Recipe for a Good Ride

I am writing this after baking bread and naan all night… so recipes are on my imagesmind.  In the last blog, I was describing how to start a ride. Actually, it was more an identifier to all the things that could possibly go wrong, if I can put words in Jeanne’s mouth. But now I want to describe my Go-To game plan for a general daily ride that is positive and has more forward steps than backwards.

So you have identified all the species of boogeymen and in which corners of the arena they reside in.  That is a great first step because right away you can start to construct a game plan which I set out in the last blog:

  1. Expand the “arena” only when warranted.
  2. Canter at least 3x per lead.
  3. Ride in sets
  4. Finish with relaxation work.

Now, what in the heck does that mean?

1. Expand the “arena” only when warranted can also be described in the counter sense:  keep the working area small until you feel comfortable and your horse feels obedient to your aids.  What I mean by the “working area” can vary greatly for each horse. For a horse who is just green broke, it would mean starting out in the round-pen, affectionately known as Kindergarten. The high walls and small area helps horses not worry about all the scary stuff that lurks in the wide world.  For a more mature horse, it might mean keeping your warmup in a corner of the cross country field, rather than blasting his mind in the whole 80 acres. Stay in the place where your horse can focus the best and have the least amount of distractions. Only when you feel he is ready… venture out into a different part of the arena. That might be 3 circles, or it might be 20 min, you need to be the judge.


2. Canter at least 3x per lead can be re-phrased as: do a lot more forward work than you normally do.  I firmly believe that a forward horse that is in front of my leg is a horse I can ride, predict and get into a learning state of mind.  I think that 98% of the riders out there only canter once per lead when they are working on the flat. But if you give yourself the simple task of working on 3 canters – you get more opportunities to work on the transitions, you can improve the canter each time, and you take the bubbles off the top of the champagne bottle that you feel you are sitting on. My students are drilled with one of my favorite sayings: Fix it by going Forward. Guaranteed to work.

3. Ride in sets this means that you need to construct a beginning, middle and end of your ride. Give breaks in between, and stick to your plan of reviewing movements or things you and your horse understand, introduce something new, and review the yoga that makes you both happy. When the ride goes pear shaped, then go back to step one: review what you know and try again.

4. Finish with relaxation work – is the yoga. Relaxation is a point that I cannot stress enough. If you dont have a horse who can relax in his work, then you can’t introduce new things very well, nor can you help them slay the boogeymen in the corners. Long and low stretching helps your horse breathe into the work, and it helps your horse release tension that was blocking the daily progress. It is a self-fufilling thing to do – the horse’s love it and crave it.

Ellie was a horse whose whole brain changed after she learned to relax.
Ellie was a horse whose whole brain changed after she learned to relax and stretch.
4 year old Dino reaching into the contact, craving the stretch.
4 year old Dino reaching into the contact, craving the stretch.


Sometimes, life is funny and seems to conspire against you. And despite your best efforts, you still might feel you didn’t accomplish much on a single day. The grain delivery truck arrived right when you were trying to swing into the saddle. Your mare is in season and she is screaming Youcantmakemedoanyting! Don’t sweat it, and don’t keep drilling a horse who isn’t in a learning state of mind. I love to listen to Scott Keach’s voice in my head (insert aussie accent):  You dont have do do a lot, mate. Just do a little bit well, every day.IMG_1889

2 Responses to “Recipe for a Good Ride”

  1. Jeanne

    This is all sounding Very familiar to me, and it works!
    ‘Run!’ Picture –worth a thosand word!

  2. Jan Reynolds

    I love your advice. Kit and I have been discovering the “fun” in riding younger horses. You give great explanations for things that you’d think would be obvious…like expand your arena and end with a good stretch. I’m looking forward to more advice!!

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