So you’ve been sidelined. No riding your horse(s) for weeks. I think most of us have experienced this scenario whether it’s because our horse has been laid up, or because of our own injury or maybe some other extenuating circumstance. The questions you may ponder while out of the saddle; how will it be when you get back on? Will you remember how to ride them? Will you remember the finer points of riding them?
This past March, as I do each year, I went to Southern Pines, NC to train and compete 3 horses. With me, I brought my cloud of bad luck. (One of these years I’ll escape without this!) The day before I left, my own horse got a high nail and was put out of commission. To make a long story short, she was finally rideable a week after we returned to VT! One of the other horses I brought was a friend’s horse, formerly an upper level horse. I feel very lucky to have this ride and was looking forward to making the most of the opportunity….or not. In our first outing for the year, he overreached hard and gave himself a terrible heel bruise! I spent the better part of my stay in NC doctoring horses and not riding much. Definitely NOT the plan!
Three weeks later I find myself doing flat work again. I hadn’t schooled in the ring for three weeks nor had ridden two of the horses in several weeks. A month is a long time to not practice. It’s long enough that when I returned to the tack or to the horse, I noticed the familiar isn’t so familiar. It’s just enough to help me notice little habits that maybe I had been wanting to change, or suddenly realize that my intentions were not matching my actions. I’m able to use this experience to improve my riding.
I was mindful of was “could my seat go deeper ?”. I have a very strong lower back and it often overpowers my abs. If I’m mindful, I can control my torso with a better balance of muscles, then I sit deeper. For me, the challenge is to soften my back, not necessarily use more abs. Doing so isn’t always my habit yet. I find this also is a great time to check in with the clarity of my aids. Did I ride clearly and methodically, or habitually? I am much more aware of the horse’s reactions and responses to me, much like riding an unfamiliar horse.
It’s unfortunate to have to take unscheduled downtime, but when you do, remember this can be an opportunity to improve your riding and training. It’s like a having a fresh slate.
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