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Are you a tense rider? Has a riding instructor or friend ever told you to “relax”?

We all get tense sometimes when we ride, and our tension has a big impact on our horses. It may make them nervous, affect their movement, or decrease their responsiveness to our cues.

In today’s video I cover three reasons we get tense, common places where we hold that tension, and two ways we can drop the tension and ride better.

Watch the video then leave a comment, where do you get tense and what do you do to relax that tension?

See you in the comments!



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38 Responses

  1. Hey Callie! 🙂

    My instructors, all of them basically, have taught me to grip with my legs in order to keep the horse’s pace for in case he slacks down.

    I’m riding a lazy horse at the moment, because I haven’t ridden in years – I’ve only started again recently. I find that by even squeezing doesn’t even help the poor guy in moving forward, neither does kicking, only the whip seems to work (at times), or when my trainer uses the lunge line.

    Is keeping your legs including your calves relaxed ALL of the time a good idea? My trainer says it will cause me to lose balance & fall off as a result… All of this can get SO confusing :(.

    1. I hope it’s OK to chime in here, Callie. Tarry- Callie has an excellent video on how to ride a lazy horse. Check it out if you can. The whip can actually help you quite a bit. The horse should move off with only a minimal amount of pressure from your LOWER legs (not your knees). If he doesn’t, then a quick tap with the whip in the same place that your lower leg would contact the horse’s side, is in order. He will quickly learn that moving off the leg is preferable to a whip. You keep your balance by keeping your core (abdominal muscles) , pelvic muscles (think of bearing down while coughing) and upper thighs TONED, not tight and not loose like jelly either. Feel like your legs are so long that they touch the ground on either side of your horse. It takes quite a while to develop your balance on the horse. Sitting up straight and feeling like you are stretching up to the sky are helpful. Be patient with yourself. We’ve all been there!

  2. This video has some really great tips, I know that when I ride sometimes, I get tense without being aware of it and it affects my riding negatively. Next time I feel myself getting tense, I will use these tips to help myself relax!

  3. Thank you! Very helpful information and I will certainly use the techniques to “relax” in the future.

  4. Thank you Callie, Absolutly great advice, and I would add should anyone what to expand on your presentation they should pick-up a couple of video’s by Sally Swift. Allthebest, and I love that you care enough to share your talent.

  5. I love reading your blogs. They are so clear and instructive. Will def use these tools next time I get tense. Thank you!

  6. Such a common problem for riders and something to work on consistently to overcome. Thanks! Good tips…

  7. Thank you Kalli I am a beginner and your video really help me be a better rider
    Helene form Montréal Québec

  8. Thank you, Callie,
    Enjoyed learning about relaxing. I have some trouble there. Don’t even realize I’m tense at first. A rider friend told me one time to act like a sack of potatoes to help relax. I like the breathing one you suggested and will be giving that a try. Also the other suggestions. Thank you. 🙂

  9. Great advise Callie! I don’t always notice when I’m getting tense, but my instructor does, and she’ll tell me to relax. Breathing into the tension really works. I’ve been teaching my instructor about yoga, and now she uses yoga cues to help me.

  10. I felt like you were speaking directly to me on this one Callie, as I’m often so tense in the saddle that my jaw locks. Your tips for de-stressing have really helped me focus on releasing built up tension. Cutting down on caffeine consumption before riding also helps!

  11. Just got a new first horse and my instructor said I needed to relax – thank you for the tips.

  12. Callie – this is exactly what I need right now! Fantastic timing! I feel the tightness in my hips and my trainer has told me to relax. Your video provides the information for me to effectively work on this. A huge thank you!

  13. Thank you so much for bringing up this interesting topic! I’ve felt a similar challenge recently while learning to surf. One surfing instructor told us to ‘look where you want to go’, much as we do in my horseback riding lessons. The idea is that by turning your head, and twisting your shoulders in sequence, your weight shifts down through your legs and ‘tells’ the surfboard which way it should turn. It’s not a conscious thing, but with that one key eye movement, the rest of your body naturally follows. Focusing on just one physical change in my posture, instead of a flurry of individual ones, really prevents confusion when bringing on a new physical skill. Thanks again!

    1. Sorry! I meant toput this comment on your newest post. 🙂 I’ll go there now to re-post. Thanks!

  14. A wide variety of yoga, pilates, core and core barre classes have given me a newfound awareness of my physical weaknesses and strengths over the last 8 months. These classes are always challenging but they build so much core strength! They help build focus and force me personally to move slower but my posture has improved tenfold and my lower back is SO MUCH BETTER! When I can’t get to the gym, I just google yoga routines and up pop dozens of them to follow along with on my computer.

  15. Thanks for the video Callie! I am riding a young horse that tends to speed up during particular parts of our routine trail ride and if you try to slow her back to a walk or trot, she will rear. I find myself beginning to anticipate and get nervous, tense, shortened breathing, heart racing, the whole deal. The breathing techniques and conscious relaxing of muscles will surely help!

  16. Hi Callie
    Your videos are fantastic and are really helping me. I’ve watched others… people from UK, USA and Australia, but none have the same calm way as you. You really instill me with confidence.

    I’m a returning rider and basically got back into it after booking a riding holiday in the South of France this October. It suddenly occurred to me that going on that holiday without returning to learning to ride would have been insane, so I have joined a lovely stables near to my home where I take half hour 121 lessons.

    I really struggle with my posture and have asked people to video me which has helped me see what I’m doing wrong. I struggle to stop my legs from flapping about, when in rising trot too. This video is so helpful. I have a lesson this afternoon and so I will try and use your techniques. I think it’s not just that I’m a little nervous on the horse, but also, like you say, I’m concentrating so much that I don’t even realise I’m doing it.

    Your videos and blog notes are fantastic and it’s nice to be able to come somewhere where everyone is so positive – no trolls or negative vibes.


    1. Hi Joanna, Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog! We do have an awesome community of riders here, I am also thankful for all the positivity!

  17. Some great blogs here. I have also ridden lazy horses in the past. So helpful to learn about pressure and release. Thanks again Callie. Thanks also to all those who have left comments.

  18. Hi Callie, this is yet another great video with very helpful advice. I am a new rider, having ever been a rider in my younger days. I had my 4th lesson yesterday and my instructor got me to have a go at cantering for the first time. I have never canters before ever. Both times I lost my right stirrup and ended up becoming unbalanced and falling off. After watching the video I feel that I probably tensed my legs up which caused me to loose my stirrups as I was not really sure what to expect when unsent into canter and was taken completely by surprise.. so I will try to focus on relaxing more next time. . Do you have any videos on learning to ride at canter for newbies like me? At what point do you start teaching your students to canter? Thank you.

  19. Quick straight forward explanation /reminder. Thank you! One point though.. With a green horse make sure increased knee tension doesn’t confuse/alarm. Learning to ride nearly 50 years ago we did lots of exercises which were great and did the job. These are not taught now for H&S reasons.. Think I’m going to resurrect them for myself!! ❤️

  20. Hi Callie, I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I have found them very helpful. Especially the one on trotting a few stride and back to walk. (improving sitting trot) I’m riding so much better now. I’ve noticed that I’m not losing my stirrups in canter now. I didn’t realize it was tension. So we’re working on sitting trot, releasing tension in my hands (which are Arthritic), using my seat a lot more. I’m loving this. Thank you so much. Riding is much more pleasant now.!!! “x

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