Category Archives: Training

Winter training tips from Bridleway Equestrian

Winter training exercises to get you and your horse ready for spring

If, like many, your horse has been enjoying a bit of a break over the winter, you might be hoping to kick-start the year with some productive time in the saddle. Here are some simple-but-effective exercises for you to try.

Exercise 1: Fitness first

Before asking your horse to tackle a long and difficult schooling session, it’s important you make sure his fitness levels are up to the task – particularly if he’s been completely out of work for a few weeks. It might mean three, four or more weeks of purely hacking, but it could mean the difference between your horse having a complete and successful competition season or picking up an injury along the way.

Once your horse is hacking comfortably for an hour or more a day with plenty of trot and canter work, incorporating hillwork will help boost his fitness. It works and strengthens all areas of his body, and combining it with transitions will go a long way to improving his muscle tone, too.

Try cantering up a hill, walking back down and repeating. Combined with the additional intensity of going uphill, these bursts of intensity followed by recovery – also known as interval training – will help strengthen your horse’s respiratory system and build him up to the sustained cardiovascular efforts he’ll have to make in competition.

Top tip: vary your hillwork by occasionally walking and trotting up hills as well as cantering, otherwise your horse may start to anticipate canter at the bottom of them.

Exercise 2: Side to side

Once your horse has attained a level of fitness that will allow you to school him for a sustained period, incorporating leg-yield in walk, trot and canter will help him become more flexible and supple through his shoulders, back and pelvis, while encouraging him to come through from behind in order to make the effort to cross his legs while maintaining his rhythm.

Start by asking for leg-yield from the three-quarter line to the track, and when you’re both comfortable, try from the track to the three quarter line, continuing straight for a few strides before leg-yielding back. To add a further challenge, try to reach the centre line as you leg-yield down the arena long side.

Exercise 3: Making shapes

If you’re hoping to get some jumping outings under your belt, cracking the code to the perfect canter and approach is a key part of your training. You can achieve this by riding a simple rectangle. This will help you achieve and maintain an active rhythm, while encouraging you to use your inside and outside aids evenly and engaging your horse’s hindquarters underneath him.

Working between the track and the centre line, place a marker just inside the track at M and F, and just inside the centre line at D and G. Place a pole horizontally at X. Each marker should prompt you to turn as if you’ve reached a T-junction – a 90° angle to follow the line of the rectangle shape. Focus on using your outside leg to prompt him to turn, rather than pulling him round with your inside rein. Try in walk first, before progressing to trot and canter, and try swapping your pole for a small jump.

For all your horsey needs, visit bridlewayequestrian.com

 

 

 

Keep him supple with our schooling tips for hacking

Varying your riding environment is an important part of keeping your horse happy and interested in his work – you don’t want to stay at home doing the same things every day and neither would he. Using your hacking time to occupy his mind and work on any schooling issues in a fun, pressure-free environment is really beneficial, particularly if you don’t have easy access to an arena. Here are some tips to get you started

Long and low

Asking your horse to take up the contact and stretch into a long-and-low outline can be an effective warm up. Not only does it encourage him to relax into the contact, he’ll also raise and engage his back, working the muscles that support a correct ridden frame. Be sure to work him gradually down so that contact is maintained – if you just drop your reins, you’ll loose your connection.

Time to flex

Keeping your horse’s body straight and his gait forward, use your rein to ask him to flex from one side, then to the centre, then to the other side. This exercise will warm him up while testing his suppleness and obedience. It’ll also free up his neck, preparing him for any more complex questions you’ll ask of him later.

Side to side

The flat, stable surface of a quiet path is a perfect setting for asking your horse to leg-yield. This movement requires him to use his whole body and reinforces the idea that your leg aid doesn’t just mean go, but can also mean move away. This exercise requires straightness and engagement, so is a good indicator of how well he’s working. It’ll also reveal any corrections you need to make in your riding or his way of going. Make sure you check the path is clear of pedestrians both ways before attempting a leg-yield.

Shoulder showdown

Now he’s warmed up through his neck and back, you can start asking your horse to engage through his whole body by asking for shoulder-fore, Make use of hedges and fence lines to help guide your horse as you ask his front end to bend slightly away while keeping him travelling forwards. However, be sure not to allow him to over-bend.

Going in circles

Coming across an open field out on a hack is a huge bonus because you can use it as a giant school. Take the opportunity to play with the space, performing transitions, circles and changes of bend through serpentine work to encourage suppleness. Be vigilant to falling out, though, as there won’t be any fences to help prop your horse up!

Don’t forget visibility for you and your horse when you’re out and about. For high-viz and everything you’ll need out on a hack, visit bridlewayequestrian.com

Improve your jumping skills

Get kitted out
Before you start jumping, it’s important that you and your horse are correctly kitted out. You’ll need an up-to-standard riding hat and gloves, and it’s worth considering a professionally fitted body protector, too. It’s important that your horse’s tack is comfortable and fits him well. He may also benefit from wearing boots to protect his legs, and reduce the risk of knocks and scrapes.

A winning warm-up
Before you start jumping, it’s vital to warm up properly to get your horse listening and prepares his muscles for work, reducing the risk of injury. Ride lots of circles and transitions, both between and within the paces, to make sure he’s paying attention. This also helps to create adjustability and balance, which are very important once you start jumping.

Strides apart
Being able to get the correct number of strides between fences is a vital skill, particularly when you’re jumping a course. To practise, set out two poles four strides apart and ride through them in canter, aiming for a balanced, even rhythm. Once you can consistently achieve the four strides each time you ride through the poles, aim to extend your horse’s canter so you can get three strides, then collect it so you can fit in five.

Gridwork is great
Gridwork is your best friend when you’re trying to improve your jumping technique. It’s a good place to build your horse’s confidence, as it’s easy for him to understand what you’re asking. Build a simple grid of three fences with two strides (10–11m) between each, and put a placing pole three metres in front of the first fence to help your horse take off in the correct place. Start with the fences as poles on the ground – trot over them a few times, then try again in canter. Once your horse can canter over the poles in a balanced rhythm, turn them into small cross-poles one-by-one, starting at the end of the grid. Don’t add in another fence until your horse is confident with what you’re asking, then gradually increase the height.

Build confidence
Don’t be tempted to put the jumps up straight away. It’s much better, and safer, to keep them small and work on improving your technique, rather than jumping a height that you’re not prepared for. Once you’ve perfected your position and your horse is jumping confidently and correctly, gradually increase the height of the fences at a pace that suits both you both – a knock to your confidence could set you back.

For all your horsey needs, visit bridlewayequestrian.com.

The secrets of effective lunging

There’s much more to lunging than making your horse go round and round in circles. It’s a useful tool for training youngsters, settling an excitable horse before you get on, as part of a rehabilitation programme, or simply as a form of exercise when you haven’t got time to ride. However, in order for it to be effective, it needs to be done properly.

What to wear

For a successful lunging session, the correct kit is essential. Your horse can wear his usual bridle with a snaffle bit, but you’ll need to remove the noseband if you’re going to fit him with a lunge cavesson – this should go on top of the bridle. If you don’t want to remove his reins, twist them under his neck and run the throatlash through one of the loops. Side reins and a roller are also useful for encouraging your horse to work correctly, or you can lunge him in his saddle with the stirrups securely run up or removed. Brushing and over reach boots will protect his legs. You should also wear a correctly fitting riding hat, gloves and sturdy boots that are comfortable to walk in, and you’ll need a lunge whip, too.

The process

Start without the side reins on a large circle, particularly if you’re lunging a young horse. Spend a few minutes working him on each rein in walk until he’s loose and moving forwards freely. If you’re using side reins, these can now be attached – start with them loose and gradually tighten them until your horse can feel a gentle contact when he engages his quarters. Side reins should never be used to pull him into a particular shape. Finish your session with a few minutes of walk on both reins, again without the side reins, so that your horse can stretch and cool down. The length of your session will depend on his fitness, but be careful not to overdo things – 20 minutes is plenty if your horse is fit.

Double the fun

Double lunging is great for teaching your horse the importance of a sympathetic, consistent contact, because using two lunge reins mimics reins but they aren’t fixed like side reins. You also have more control because the outside rein makes it harder for your horse to spin towards the center. To have a go at double lunging, you’ll need a roller and two lunge reins. One is clipped onto the inside ring of your snaffle bit and the second runs from the outside bit ring, through the rings of the roller and then either over your horse’s withers or, once you’ve become more experienced, around his quarters. Lunge your horse as you normally would, with the end of the second lunge rein in the hand that’s also holding your lunge whip.

Browse the Bridleway lunging kit and find a stockist here.