Because I do not board my horses with my trainer, I have learned to be more independent than many of my peers. Most days I ride on my own, with occasional input from my mom, who is a professional. However, her schedule is often full, so I need to take initiative if I want to improve.
I have begun to incorporate more no-stirrups work into my daily rides in order to strengthen my legs and secure my seat. I also develop some of my own exercises, along with using ones from Val's and my mom's lessons, to solve problems my horse and I may have.
One of Val's most helpful techniques I can implement on my own is the arm swings. Most of the time, my back gets a bit stiff when I'm trying to sit to the canter. To counteract this and force my body to loosen up, Val sometimes makes me hold my reins in one hand and swing the other arm out sideways, keeping it parallel to the ground at all times. I think Calvin was a little confused to see my arm moving so close to his head in the beginning, but I am lucky that he and Alan are quite brave and don't seem to notice anymore.
I also take advantage of my mother's time and ask her to set trot and canter poles for me. They start out at a very comfortable and relaxed 4' at the trot and 11' at the canter. After my horse is warmed up, she rolls some sets (of two or three) poles out and others in, until they are a foot, sometimes even a bit more, longer or shorter than how they started. It keeps Calvin and me on our toes and lets me practice lengthening and shortening to certain distances without using him up on actual jumps. It also helps my flatwork by making sure he is engaged and connected.
This exercise has significantly improved Alan's natural gaits, encouraging him to have much more impulsion, and it is smoothing Tess's transition from the 2' jumps (and adding a stride in the lines) to the 2'6" and having a normal 12' stride. I try to do this whenever possible, because it keeps my horses and me focused and has all the fun of jumping with none of the strain on my horses' legs.
Hacking on my own is also a time to sharpen my testing skills without jumps getting in the way. It is quite easy to work some halting and counter cantering into everyday rides. I also work on turning on the haunches or forehand. If Calvin or Alan feels stiff or heavy, lateral work such as leg yielding, shoulder in/out and haunches in/out generally lightens them up and aids in rideability. Those are not listed as tests in the USEF Rule Book, but the USEF Talent Search Finals required shoulder-in last year, and I don't want to feel unprepared if they ask for it again this year.
During the lighter season I usually take a day or two to ride on a long rein or go out on the trails, but I don't have that luxury in the fall. It looks like I have some busy rides ahead of me!
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