Here’s a rundown of 10 schooling solutions to help you get the most out of your schooling session or riding lesson. Remember, when it all goes wrong in a schooling session, return to something your horse finds easy and finish on a good note.
1. Start a riding diary. Record your feelings, problems, goals and achievements after every lesson or schooling session. Write down which school movements or exercises solved particular problems and remember them for next time you encounter the same situation.
2. Arrive in plenty of time for your lesson. If you’re flustered, your horse will notice. He’ll assume that if you’re tense, he should be.
3. Warm up before you ride. No other athlete would consider training before a proper warm-up session. Some gentle leg and back stretches plus shoulder and hip rotations will loosen up stiff muscles. Allow your horse to do the same, begin gently and don’t make him work too hard, too soon.
4. If your mount is new to you, look at his conformation before you get on and try to guess what his problems may be. If he’s long-backed and gangly you may feel like you can’t ‘hold him together’ and steering may even be tricky.
Whereas if he’s short and stocky, his paces may be choppy and he’ll have problems stretching.
5. If you’re obsessed with getting your horse on the bit, forget about it. Concentrate on riding forwards, working on suppling exercises and getting him to respond to the lightest of aids.
6. Assess every horse every time you ride. Does he feel stiff to you (or stiffer than usual), how does he accept the rein contact, are his footfalls even? If necessary, adjust your schooling plans according to your observations. If you’re having a lesson at a riding school speak to your instructor about the horse, find out as much as you can about him and ask whether your assessment is accurate. Some horses will surprise you, so allow yourself to be flexible.
7. Here’s a great bit of equestrian advice from Suzanne Shaw from Equine insurance experts Bva.org.uk: “When it all goes wrong in a schooling session, return to something your horse finds easy or enjoys and finish on a good note”.
8. Everyone recommends transitions, but it’s because they work. Use lots of them. They stop your horse getting bored, get him listening to you, improve the quality of his paces and make you a better rider. Try making a transition at a specific point and work on accuracy, or count 10 strides of walk, then trot for 10 strides, then ask for a canter transition, and so on.
9. After a lesson on your own horse, ask your instructor for homework – it will give you ideas about what to work on when you’re alone.
10. Make a playlist to ride and sing along to as you school. This can relieve tension and help you relax and breathe in time with his movement.