
Yes, it is an expensive sport. If you decide to get really serious about it, you will probably have to give up some other little luxuries in life.
Hope I haven't scared you off! If you've got any more questions specific to dressage, there is a dressage subforum under 'english riding' :)
Le gasp! 23! I started at 24. :)
Stretching will help. I took up some basic yoga and pilates exercises even before my first lesson just to get ready, and it was really worth it. Since then I also do some stretching exercises every time I mount a horse to loosen up and find my stiff spots that have to be worked on. Also - get to know your body. Nobody is perfectly symetrical, so it will be useful to learn how you move and balance yourself. For example, my right hip is a lot stiffer than my left due to an old trauma, and because of that I had hard times in controlling a horse in canter, because my body wanted to take off any excess weight from my right side - and I had got so used to it that I didn't even notice that I balance myself to the left side all the time and even adjust the right stirrup shorter - so that the stiffer leg wouldn't have to hold itself! Logically, horses feel every single movement and pressure points of our bodies, and my problem used to make it hard for a horse to understand - why does the human asks me to keep cantering on the circle, if her hips tell me to do otherwise!
I also do a lot of bicycle riding to strenghten my endurance, do balance exercises (even standing on your toes and walking a pole will do :) ), go trekking (by foot) and help out at the stable to improve my overall strenght.
I hope the previous posts have alleviated your "feeling old" :)
While you don't have the advantage of extreme youth and "bounciness" at the beginning of your journey - you have something else... a mature wisdom, a brain that knows how to learn, the confidence to make choices about what you want to learn and how. And the awareness of what you want to do better - how many of those kids are worrying about their hands "hauling back on the poor guy's mouth"?
So take that as an advantage! :)
Now to answer your specific questions:
Anything to improve your balance and self-awareness will be helpful (not to mention developing calmness and authority) - things like yoga or martial arts and so on, or specific riding exercises.
Reading/studying is a great way to progress - just know that there are many different ways of riding, as well as explaining how to ride. So don't feel that because you are new to this discipline, you need to believe everything you read or hear! Get a good overview and then choose where you want to go - and know that you can change that later too :).
I think as far as learning the actual skills of "how to stay on the horse in harmony" - you can't beat a biomechanics coach. This is becoming more and more accessible - there are books, videos and coaches who will help.
I have this new idea of trying to help riders through an online course - not just theory, but exercises and also the option of showing me their work via video or pictures. As so many people are interested in improving between lessons, and sometimes books leave them with questions or mis-understood concepts.
As far as your body on the horse - know that the only way you can have perfect hands is: if the rest of your body functions well. It seems we have to learn to ride from our centers outwards - starting with the pelvis/core muscles/neutral spine, then thighs. And lower legs and hands are pretty much last to fall into place :).
There is a technique to the rising trot - maybe post a separate question about this (this makes it easier for people to follow posts and so on, otherwise the conversations get fairly cumbersome to follow :) ).
There has been recent research done into how people learn any skill, and how it actually works in setting up the neural circuits in the brain. A big part of it is focusing on our mistakes. Not to put yourself down, but to stop and correct them. So be thankful for your awareness of what you want to change! And another great benefit: because you are new to this activity, you have no set circuitry in place - no habits, good or bad. You are starting at a brand new place - where you have the unique chance to practice correctly from the beginning, to make only the correct connections in your brain.
I know when I was at the place of wanting to progress into the upper levels of dressage - I knew it was my lack of physical skills that was holding me back - and I found very little help and information on what to actually do with my body. How to arrange it, how to use the specific muscles for optimal results. I think it's a lot more accessible now - just the example of how much things like seatbones and core muscles are mentioned in teaching and articles and so on.... so enjoy learning now, with this precise new information available :)
As your muscles develop, your riding will improve. Breathe, relax and enjoy!
I wish I had gone back to horses at 23! I think you're at the perfect age to take up riding again and really excel at it! I rode from age 8 to 18, then gave it up until this past September when I started leasing and taking dressage lessons. I'm OLD at 38 :wink:
What I have found is that as an adult, I learn differently as I did as a kid. I am more careful, and much more serious about my riding. I can actually say I am a much better rider now as an adult than I ever was as a teen. What helped me tremendously is riding and practicing on the days I don't have lessons. My legs got strong very quickly from all the riding and my confidence built up very fast as well.
Good luck with your new adventure, KUP on how things progress for you.
Hey you sound like I was when I first started riding!
It's perfectly normal to feel discombobulated and "left behind" at the trot. You need to just ride it out. Being lunged on the line (while you're on by a riding instructor) helps because then you don't have to worry about steering!
Also if it's a lesson horse, usually they're good about not crashing into anything so you can give them more rein and focus on your seat rather than having to steer them.
Additionally, it's okay to do walk for 10 minutes, then trot for 2, then walk.. then trot.
Anything to increase your physical fitness is great. Yoga helps with balance and even simple exercises on a medicine ball (exercise ball?) like sitting on one instead of a chair, or doing crunches, or lifting one into a squat/lunge.
But honestly, a good trainer and good understanding of WHY you do things.. will help you become a great student and thus a good rider.
I'm a very fast learner because I find out the "why" focus on the good and how it "feels" versus the wrong feeling, I focus on relaxing areas of my body and contracting others (like abs or legs).
Remember to breathe ;)
I think you should spend a lot of time on this forum. I learned so much from this site. If I ever had a question that a friend couldn't answer I would post on here and it would be answered almost instantly. I just bought my first horse and someone on here helped me pick out a name for her.
I suggest this to all my horse friends because its SO helpful!! Anything you want to know about horses is most likely on here:-)
A person at 23 is near to the peak of the physical body. So, please don't feel old now.
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