Do you ever go to the barn for a ride and find you have no idea what you want to do? You ride around, feeling a bit aimless and then call it a day, having made no improvement and feeling as though there is nothing to show for your efforts.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve got limited time to ride and you won’t make improvements or changes doing the same old thing you have been doing. As the popular quote attributed to Einstein (as many popular quotes are) says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.”

Every ride counts so in this article I will show you a simple structure to bring purpose and fun to your rides.

This is a structure I use to plan my own rides and training sessions as well as when I am working with riding students in lessons. This is also the exact structure I use in my book, Stay in the Saddle – 67 Exercises for Horse and Rider. 

Here is my Structure Your Ride Formula:

  1. Warm Up
  2. Rider Skill Building
  3. Training Exercise
  4. Combine the Rider Skill Building & Training Exercises
  5. Reflection

Let’s go through each of these steps in more detail. 

Warm Up 

Warming up before a ride not only prepares your body, but is also a time to find a calm and present state. Ideally you can incorporate a warm up period before you mount and in the first few minutes of your ride. In the warm up, choose movements that bring your attention to your body, breathing, and especially the parts of your body where you tend to hold more tension. The time you will spend in each part of your ride plan can vary greatly, depending on the time you have and what is needed for you and your horse. Typically, I recommend planning 10 min for your warm up. 

Rider Skill Building

After your warm up, choose an exercise that focuses on your skills as a rider. This part of the ride can continue the physical warm up for your horse, as I will typically look to simply find rhythm in my horse’s movement during this exercise. 

The Rider Skill Building exercise may be improving your posture and seat. It may be for finding consistent rein contact or learning to use your outside rein, or being more accurate with the timing of your leg aids. 

Again, the amount of time you spend in each phase of your ride will vary, but I typically spend another 10 minutes on the Rider Skill Building exercise.

Training Exercise

Next, practice an exercise for your horse’s training. 

This may be a specific movement, such as leg yields, or it may be a pattern such as a 20 meter circle or serpentine. 

The Training Exercise will also build your skills as a rider, but the focus during this part is on your horse – their movement, their responsiveness, teaching a new cue, etc.

Pay attention to your horse for how much time to spend on this exercise. This is typically another 10 min for me, but may be more or less depending on the fitness of my horse and the difficulty of the exercise we are practicing. 

Combine the Rider Skill Building & Training Exercises

Go through both your Rider Skill Building and Training Exercises separately to first focus on each independently. Next, progress to doing both exercises in combination.

For example, if your Rider Skill Building exercise was riding with one hand and your Training Exercise was to ride a 20 meter circle, you would practice riding with one hand, then practice the circle, and then combine the two and ride the circle with your reins in one hand.

This is where the difficulty level is increasing with practicing both exercises and I will often practice in two 5 minute blocks, with a few minutes rest in between. Of course, adjust as needed for you and your horse. 

Reflection

After you finish your ride, take time to cool down and to reflect on how the exercises felt when you started and how they felt at the end. How long your cool down lasts will depend on the intensity of the work you did.

Did the exercises feel easier by the end, why or why not? 
What do you want to do differently, or what exercise might you want to repeat next time?

Taking a few moments for reflection will help you continue to learn and improve with each ride.

See it in Action!

I introduced the Structure Your Ride Formula in the video No More Aimless Circles here.

And you can see the Formula in action in these videos!

  • 3 Exercises to Help Slow Down Your Horse – these exercises will not only help your horse slow down and have better balance in their turns, but will also help you to feel secure and help your horse find rhythm and relaxed movement.
  • 3 Exercises to Help Nervous Riders Relax and Sit Up – the exercises in this video will help you feel more relaxed, balanced, and able to give clear directions to your horse.
  • 3 Patterns to Improve Your Riding – when ridden correctly, this practice ride encourages the horse to bend evenly to both sides, go straight, keep better balance through turns, and maintain an even tempo. At the same time, the rider hones their skills of balance and using the aids.

The inspiration for all of these videos came from my Stay in the Saddle – 67 Exercises for Horse and Rider book + video library that you can check out here!

Bring fun and purpose to every ride

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