Looking for suggestions & ideas from trainers or riders who have "been there" when it comes to re-riders!
I have a couple of new students - both adult re-riders in their 20s/30s. Both have lengthy riding experience, but have taken a number of years off from horses (started families, work, etc), & are now just starting back into riding.
We're currently doing lots of flatwork in their lessons - working on correct position & building muscle. In both cases, the riders are knowledgeable on the "inside", but just trying to get their muscles/bodies to do what their brain is saying!
What kind of exercises would you suggest to add? Were there any specific things that made your lessons more impactful or got you back into shape/focus best?
They are enjoying their lessons so far (yay!), but I worry that we are doing the same thing over and over. I was a re-rider once, but can't remember now what I thought was "fun" and not too repetitive, at the time. I just remember being exhausted & feeling like my arms and legs just wouldn't do what I told them to!
I want to make some lessons plans that will add value to their rides, while still helping them improve muscle-memory and get back to where they were before taking time off. Both improve quickly, so I need new ideas to add in each week.
I have one instructor who sets up a western trail type pattern. Usually cones you need to weave through, poles to trot over, halt and back at the barrel..whatever.
I find that really forces me to focus and plan my ride ahead of time. The visual cues help as well, I'm not just doing a circle in the corner, I'm circling cone on the ground and wanting to stay between ground rail A and B. It makes it very difficult for me to cheat or hide things from her! I learn a bit by watching others approaches as well.
To complicate things she'll ask for specific striding, diagonal or lead between or through obstacles.
I'm finding my timing is much better and I'm much more familiar with my horse and accurate with where my body and aids need to be to get the job done. Besides, its fun, so I seem more willing to push beyond what I would normally think my abilities are.
If you can photograph or videotape them, or have them riding with mirrors, I'm sure that would be very helpful. If they were halfway decent riders earlier in their lives, they should be able to clearly see what they're doing wrong now and be able to fix it faster. Also seeing yourself with your legs flopping around (for example) is usually horrifying enough to be a terrific motivator.
Lots of strength training, too - it helps if you set a goal, and try to raise it just a little each week. Like one time around the ring with no stirrups this week, maybe one and a half times next week, etc. Sometimes it feels like you will NEVER again be the rider you once were, so having some small milestones of improvement is really encouraging!
If they're strong/balanced enough, maybe throw in a bareback lesson or two? I think bareback riding is terrific fun, and it's neat to have a closer feel of the horse's back and muscles. Plus it points out weaknesses in balance pretty quickly...
Likewise, riding with no reins is good for building strength and balance. Maybe some lunge lessons, if that's possible?
I've been in and out of riding a lot over the years, and I have to say it's a painful process! Mostly I just gritted my teeth, sucked it up, and laughed at myself a *lot* until, after a few months, I felt like a halfway reasonable student again. Honestly, I wasn't that concerned about having "fun" lessons, I just desperately wanted to get back in shape as fast as possible, even if it meant endless laps of posting with no stirrups or whatever I needed to get my riding "chops" back.
Suggestions for off-horse exercises can be helpful, too! Especially anything specifically targeting riding muscles.
Two-point, two-point, and then some more two-point. It is just the best for regaining strength, stretch, and balance, and you can develop many variations to make it more interesting. In the beginning I allow the rider to take support from the neck with both hands, concentrating on the following feel. Next, they have to rest just the inside hand on the neck and maintain the contact on the outside, eventually they get to drop the inside rein entirely and ride with that arm outstretched, overhead, circling, whatever, while the horse remains balanced between the inside leg and outside rein. Smoothly getting in and out of two-point with no change in the horse's balance at all three gaits and over poles and modest terrain is a great exercise for riders at any level.
Also I find that most adults and re-riders take a somewhat more cerebral view of riding than they did when younger and sometimes a little more philosophical or psychological approach helps with the physical aspects. Borrow some techniques from Centered Riding, martial arts, yoga, whatever. Anything that blends balance with suppleness and relaxation will help counter the inevitable tension present in a rider that has been away from the sport for a period of years. And stress the importance of fitness work done off the horse, as well. Plenty of re-riders would save themselves, their trainers, and especially their horses a world of pain if they would hit the gym for a few weeks prior to starting their riding sessions!
I guess part of it depends on what their goals are and how driven they are. When I started riding again at 27 after about a five-year break, I knew that my goal was ultimately to compete again, not just to be a weekend rider, so I was motivated to push myself back into shape. I rode in regular group lessons with adults and teenagers who were not coming off a break, and I just did whatever they did, but my trainer allowed me to take breaks as needed until I was back in shape. So I think it's ok to train your re-riders the same way you'd train a normal rider of that age and ability.
I agree with having them drop their irons and do a lot of two point, so long as you make the goal manageable at first.. like once around the arena. Also, double posting (sitting two beats, or the more difficult rising for two beats) helped me re-gain my strength and balance without wearing me out the way that no-stirrup work did.
As a rerider coming back to riding after essentially 10+ years off, I second all that Vixenish said - especially the double posting. That seriously helped like nothing else, both for strength and balance.
Lots of two point changed my riding and helped my seat and balance tremendously. HIGHLY recommend it. Started at the walk - realized how out of shape I was when I had to continually grab mane....and also realized I needed to use my CORE - not my back. Then started at the trot until I could do it with no hands on withers or mane....then canter. Whenever I feel off balance or insecure, I go back to two-point exercises. WAY more secure now.
Are there any horses who are total packers but need more work than they're getting? For me, one ride a week was NOT enough after a lengthy break. I was riding nearly daily in order to get back in shape.
I also see vastly different horses and working on different things each ride as a great type of equestrian cross-training. I work a pony who is ridden by two beginner girls. His teeny tiny strides leave my abs sore in a way my 16.3 OTTB with a huge stride never does. To sit his trot I just do a little side to side movement as there's almost no forward... whereas sitting my OTTB is completely different with his big stride. Before I got my horse, I was riding a former ranch horse turned eventer with just a massive, reaching stride, and the pony. I would work on sitting trot one ride, two point another, posting without stirrups another, sometimes work on lengthenings, some work on collection - they're all muscles you need, and changing it up kept me constantly sore but not working the same muscles one day to the next so I started off not hurting with whatever I was focusing on that day.
I'm a mid-late 40's re-rider after about 15 years off (so battling both re-rider stuff and mid-late 40's body/metabolism/other changes - *so* fun.)
With one trainer I did much of what is mentioned above and it all helped:
- taking an extra lesson each week, with kids who were learning w/t/c eq basics; all those basic exercises week after week were marvelous for my muscles "remembering" how to do stuff, and I could let my mind wander a bit which was nice after a stressful day at work.
- in my "main" lesson, the trainer let me peel out of the group when I was wiped out, sit in the middle for a bit, then join back in (way better than just stopping for the evening - interval training for my body, basically.)
With my other trainer, she was marvelous for getting me back:
- She used a stop-watch on hunter rounds, found an average time, then we did a hunter-paced canter around the rail with the stop-watch going. I had a clear goal (2 minutes); I pushed my legs and lungs a lot harder with a specific goal in sight (especially such a psychologically miniscule goal - me to self: "You can't do this for 2 measly minutes?! Push on!") When I could do that, she brought up "that big ring over at X showgrounds" - and we started pushing for 2.5 minutes.
- She did the same thing with our lessons: started at 35 minutes long (at a "normal" pace.) Advanced to 40 minute lessons after a couple weeks. Advanced to 45 minutes after another couple weeks. Etc.
- She texted me at least once during the week with reminders about my own workout routine (not nagging me to do it; just reminding me to focus on legs, or on lungs, or ease up on something, depending on how the lessons that week went, if parts of me were sore, etc.)
- She informed me about a lot of things while I was riding that you might hear from a personal trainer; that's how she filled my many "breaks" for breath or a leg muscle rest. Info on muscle building that I could use during my weekly personal workouts; info on caring for my aging lower back (yeah the rest of me is aging at the same chronological rate - why does my back feel like it's 90?); info on snacks for my workday that help repair muscle; and on and on.
- We practiced a lot of hunter "courses", with poles on the ground in the right places (usually 3 poles stacked in a pyramid, so I was holding jumping position or 2 point while horse was actually doing something over them a little more than just cantering along) - that was fun, let me feel like a "real rider", let me play hunter princess, helped me practice my eye, and helped the physical process, without pounding pony into the ground.