How to get better (cross-posted)

(Cross-posted in Off Course)

To the adult amateurs out there, interested in your thoughts on how you got better. Looking for things in my control as a busy, non-owning but leasing and regularly riding re-rider.

Did you do things to get stronger out of the saddle? Audit clinics and volunteer? Ride round and round without your stirrups?

I’ve been back at riding for a year this month, and I’ve certainly made strides. But I had a frustrating morning. It mostly involved a derailed schooling show and a thrown shoe. But I was really frustrated with myself, I think, that my riding and horsemanship has not progressed better or faster.

So I’m looking for your thoughts. What are things that you did to make yourself a better rider for your horse and student of the sport? Trainers, what do you see students do that leads to improvement?


Good fitness off the horse, but analyze your body and target what you need.

One year as a returning rider is not long. Give yourself a couple of years.

Hours in the saddle, but keeping your position. I’ve found trail riding with attentiveness to position builds muscle memory.

Several things mess up adult riders.

One is chronic body issues which could be slouching from office work, or could be aging related joint degeneration, or could be skeletal imbalance.

Another is fear of the horse or general anxiety or too much focus and self consciousness taking away from the ability to go forward with relaxation.

Another is bad instruction that gets you cranking and spurring, at which point your leg gets tense, your hands get mean, and you may end up balamcing on the horses mouth.

Another is poor saddle fit for rider or horse.

Honestly we need to know both what you think your problem is and a video clip to give any real advice

  1. I focused on more lessons when they became available.
  2. Rode without stirrups but the real deal started to happen when I committed myself to close to 3 months of lunge lessons while riding in addition to that.
  3. I made sure I was more physically fit than the horse - strength training, running, pilates and yoga - realized when I started lunge lessons I was flexible but not enough.
  4. Took advantage of clinics when I could.

In addition to the good ideas already provided, going through the L program. I learned so much that I was able to apply to my horse and my riding.


The quickest way to improve is to do pilates and ride under instruction daily on schoolmasters as well as ride your own trained horse out of instruction daily.

That takes time, money and dedication.

Or you get paid to do it.

I was paid to have lessons on other peoples horses and rode my girl at lunch time. 8 horses a day. I know what it is like to be young fit and can ride.

Pilates will get your core muscles working quicker than riding alone.


I video my rides and try to analyze objectively what I can improve for the next ride. I study theory in between lessons so that I can connect the dots on WHY my instructor his having me do things a certain way. This year I’ve been doing Feldenkrais, and then work through some of my findings about my movement issues/asymmetries when I’m walking or running.

Also, ride as much as you can. Have a focus for each ride that is not a lesson - whether it’s getting a better leg position, riding better corners or transitions. Yes to auditing clinics and watching other people ride. You can also use visualization to train your mind.

For exercises, I’ve found standing on a Bosu ball is really helpful. Standing on the flat side with your feet at the edges has a similar feel to feet in the stirrups. Wendy Murdoch also sells a little stool for riders that I think swivels and wobbles, so you can practice balance and weight aids while sitting in a chair. Whether you need to add brute strength or aerobic capacity depends on if you’re struggling in your rides or not. If you can get through a 45 minute dressage lesson without having to ask for more walk breaks than your horse needs for example, I wouldn’t be too worried about it, and would focus more on the balance, symmetry and ability to have fine control of the aids. As a dressage rider, I do like to test myself by getting up in 2-point and going for a little hand gallop, or doing a jump session once a week. I think it’s good for the reflexes as well as fitness, and prevents getting into a rut.


I love pilates, but found some of the concepts to be at odds with riding. For example, the concept of a neutral spine. Maybe I had a poor instructor, or I just have poor conformation! It was great for the core.

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I forgot one - doing in-hand work can be really helpful. It is kind of “riding from the ground” so you can see very clearly what the feet are doing, when you need to apply an aid to ask for a sideways step or to get a square halt. That can help with improving timing of the aids from the saddle. Also just paying attention to the foot falls and what happens in transitions when you’re lunging.

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I did a Pilates routine from a DVD. It was all done lying on a mat and had ballet and yoga exercises as well.

Ot was a whole body workout. Lungs, fingers, toes, arms and eyes as well as core.

Also when no riding instructor the best thing is to ride with mirrors. Video is the next best thing

  1. Committing to regular lessons/training programs. No excuses. My competition horse got two rides a week with the trainer and I rode the other four days with one-two lessons a week. My progress doubled with the pro rides in the saddle. And stay with one trainer consistently. This also means that if the trainer you are with is not a match: leave, and find one that is.
  2. Riding with appropriate tack. That meant consciously investing $$$ in properly fitting saddles and bits.
  3. Fitness, namely: weightlifting. I did a combination of Olympic weightlifting (big lifts) and general strength training with high reps of lower weights. I got very strong fairly quickly and it paid dividends in my riding: better core strength and greater stamina.
  4. Set goals, verbalized them, and made sure my trainer was on board. Listened to her input and modified them as necessary.
  5. Bought better horses and made the commitment to sit my butt in the saddle and ride 6 days a week. This was the biggest factor in my improvement. This also means I’m up at dawn to ride before work 5 days a week.
  6. Watch good riders. Commit inspiring rides to memory. Carry those rides in your head when you are riding. Visualization also pays riding dividends.

At the moment, I am single, no kids, and live in a low cost of living area, so my time and financial constraints are not as high as they might be for some. I’m fortunate to be able to spend every free penny and minute working towards my riding goals.

Best of luck on your riding endeavors! The progress you make may not be a straight line upwards, there will be plateaus and times of going backwards. That is normal. Instead of wallowing in frustration, look back on how far you have come, and take a moment to graciously thank the creature that has carried you this far.


Thank you all for your very helpful and thoughtful suggestions.

One common theme seems to take my own personal fitness more seriously. I’ve definitely made a start on that (I used to huff and puff through a jumping lesson, but now it’s not so bad - and I’ve lost about 10 pounds using Noom), but there is a lot more that I can do.

@outerbanks77, I love your suggestion of inhand work, and using video. Two things I can easily start to do. Also, @atlatl, the L program looks great and I’ll work on the sections available to all USDF members.

@Mersidoats, I love your suggestions, particularly your thoughts on trainers. I’m giving some thought to whether I’m in the right program. It’s some that I want to keep evaluating for a couple of months while I also make changes that I can easily work on myself.

And @Scribbler, thanks for reminding me that a year is not that long. I feel like my return to riding has been like falling head-over-heels in love, and I want nothing more than to get better, learn more (about riding and horsemanship), and make up for lost time. But you are right - there is no reason to feel a rush.


mmmmm…i think riding, for me, is about the horse and not so much about me. I spend a whole lot of time with my horses on the ground, very little comparatively aboard them. My way about horses is mostly about my relationship with the horse. For me, the fun in riding is about connecting with the horse. On the me side of things, I’m pretty athletic and manage a large farm, so i’m also pretty fit just by lifestyle. But i do yoga and tai chi, and in those lessons, i concentrate as much concentration i can muster on connecting with energy.


Re the trainer - my current trainer, who I’ve been with several years is VERY focused on seat, position, rider strength and proper aids. And how to feel what to correct. My prior trainer was not so much a “people” person, she was great at training the horse but the rider, not so much. Everything with her was an exercise with the horse, do circles, half circles, haunches in, shoulder in, etc. Nothing about whether I was leaning left - old problem, or slouched - another old problem or how/why to engage what aids to fix an issue. I improved a ton with the current trainer.


#1 piece of advice is ride with the best coach / trainer you can possibly afford. Even if you have to drive an extra 45 minutes to get there. Even if it means riding only 3 times a week instead of 4 or 5.

Pick the trainer who has a consistent track record of doing what you hope to do, and of helping their clients do it also. If you want to compete at PSG someday, don’t pick a coach who has never brought a single horse up the levels themselves or has never entered the ring at FEI levels. Don’t pick the coach whose clients consistently top out at First.

Don’t worry that you’re not good enough or serious enough to have a really good coach. Their job is to make you good enough.

As to the other stuff - yes, working on fitness and stamina out of the saddle will go a long way towards helping you improve. Same for auditing clinics, scribing at shows, and educating your eye as much as possible.

But no amount of auditing can replace time in the saddle - as much as you can manage - with the best coach you can find.


I go to a personal trainer twice a week for 45 minutes. He focuses mainly on my back and core with a little cardio thrown in.

Last weekend I rode in an Anne Gribbons clinic on my one horse that I ride 2 or 3 times a week and she said “Ah, you have good stamina!” :rofl::rofl::rofl:

I told my trainer that’s not a bad result for 2 or 3 rides a week and 1.5 hours in the gym.


Thank you very much for this. It’s a very good reminder.


Side track - what is this? I’m really interested but google isn’t bringing up anything useful

Is it like a Bosu ball?

Sorry, I have a Balimo Stool and a Bosu Ball. Apparently they had a baby. :smiley:


Yep, that’s what I meant.