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Building a Partnership with Your Horse

“Rider Position” Part 5 Lower Body Exercises Continued

By Lynn Palm

In this series of arti- cles, I am sharing some simple stretching and flexi- bility exercises to help build a rider’s relaxation, proper form, and balance. Before we start, let me repeat some important safe- ty considerations for those of you who are new to this series.

To do these exercises you will need a consistent, well schooled horse that is tacked up with saddle, bri- dle and leg protection. Practice in a large enclosed area like a paddock, corral, or arena to give you and your horse more security. These exercises can be done in either a Western or English saddle. A Western saddle will give you more security, and it is a great confidence builder. How- ever, whether you are a Western or English rider, using an English saddle for these exercises will help to build better form, balance,

and confidence.

As with all physical activities, if you experience any pain or have medical conditions that could be complicated by doing any of these exercises, STOP! Seek advice from a health care professional before continuing.

All of these exercises should be done very slow- ly. Be sure to breathe when doing them. This is impor- tant because it encourages relaxation. If you find yourself holding your breath, talk or sing to encourage regular breath- ing.

While doing these exercises think “CENTER- SQUARE-BALANCED.” Continually analyze your position using these three key words to maintain proper rider position while working to improve your flexibility.

More Lower Body Exer- cises/Stretches

Knee to Elbow Touches: Sit centered in the saddle with your legs in normal riding position and feet out of the stirrups. Bring both arms in front of you. Keeping your elbows close to shoulder height, bend them in a 90-degree angle. Your arms should look as if you are getting ready to do a chin up from an imaginary bar located in front of your face.

Starting with the left leg, bring the knee up until your leg touches the elbow. Then bring the leg back down. If you have difficul- ty doing this, bring your shoulders back slightly, which will allow more mobility in your pelvis area. Try not to collapse your upper body to bring the elbow to the knee, but instead use your leg mus- cles to bring the knee to the elbow. Do 3-5 of touches on one side, then switch. Gradually build yourself up to doing more.

Leg Swings:

Take your feet out of the stirrups and hold onto the saddle’s pommel to help keep your body cen- tered during this exercise. Working one leg at a time, slowly swing the entire leg forward as far as you can, and then extend it back- ward as far as possible. Keep the knee slightly bent. To be effective, the movement must come from the hip joint not from swinging the lower leg from the knee. Keep your upper body as centered and still as possible. Do several swings with one leg, and

then switch to the other leg. Thigh Openers:

This is a more diffi- cult exercise that really helps to stretch and open the inner thigh while improving balance. Start- ing with the left leg, bring the knee up in front of the saddle. Grasp the front of the knee with the left hand. Keeping the knee up and level, flex the leg from the forward position, and then press it outward to the side as far as possible. Your hand should guide your leg, not hold it up! Be care- ful not to pull the leg so hard outwards that you overstretch the inner thigh muscles. Slowly move the leg forward, outward, and then back to forward. The upper legs should stay very level, and the lower leg is off the saddle.

Still More Lower Body Exercises/Stretches

The purpose of the following exercises is to build lower leg and ankle flexibility. They can be performed at the walk, trot, and some at the canter. For these exercises, the reins should be organized and in one hand. Do not tie them around the saddle horn.

Upper Thigh and Ankle Flex:

This exercise can be done standing still or at the walk. Start with the right leg. Taking the right foot out of the stirrup, flex the knee and bring the foot up and behind you to the back of the saddle’s cantle. Grasp the back of the ankle with your right hand as you

keep the foot flexed. Hold this stretch for five to ten seconds and breathe! Keep the knee on the saddle and stretch the upper leg down. Then release the ankle and allow the lower leg to stretch back down toward the stirrup. Do the same with the other leg. This is a great exercise for stretching the thigh muscles and improving ankle flexibility.

Ankle Circles:

Riding without stir- rups is always a good way to improve flexibility and balance. With the horse at the walk or trot, rotate both ankles in a circular motion inward toward the horse. Repeat, but rotate outward. Do several sets of rota- tions.

Toe Points:

Again, riding without stirrups with the horse at the walk or trot, flex the ankles so that the toes point upwards. Hold for a few seconds. Then flex the ankles so that the toes point toward the ground. Add some variety by practicing picking up your stirrups by just flexing the ankles inward without letting the lower leg move. Drop your fee from the stirrups and start again.

Mix and Match:

Be creative as you do all of the exercises I have given you. Mix and match them to develop your own personal warm-up and flex- ibility routine. Try placing one pole on the ground where you will be working. Practice doing one or sev- eral exercises as your horse

walks or trots over the pole.

Pick Up the Pace—Exer- cises at the Canter:

Once you feel secure doing the upper body exer- cises I explained in a prior article, try doing them at the canter. Mix and match to incorporate them into a smooth pattern. This would include head and neck stretches, one-arm back- strokes, shoulder shrugs, and arm-to-the-side. Doing these exercises will help you follow the motion of the horse as you either trot or canter over the pole. Now drop your stirrups and repeat the upper body series at the canter.

Multiple Poles—On a Straight Line:

Using several poles challenges you to stay cen- tered, balanced, and relaxed. Start with two poles on the ground. They should be a minimum of 3- 1/2 feet apart. This will give you some adjustment time to get your balance after going over the first pole and before reaching the second pole. With your feet in the stirrups, pick up a trot. Go over the first pole, adjust your balance, and continue over the next pole. Concentrate on keep- ing the shoulders back and the hips moving forward. Keep looking up and out and not down!

Once you feel cen- tered, balanced, and relaxed going over two poles, add a few more, keeping them at the same distance apart. More poles add to the challenge

because you will constantly need to adjust your position as the horse increases his movement to trot over them. Do a set with your stirrups, and the next one without stirrups. Keep breathing to stay relaxed. If you have difficulty, take one pole away. If you do well, add more poles.

Multiple Poles—On a Curve:

Once you have mas- tered the poles in a straight line, place the pole on a curve for a more advanced exercise. Staying balanced and in position on a turn adds to the degree of diffi- culty. The horse and rider will have the natural ten- dency to pull to the outside. The rider must stay cen- tered, square, and move the hips to stay balanced. Arrange two or three poles on a curve. The poles should be placed so that they radiate like spokes along the perimeter of a curve. The rider should try to go over the middle of the poles. Go over the poles at the trot, first with and then without stirrups. Then try doing some of the upper body exercises as you trot over them.

In the next article, we will learn some exercises to do on the longe line. For even more exercises that will help you improve your position and balance, please check out my book Head to Toe Horseman- ship. To order this and other instructional materi- als, please visit the website at or call 800-503-2824.

Canadian Eventing Riders Continue to Excel at Spring Events

Ottawa, ON— Peter Barry of Dunham, QC and Joelle Baskerville of Calgary, AB contested top finishes in the 2010 edition of the Jer- sey Fresh Three Day Event, held May 5–9, 2010, in Allentown, New Jersey, USA, while Jessica Ruppel of Ravenna, ON and Stephanie Castonguay of Hudson, QC topped the leaderboards in the interna- tional divisions at the inau- gural edition CIC Will O’Wind Horse Trials, held May 15–16, 2010, in Orangeville, ON.

Competing in the CIC 3* division at Jersey Fresh, Barry and his partner Kil- rodan Abbott, an 11-year- old Irish Sport Horse geld- ing, owned by Peter and Susan Barry finished with a final score of 73.4. The pair posted a dressage score of 55.0, which put them in third place. Adding only 8.4 cross country time faults following a flawless- ly ridden performance over John Williams’ (USA) cross country course, Barry and Kilrodan Abbott added four jumping faults and time faults during show jumping to move up the leaderboard to finish in second place.

“Kilrodan Abbott was simply great,” said Barry. “He started doing advanced

horse trials this year and he felt really good at Jersey Fresh. We are going to focus on our dressage and show jumping this summer and aim for the CCI 3* Fair Hill International Three Day Event in the fall.” Phillip Dutton, of the United States, claimed the

time faults on cross coun- try, they moved up to third which they held after a fault-free show jumping round. The pair posted a final score of 56.0.

American Jennie Brannigan, riding Cambal- da, won the CCI 2* divi- sion with 44.3.

gelding, won the CIC 2* division. The pair added only 0.8 cross-country time penalties over Jay Ham- bly’s cross country course to their dressage score of 49.9 to finish the competi- tion on a score of 50.7. “The weather was per- fect, the cross country course was really well built and the footing was won- derful despite all the rain we had earlier in the week. The organizers did a great job running the whole event,” said Ruppel. “My horse was absolutely fan- tastic, and we are planning to compete in the CCI 3* Bromont Three Day Event in June”

“Competing in the CIC 3* division at Jersey Fresh CCI 3* Three Day Event, held May 5–9, Peter Barry and his partner Kilrodan Abbott finished second with a final score of 73.4.” Photo Credit—

CIC 3* win aboard Tru Luck with a score of 65.4. In the CCI 2* divi- sion, Baskerville, 19, fin- ished in third place with her own nine-year-old Thoroughbred Hungarian Warmblood cross mare, Malibu. A dressage score of 54.8 had them in fifth position, but with just 1.2

At the inaugural run- ning of international com- petition at CIC Will O’ Wind Horses Trials hosted by Anne and Geoff Mor- gan, Canadian Eventing National Team Long Listed rider Ruppel, 27, and her long-time partner, Naughty by Nature, a Canadian-bred 14-year-old Appaloosa

Penny Rowland of Orangeville, ON, and H.S. Flying Finn, the rider’s nine-year-old Hungarian- bred gelding, finished in second place on a final score of 63.7, and also took home third place with Amazing Grace, her nine- year-old Canadian Thor- oughbred mare, on a score of 71.6.

Shandiss Wewiora, 26, of Oakville, ON, and Jorge Bernhard’s nine- year-old Canadian-bred Irish Sport Horse gelding, Fionn McCuhal, finished in fourth place on a score of 74.6. Fifth place went to Kim Crawford of Arva,

ON, and her horse Choco de Pomme, an 11-year-old Selle Français Thorough- bred cross gelding.

In the CIC 1* divi- sion, Castonguay, 20, and Tyne Be Merry, the rider’s nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, finished in first place on a score of 77.5. The pair only added 7.2 cross country time penalties and four jumping faults to their dressage score of 66.3 for the win. “I’m quite excited about how Merry per- formed this weekend. He has come a long way in a year, and we had a really

solid run cross country,” said Castonguay. “We are now getting ready for CCI Bromont.”

William Dow, 17, of Flesherton, ON, and his 10- year-old Irish Sport Horse mare, Middleton, finished in second with 87.7. Third place went to Liza Igo- chine, 16, of King City, ON, and Hottamolli, Laris- sa Piminova’s nine-year- old Hanoverian Thorough- bred cross mare while Alexandre Cousineau- Denis, 18, of Knowlton, QC, riding On Target, Ferme Tandem’s 13-year- old Irish Sport Horse geld-

ing finished fourth. Round- ing out the top five was Adrianne Usher-Jones, 21, of Ottawa, ON, riding Filou, the rider’s 12-year- old Appendix Quarter Horse gelding.

About Canadian Event- ing

For more information about Canadian Eventing, visit and select disciplines then Eventing.

About Equine Canada For more information about Equine Canada, please visit


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