Horseback riding with feel: 5 tips

In this article I want to give you 5 tips to be able to ride a horseback with (more) feeling.  Many people ride too technical, they want to do everything well, so well that they forget their feel and get stuck inside their own head.  There are many, many „rules”. You know them: hold your head up high, heels low, look towards where you are going, … And also: do not pull your hands back, sit like this, sit like that, hold that leg here, the other one there, this rein here, the other rein there, don’t forget to breathe and RELAX…

The latter is very hard when you are trying to do a dozen things at once!

As much as you can, as fast as you can, as well as you can…

What most people actually want when just starting out riding horses: fun, relaxation, having a great time, both yourself and your horse. Probably this is how it was for you as well, whether you were 6, 13, 38 or 73 when you first learned how to ride.

But, there comes a time that you become an advanced rider and that is the time you want to become an excellent technical rider as well. You want to learn how you can get the horse to do more difficult exercises.

thinking-too-much-when-riding-your-horseAt that point, many riders become just TOO ambitious… They forget why they once started horseback riding and they want as much as possible, as fast as possible and as good as possible, only focussing on „technique” and forgetting about „feeling”. Not because they make that conscious choice, but because they reason about everything and want to understand everything, this means they go inside their own heads.  And unfortunately, that always means that there is little to none attention for what they feel.

Below you can find 5 important tips to help you to ride with feel (again).

Tip 1: Never forget why you started to ride!

memories-horsebackridingEvery now and then remember the time you started to ride.  Why did you want to learn to ride?  What feeling did you get the first time on a horse?  What attracted you to horses?  Do you remember the first time you did a rising trot?  The first time riding canter?

I remember my first time on a horse. When the horse started to walk it was very impressive! These movements underneath me, the height, the feeling that a horse was willing to carry me, it gave me such a special feeling that I still can’t explain what it is I felt. I can relive it in memory, but I can’t put it into words, that’s how special it was.

As a professional trainer I know like no other how quick you retreat into your head when you want to understand and correctly execute certain exercises. By going back to how things were when you just started, you can get back to your feeling and keep in mind that it is not about achieving, but about fun.

Tip 2: Listen to your body

This may sound a bit weird, but many people are not aware of their body. They lack „body awareness”. This also shows when on a horse. If you lack body awareness while on the ground, there is a big chance you lack it on a horse as well.

Therefor: do a bodyscan regularly. You check your body in your mind, tensing and releasing each muscle, 1 by 1. Start with your head and end with your toes. Doing this regularly develops more feel and body awareness, and in time you will notice more quickly whether you have unnecessary muscle tension, for example when you are riding a particularly difficult exercise.

Body exercises like yoga or tai-chi are also very good for gaining more body awareness.

Tip 3: Breath consciously

Doing a breathing exercise while on a horse now and then is very good to get out of your head and back into your body and your feeling. There are many different breathing exercises that you can do, but I will give you a very simple one here:

  1. First exhale fullyusing-your-breath-to-relax-when-riding-your-horse
  2. Now inhale from your abdomen, meaning that your abdomen swells up first and the upper torso second. Relax the muscles in upper back, shoulders, chest and neck.
  3. Now slowly exhale through your mouth. Shape your lips into an O. Try to tense as little muscles in your face as you can, only using those you need to make the O-shape. Exhale FULLY and repeat this cycle if needed.You will notice that you get calmer and calmer by doing this exercise, the calmer you are, the more feel you will have.

Tip 4: Use all your senses

use-all-senses-when-riding-horseTake your time to notice everything you see, hear, feel and smell while horseback riding. This exercise brings you into the moment completely.

What can you see when riding?
The air, the trees, the soil, the earth, the grass, flowers, insects, other people, horses in the meadow. But also your horse: its body, its mane, its ears… And don’t forget yourself: your legs, your hands, …

What can you hear when riding?
All the sounds in the environment: a child  playing, a bee zooming by, the wind, the leafs rustling, a plane passing overhead, a car driving by,…
But also: the breathing of your horse, its hoofs hitting the soil or the street, your own breathing.

What can you feel while riding a horse?
The wind in your face, the heat of the sun, the cool of the morning, the droplets of rain on your hands, …  But also the leather of the reins you are holding, the coat of your horse you stroke, the long manes you touch, the saddle or the blanket you are sitting on, the stirrups beneath your feet, the horse’s sides against your calves, …

What can you smell when riding?
Smells from your surroundings, carried by the wind, like flowers, trees, wet soil, but also less pleasant fragrances like the fumes of a passing car. But what can’t be trumped when you need calm and quiet, is the smell of the horse you are riding!

Tip 5: Be a passenger

riding-horseIf you notice that you are becoming to technical, try switching to „passenger mode”.

Don’t do, just sit. Let your horse carry you. You are now the passenger, not the driver. The horse chooses the destination.

Some people find it very liberating to be doing „nothing” while riding their horse, and enjoying it while they’re at it!