Olympian Lendon Gray has gone from cantering down centerline at Grand Prix to passionately educating today’s young riders. Her Dressage4Kids program holds a variety of educational clinics across the country, sponsors Youth Dressage Festivals in multiple locations, and hosts the three-month Winter Intensive Training program in Wellington, Florida.
Gray firmly believes that no-stirrup work, especially on a longe line, can improve a rider’s seat and balance. She even participated in daily no stirrup, longe-line lessons with Michael Poulin while preparing to ride in the 1980 Olympic Games.
“So often people think of longe lessons as something for beginner riders,” Gray said. “That’s not the case at all. Anyone can benefit from good longe-line lessons. Since 1980, I’ve learned more about riding, but I’ve never felt as great on a horse, as far as being able to really sit and be a part of the horse, as I did when I was having longe lessons six days a week.”
Have you signed up for the Chronicle’s #COTHLoseTheLeathers challenge? (Ride 12 times for a portion of each ride without stirrups in November, and you can be entered into a drawing for prizes. The first 500 riders who submit a completed form tracking their rides beginning Dec. 1, will receive a ribbon. Learn more at the COTH Lose The Leathers Facebook group.)
Are you looking for additional ways to benefit from this year’s No Stirrup November (although Gray suggests it should be No Stirrup January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December!)? Read on for exercises and tips for working without stirrups while riding on a longe line.
General Longeing Advice:
- Start with a good, safe horse and a knowledgeable person to longe you. It’s also a good idea to have a third person on the outside of the longeing circle to make sure you aren’t slipping off to the side or dropping a shoulder. Since our major goal when riding without stirrups is to develop balance, it’s important to have someone keeping an eye on this.
- If your horse is reliable, tie the reins up in a way where you don’t need to hold them but can grab them if necessary. The reins should be loose, not putting pressure on the horse’s mouth.
- If your horse is used to longeing in side reins, use side reins. Don’t use them if your horse has never gone in them before! But the side reins will help keep your horse at a consistent pace.
- Longe in a big circle, especially if you are trotting or cantering, because longeing can be a little hard on a horse’s legs since they’re always going a little to the side. Centrifugal force will also encourage a rider to slip to the outside. The smaller the circle, the larger that force.
- No spurs!
Exercises To Try At Home
These exercises can be done at all three gaits, but only trot and canter if the rider is comfortable and the horse is quiet enough. Even if you only do the exercises at the walk, they still provide a great opportunity to work on seat and balance.
With each exercise, it’s perfectly acceptable to start by holding the pommel with one hand. You don’t want to pull on the pommel for balance, but your hand is there to support you. The goal is to eventually do all these exercises with your arms straight out to the side. You want to be able to shift your legs around while doing the exercises, and your core should remain strong and stable, so you don’t move your upper body and arms around.
To Help With Rider Relaxation
Do this exercise first.
- Rotate your ankles with your feet out of the stirrups.
- Lendon suggests turning your toes towards the horse as you rotate your ankles upwards, and to turn your toes to the outside as you rotate your ankles down.
To Encourage The Rider To Have A “Longer” Leg
For dressage riders especially, riding without stirrups is a great way to develop a deeper seat and a longer leg. The goal is to let your leg completely relax and drop down.
- Start by holding onto the pommel with one hand to stay balanced through your core, keeping your upper body straight and not letting yourself collapse through your ribs.
- Once balanced, start to lift your left knee up straight up towards your chest, then let your leg relax all the way down. Then lift your right knee straight up and let it relax down.
- Continue to alternate lifting each knee, one at a time.
- Once comfortable, begin to lift both knees at once.
With this exercise, make sure you are not holding your legs up, but continuing to move them up and down.
To Make Sure The Rider’s Leg Is Flat Against The Saddle
- Place your thigh normally in the saddle, then bend your knee so your heel comes up towards the cantle.
- Keep your shin horizontal, so it’s parallel to the ground, then allow your leg to go back to the normal position.
- Begin with bending one leg and then bend the other. Again, you can hold onto the pommel with one hand if you need to.
To Open The Rider’s Hips
- Very carefully, lock your knee and point your toe. You want to lock your knee, so your leg is completely straight, with your foot in front of you.
- Again, very carefully, bring your thigh back, keeping your knee locked. You won’t be able to move your leg back very far, but the point of this is to open up your hips so you can sit more into the saddle.
- After you move one leg forward and back, repeat with the other leg. Continue to alternate moving each leg forward and back.
- You must keep your knee locked, your toe pointed, and move your leg forward and back slowly to do this exercise effectively.
Repeat the exercises at the walk until the rider is comfortably balanced in the saddle, with legs and seat now in the proper position. Move on to doing them at the trot or canter if the rider is comfortable!
Thank you to the prize donors for the Chronicle’s #LoseTheLeathers challenge. They include: