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We Are Flying Solo

June 6, 2010

The Rider Has To Bend Too

On this lovely, steamy, simmering morning, I met with P for a longe lesson.  Or rather a lesson in which the horse mostly walked around while I did goofy things.  One of the BO's horses, Jeff, obliged to humour my floppings-about.  You can see how excited he was about this when I showed up (left).  He at least managed to feign half an expression of interest in the peppermint wrapper noise (right).  Solo gets reprieve from longe lessons since no one can longe him except me due to his longeing baggage.

P's tasks for us today: make eventer79 do lots of stretches in attempt to loosen up her perennially stiff body parts. We mixed equal parts putting Jeff on the longe and just letting him wander about. Nearly all work was done at the walk, after first demonstrating it at the halt. Stirrups were removed from saddle so leg could drape loosely around the horse and the rein was only held at the buckle, it could also have been looped through the bridle if the horse was on the longe the whole time (note: please keep a horse's longe sessions no longer than 20 minutes for the sake of joints). I believe I succeeded in demonstrating a good proportion of failure.

Challenge 1: Sitting up straight, legs long and soft, raise left arm and hold out with fingers extended in front of you perpendicular to your body. Bend at the waist/hips, stretching your lower back, keeping your eyes UP AND AHEAD and touch your toes on the left side. Or if you are me, touch your knee. Which you have lifted so you can reach it (it made me feel great when P says, "OMG, how does someone so young get so stiff and messed up?"). Then slowly sit back up. Repeat three times than switch to right side. The key: your lower leg CAN NOT MOVE.

Challenge 2: Sit up straight and extend both arms out to the side like airplane arms. Again, keeping eyes up, twist the torso so your arms go in front of and behind you and then touch the left knee with the right hand. Repeat three times in each direction, on the other side, touch the right hand to the left knee. Again, lower leg must remain stable. (P again offers the kind observation, "Geez, it hurts to even watch how locked up your body is!" That's me, 31 going on 60.)

Challenge 3: Extend your left arm out in front of you and point off into the distance. Lock your eyes onto your finger. Now rotate your arm slowly around your shoulder so your finger moves up above your head and then behind you, letting your eye follow your finger so your head and neck roll around and stretch with it. Again, 3x both sides. Still keeping that lower leg still?

Challenge 4: You can rest your hands on the pommel for this one, but don't use them to support yourself. Lean your upper body forward over the horse's neck, keeping the eyes up again, until your seat just comes out of the saddle. You know what to do with that lower leg. Then return to neutral. Now lie back until your head is resting on the horse's bum, letting your back stretch and relax. Use your abs to sit back up. Repeat 3x.

Challenge 5: Roll your head around on your neck. Be careful to go slow and let things stretch gently. At the same time, roll your feet/ankles in nice stretchy circles.

Challenge 6: Lift both legs at the same time from the hip out away from the saddle and hold for as many strides as you can. Don't push it -- if the hip muscles start to cramp, stop. Really feel your seatbones and keep the lower back soft and moving with the horse.

Challenge 7: Hold the pommel with one hand. Lift both legs slightly in front of the saddle, lift your knees and pedal like you are on a bicycle. Feel like an idiot yet? Then you're doing it right.

All of these exercises aim to stretch and loosen the lower back and hips so you can develop a loose and following seat. And I have a sneaking suspicion they also provide great entertainment for one's instructor.

When you have done these, there are two more you can do at faster gaits. You still have no stirrups.

Challenge 8: Hold the pommel with one hand and the cantle with the other hand. Pick up a quiet sitting trot. Use your arms to pull yourself down into the saddle while keep your leg as loose as possible without falling off the horse. Can you lift both legs off the side of the horse? This is your goal -- as it is should be your seat and your balance keeping you on.

Challenge 9: This one is easiest for me at the canter (and Jeff, he hates trotting). We just did two laps around the arena in each direction, really focusing on having the hips and lower back unlock and be soft and following. I accomplished this for, um, one stride at a time. My brain said soft, but my hip muscles said no way. This will be big project for me!

All in all, you want to spend no more than 20 minutes doing no stirrups work, whatever gait you are working it. This is the optimal time for strength and flexibility building. More than this and you are just fatiguing your muscles and creating soreness and tightness. Pain is a sign that you are pushing it too far and being counterproductive.

So, try the challenges and tell me how you do!


  1. Hey,
    I'm in the process of starting my own business and I am hoping to spread the word a little through my blogging buddies. I am making De-Lyte Bites, and electrolyte replenishing horse cookie! They come in 4 cookie servings and contain a balanced sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium electrolyte designed for sport horses. Check out for more info on the cookies and shoot me an email at if you would like to try a sample. I would love to send you a sample to try if you could review them on your blog for me (if Solo loves them as much as I think he will)! Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the heads-up Heather! Solo is a giant food snob, but he would be more than happy to review them for you. Remind me if you don't get an email from me soon. I will warn you that this a horse who spits out peppermints and it took three tries to convince him that beet pulp was yummy.

  3. That is perfect! I have yet to find a horse who doesn't love them... so I am happy to have a picky eater! They look and taste (yes I tried) a lot like mrs pastures cookies but are slightly salty. I designed them with endurance horses in mind, but I think they could be really useful for eventers or anyone else with active sport horses! Hope to hear from you soon! Thanks!

  4. Good exercises! I will have to try them on Bailey. I am a horrible mixture of way WAY stiff and floppy. Ugly UGLY equitation seat, let me tell you! Don't feel too bad about the bending acting 'old' thing...I am 20, going on, um, about 78. I am sooooo unlimber it is really really sad. As long as we keep trying right?
    Those cookies sound pretty cool!

  5. Great exercises! Here are a few more for you that challenge balance as well:

    On the lunge, bareback, perform the old school "Around the World." Start at the halt, then walk, then trot, then (if you're really brave) the canter. It's amazing how hard it is to sit on a moving horse sideways!! Don't fall backwards!

    Another suggestion might be to try your exercises bareback while riding backwards on the horse. If you've never done this before, it is the most bizarre experience riding around staring at a horse's butt!

    I'm pretty sure I have more on my blog from way back when I was taking lunge lessons with the "new" trainer. I haven't been to her in a long time since she is not way too far from me, but my position was 100% better after those lessons!

    Also, working your muscles when fatigued can actually be a good thing. When you work fatigued muscles, you are causing alternative muscles to step in and support them. The key is not to over-do it, as always, to avoid injury.

  6. Oh, I have tried riding backwards before, just not on the longe. I tried trotting backwards and almost fell off, it felt so weird!

  7. Wow! That's a lot of exercising!

    Thanks so much for your comment on my new template on my blog! I really appreciate your imput! Hope you're having a great week!