April 14, 2006
by Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.
Stretch exercises are used by most athletes for getting the body muscles loosened up and ready to work. Back when I was riding broncs and bulls I would stretch before climbing aboard each time. Later I discovered that these exercises are good to use when you are just going to ride. They help cut down on soreness when we haven’t ridden in a while.
There are also exercises we can do while on the horse to help develop control and coordination required to make the horse obey and help us feel relaxed on our horses. But in the beginning these should not be tried out in the open pasture or on the side of the road until the horse is comfortable with them and will not spook and run off. The best place is in a large round pen or corral.
Side Swings: With your arms extended to the sides, swing your body from the waist up to the right; touch the right side of the horse’s neck with your left hand and the rump of the horse with your right hand. Swing to the left, touching the left side of the horse’s neck with your right hand and the rump of the horse with your left hand (see the drawing). Rotate only your upper body, keeping your hips and legs stationery and in position. This exercise limbers the waistline and helps riders learn to stay in balance while using the upper part of the body.
Once you are comfortable with these exercises, try them at a walk and later at a slow lope. But be sure you are in a round pen or corral and have an experienced person there to help in case you lose your balance.
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Arm Scissors: While sitting in the saddle, tie the reins together or loop them around a part of the saddle where they will stay. Sitting straight in the saddle, drop your arms to your sides. Keeping your arms straight, lift them out to your sides and over your head, touching your hands together. Then lower them to your sides again. This exercise is good for limbering the arms and shoulders.
Arm Circles: While sitting in the saddle, extend your arms straight out, even with your shoulders. Rotate your arms toward the rear, making small circles at first and gradually making them larger. When your arms have been rotated in the largest circles possible, reverse the direction, gradually making the circles small again. This exercise limbers the shoulder muscles. Be sure to keep your heels down and your legs in position.
Leg Swings: Holding the reins in the proper position and keeping your upper body erect, relax your lower legs. Press in with your knees, which act as pivots for this exercise. It is important that you not touch the horse with your feet or legs, because if you do, your horse is trained to move forward. Remove your feet from the stirrups. Swing your legs to the rear to a position parallel with the horse’s back; then swing your legs as far forward as possible. After repeating this exercise a few times, return your legs to their normal position, with your feet in the stirrups. This exercise limbers the lower leg and is good for balance.
Shoulder Circles: Sit straight in the saddle with your arms relaxed at your sides. Move both shoulders forward as if to touch them in front of you, then move them upwards from your sides as if to cover your ears. Finally, move them as far back as possible, and then drop your shoulders down resulting in a rotating motion. Try to keep your arms close to your sides. After repeating this several times, return to the normal position. This exercise relaxes tension in the neck and shoulders.
Emergency Dismount: This exercise should only be practiced in a round pen or small pen to begin with. You should also be sure to have an instructor or knowledgeable adult holding the horse or standing by.
It is also mostly used for English riding. However I did develop this type of dismount with a variation when I was riding bareback broncs. It saved a lot of wrecks when there was no pick-up man or he could not get to me. On command, drop your stirrups (take your feet out) put the reins in your left hand on the mane and your right hand on the pommel of the saddle and swing off, landing even with or slightly in front of the horse’s shoulder, facing the front (see drawing). With practice, this can be done at all gates. The old U.S. cavalry dismount was similar, except the trooper leaned forward, wrapped his arms around the horse’s neck and swung off in front of the horse and used his body to stop the horse.
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.