Reader: Can you recommend a DIY exercise that will help me evaluate and improve my use of balanced riding aids?
Julie: Riding exercises performed while on the lunge line are extremely beneficial for riders to develop the use of their independent aids. Lunging riders is an essential part of the program at the Spanish Riding School in helping riders develop the use of their seat, leg, and hands most effectively, and it can be very valuable in any riding program, no matter the level of the rider. Riding on the lunge line allows riders to focus solely on themselves instead of on both horse and rider in conjunction.
One exercise that can be performed on the lunge line tests the rider’s ability to use the aids on both their left and right sides in a more balanced way. The person lunging the rider must pick a single spot in an arena and pivot around one foot so that they establish the center of an even circle. The arm of the person lunging should remain at their side, as it would be when riding, so that the elbow can move if the horse pulls on the lunge line.
The length of the lunge line establishes the radius of the chosen size of the circle. A 20-meter circle is an ideal starting size, so the distance between the person lunging and the horse should be 10 meters. The goal of the rider is to use their aids on both sides such that the lunge line maintains the 10-meter distance. If the rider’s aids are allowing or encouraging the horse to fall in, then the lunge line will fall and start dragging on the ground. If the rider causes the horse to fall outside of the 20-meter circle, then the person standing at the center will be pulled toward the horse.
This exercise builds the rider’s awareness as to how they are using their aids. For example, if the horse falls in, then the rider may not be keeping enough inside leg or outside rein. Often a rider will find that one direction is easier than the other, as one arm or leg is stronger or weaker than the other.
The rider should eventually be able to walk, trot and canter with the horse on a contact while the horse is in shoulder-fore, keeping the lunge line from falling on the ground while at the same time not pulling on the person lunging. To increase difficulty, the exercise can be attempted with the horse bending to both the left and right, going both directions. Riders very advanced in this exercise can practice counter-canter, shoulder-in, or haunches-in while attempting to maintain an even circle.
This exercise can also be performed while focusing only on particular aids at a given time. The reins can be taken away such that the rider must use the leg and seat to direct the horse. The reins and stirrups can be taken away such that the seat is the primary focus. Leg weights can also be added around the rider’s ankles to prevent the rider from using the legs and to stretch the legs as long as possible in the saddle.
As the rider’s awareness of their aids grows, he or she will become a more balanced and more effective rider.
Julie Weisz employs the fundamentals of the Balanced Equine Training system in her Elpis Enterprises, LLC, hunter/jumper training program. She is based in San Diego County’s San Marcos and can be reached at 949 303 9258 or through www.elpisenterprises.com.
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