5 Ways To Improve Your Horsemanship Skills At Home

If you’re anything like me you’re probably sitting in your living room or home office wondering what fresh new levels of boredom we can reach today… maybe looking a little like this.

And in all honesty, I’m ok with that because rather than being out on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m sitting on my couch, typing away at my computer. How uncomfortable can I really be compared to the general state of the world?

Any boredom feels a bit… trivial compared to the service and sacrifice of healthcare workers, law enforcement officials, and other essential employees.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected almost every aspect of our lives and the horse world is no exception. Across the country horse shows have been canceled, barns have been closed, and there’s a looming fear that even on the safest horse, the risk of getting hurt can easily outweigh the need to ride at a time when our medical facilities and healthcare employees are already overwhelmed.

It’s left many of us equestrians in an odd sort of limbo – saddled with ample time that we’d usually spend at the barn but restricted by closures, social distancing and stay at home orders.

So with may of us stuck on the proverbial sidelines are there ways that you can improve your horsemanship at home? Of course there are! Here are just a few ideas to keep you busy and hopefully a little less bored, complete with plenty of videos and suggestions for how to survive quarantine.

1. Get Yourself In Better Riding Shape

Any horse person will tell you, riding is exercise but there are plenty of ways you can improve your riding by working on your own strength, balance, and flexibility. Staying at home is a great time to focus on your own conditioning instead of your horse’s. There are tons of videos online that are specifically geared towards equestrians with quick and easy workouts to target those muscles we use most frequently in riding.

And while your focus might not need to be on strength or conditioning, everyone can use a good stretch. Here’s an excellent Yoga for Equestrians video below.

By no means is this is terrific substitution for riding or working with your horse but if you can use this time productively to improve your own skills, your horsemanship will improve because of it.

2. Educate Yourself & Enroll In An Online Course

Thankfully we live in a day and age when there are literal libraries of information available at our fingertips. The options to study and educate yourself are endless so if you’re finding yourself bored at home here are a few online courses you can enroll in.

University of Florida – The Horse Course

Whether you’re new to horses or just want to test your knowledge, the University of Florida currently offers a free course through Coursera.org that is a pretty extensive overview of the history and development of the horse while touching on many common diseases, causes of lameness, and best practices. You can learn more about the course and enroll online here.

Warwick Schiller – The Principles of Training

I’m a pretty big fan of Warwick Schiller’s training methods and thankfully he has a great series put together on YouTube that you can watch for free.

He covers a lot of information over the course of several 20 minute episodes and also offers a paid course through his website as well.

Other Instructional Courses

Aside from what’s available for free on the great world wide web, there are also several other reputable instructional courses from some very notable clinicians and organizations like the FEI, Warwick Schiller, Pat Parelli, and Monty Roberts. Many of these resources include some free materials and then offer more advanced studies and courses through a paid gateway.

3. Refine & Practice Some Of Your Weakest Skills

When you think about the weakest aspects of your riding, what are they? Staying balanced? Keeping your heels down? Keeping your hands or arms from flopping? Take a look through some of these most common riding bad habits because with plenty of time to reflect on things you can improve, you should have ample opportunity to identify a few of those weaknesses and build on them even without the help or input from your horse. Obviously you won’t be able to recreate some things without your four legged friend, but there’s plenty of skills you can work on that will help your horsemanship game over all.

Keeping Your Hands Quiet

There are loads of videos on this subject but I thought this was a really useful tip for keeping your hands steady while at a trot.

This would be an easy exercise to practice at home, sitting and rising from a chair or yoga ball using an old pair of reins or even a simple rope, dog leash or spare piece of bailing twine.

Riding the Sit Trot Without Bouncing

Sitting the trot can be one of the hardest gaits to get a grip on. This video offers another great exercise that would be excellent if you have a yoga ball (you can also order one on Amazon for $13).

You can practice using these tips to help you sit the trot a little smoother.

Build Muscle Memory

If you’re new to different pieces of tack or struggle with some equipment, practicing with how those items function can be a great way of building muscle memory. This could go for anything from boots to rope halters to quick release knots.

Improve Your Balance

The better you’re able to balance yourself the better you’ll be able to ride. It’s a pretty simple equation but balancing yourself on a moving animal is no easy task. In the meantime there are plenty of exercises that you can do to help improve your balance at home.

The key takeaway here is that it’s a great time to better your own riding abilities and spend some time practicing areas you aren’t as savvy with, even if that doesn’t involve a horse.

4. Learn About A New Discipline

What areas of equestrian sports have you yet to discover? Eventing? Barrel racing? Polo, dressage? Steeplechase? I think the real MVP of quarantine 2020 should be YouTube for hosting so many excellent pieces of equestrian history that are free for you to replay and re-live if you’ve seen them before

Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2019

Do you know what the difference is between jumpers and hunters? What’s show jumping and grand prix? You can watch some of the best jumpers in the world at last year’s FEI Nations Cup from Dublin, Ireland in 2019.

You can read more about the history of the FEI Nations Cup on Wikipedia here.

2019 National Finals Rodeo Barrel Racing

Barrel racing originated as a women’s rodeo event in the middle of the 20th century and has been a staple of western events and gymkhanas ever since.

You can check out this replay of the 2019 National Finals Rodeo and all 10 rounds of barrel racing here.

FEI World Cup Vaulting 2017

Did you know that by some estimates we’ve been performing gymnastic routines on the backs of horses for around 2,000 years? Welcome to the world of equestrian vaulting.

If you’re only thinking of vaulting as that wooden horse you had to launch on to in elementary school, think again. This is one of the wildest facets of equestrian sports in existence.

2017 Skijoring World Championships

Another one of the wildest equestrian sports to watch would be the Skijoring World Championships.

Dragged behind a running horse, a towed skier maneuvers jumps and obstacles like a water skier behind a boat… only the boat is a horse. You get the picture.

5. Plan For The Future

It’s always good to look towards the future rather than focusing on some of the more sobering aspects of life in quarantine. To help take your mind off the present you can make a bucket list of things you want to do with your horse, places you want to ride, events you’d really love to compete in. Now is the time to dream big and jot down those goals and ideas so you can someday remind yourself of all these days spent cooped up in quarantine, waiting for nice weather and a chance to ride your horse.

How are you surviving the Great Quarantine of 2020? What are your suggestions for equestrian-related activities to do at home? Happy trails and stay safe everyone!

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