Core Strengthening for Riders – Part 1 What is your core anyway and where is it?

Is it a New Year’s Resolution to be stronger, fitter and a better rider?  Or maybe you are told you need an independent seat or better balance.  Maybe you have been told you need a longer leg or looser hips to swing with the horses motion.

So much of these issues stem from your core strength, or lack of it.  And do you know what your core is?  Well, it isn’t the sixpack of pretty ab muscles!!!  It is the stablizer underneath and even with a strong core you don’t necessarily have a flat stomach.

One of my students, Lauren McGuire who has a masters degree in Phsyiotherapy and is an FEI dressage rider, worked with me on a few videos to give riders some simple straight forward exercises they can do to help you be a better rider.  Part 1 – explains what your core is and how to engage it.


Which clip is which? The Cross Ties Debate!

One of the debates you hear around the barn is which clip goes where when you are tacking up in the cross ties – on the wall or on the halter?

Cross ties come with two clips, a quick release clip and a regular clip which is not so easy to release quickly.   Now we all agree that the tie ring on the wall of the cross ties should have binder twine for the clip to attach to in order to be able to break away if necessary.  But if there is an emergency and you need to unclip the cross ties quickly, which side should the quick release clip be on?  The wall or the halter?

Watch this video and see how and why I think they should be!

Note: I am not a fan of the bungee cross ties.  Any pressure and if/when the twine breaks and the metal clip is a projectile to the horse’s head.   Of course, if the twine breaks it doesn’t matter which clip is which!

The Horse Inspection at a CDI. What is it and how do you do it?

The Horse Inspection at an FEI international event (CDI, CSI, CPEDI, CCI) can be one of the most stressful parts of the competition because if you don’t get thru this part then you don’t get the opportunity to compete.

The Horse Inspection at a CDI consists of two parts:

  1. In Stall Horse Inspection. Where the FEI Vet attending the event will come and look at your horse in the barn.  With your FEI passport he will check your documentation and vaccinations as required by an FEI competition, identify the horse (check the microchip if your horse has one) and take the vital signs of the horse (respiration and heart) and check for general overall health and fitness of the horse.
  2. The Jog or Trot Up.  The horse will be presented in front of the ground jury (the judges, technical delegate/steward, and veterinary delegates in hand in a snaffle bridle.  First standing  for identification which may include checking for a microchip. After identification is complete you will be asked to walk forward (usually to a first set of markers) then trot towards an end marker.  Walking as you approach the end mark turning to the right/clockwise around the marker and trotting back past the ground jury.

At this time you will be given a pass or hold.  If you are “held” then you will be sent to a holding box where one of the veterinary delegates will come and have a brief look at your horse.  It may included trotting the horse, palpation of the legs and/or hoof testers.  The veterinary delegate will discuss with you what will happen next and take their findings back to the ground jury.  If you are given the chance to re-present your horse you will be given a choice to re-jog at the end of the jog or the next day prior to the start of competition.

It is a good idea to practice the jog at home.  Both for obedience and safety but also to find an ideal speed where your horse presents the best.

Find more information in the FEI rules – click here.   Watch the video explaining the Horse Inspection and how to jog.

Good Luck and have a great show!

Teaching the rein back

The rein back is first introduced at Second Level.  The time to teach the rein back is when your horse is accepting the contact and stays on the aids thru all three gaits as well as the transitions.  The horse is also starting to understand the concept of yielding to the rein when pushed forward into the contact.  This could be when you are in Training or First level.

First, introduce the rein back from the halt.  In the beginning it is not as important that the rein back is perfectly straight but that the horse figures out the aids and responds in the correct way of stepping in reverse.  Once the horse understands and accepts the aids for rein back then we can look after the details of straightness, even diagonal steps, length of strides and number of steps.

Aids for the Rein Back:

  1. Starting from an immobile halt the rider lightens their seat by tipping forward slightly and letting both legs come back behind the girth.
  2. In this position the rider will push the horse forward into the contact.
  3. When the horse pushes into the contact he should yield to the pressure and step backwards.

In the beginning, it’s ok to allow the horse to halt so you can reward the horse for their effort.  As a finished product you would like to go from the rein back directly into the walk without the halt, you can work on this later once they get the idea.  To go forward again the rider will sit back in the normal position, and both legs will return back to the girth pushing the horse forward into a soft contact allowing the horse to step ahead.

Watch Sidney, a 6 yr old OTTB, who is learning rein back for the first time.  Teaching your horse to rein back for the first time by Equi-Learn

Another common way of teaching the rein back with with someone on the ground.  With their hand or whip on the horses chest –  apply some pressure on the horses chest, this can help the horse understand the rein back aids at the same time the rider is asking for the rein back.  I will do this if the horse does not understand the aids the first time we ask since it is not always necessary to have a ground person assist you as you can see in this video of Sidney learning the rein back for the first time.

Lots of praise for a good effort and they will try harder next time.  In a blink they will have learned the aids!


Rehabbing your horse after injury – Starting the trot by Equi-Learn

This is the second in the Rehabbing your horse after injury series.  Check out the first chapter “Rehabbing your horse after injury – walk exercises”

So you have had to OK from your vet to start the trot after you have been diligently and patiently walking for the first few weeks getting your horse back to work.  You may or may not have required a little calming help from some kind of tranquilizer or calming agent, which is something you should discuss with your vet if you  need it to help keep the horse on earth rather than in orbit! It is important for you to be safe and also for the horse to try and keep it together to help avoid re-injury.  You don’t want to set back your progress, the whole point is to get back to work slowly and developing strength.

Your vet will also let you know what your rehab program look like.  A general rehab program will start with your 20-25 mins of walk.  Check, done that.

Now you can start with minute of trot, adding a min of trot every couple or days …. and so on and so on…..   REMEMBER! At any time, you feel an odd step or a return of noticeable changes to the injury, then you should back off  and slow down your rehab program.  Go easy, go slow – remember the tortoise won the race.


Watching the clock for a minute is kind of annoying – so for the first day time out what one lap of the arena is and then figure out how many laps you can fit into a minute.  You are trying to rehab your horse as evenly as possible so divide your time into both directions evenly.  Then you can add #of laps rather than setting your timer.

In the trot, like the walk, you want the quality of work without the quantity.  You still want your horse to be in front of the leg, on the aids and working thru his body.  You don’t want the biggest trot he can do nor the smallest trot, but the one where he feels the most comfortable in his balance and working thru his body.  Watch video of Sidney, 6 yr old OTTB, coming back to trot work.

Usually most injuries require you to stay away from lateral work and tight circles.  So that limits you to going large and large circles.  So what can you work on rather than just going large with your ipod on?  Just like in the walk exercises ….

Transitions. Transitions. Transitions.

  • walk trot walk
  • trot halt trot
  • small trot, big trot, small trot
  • rein back
  • stretch trot and varying your frame throughout your ride

If you need to work on some lateral suppleness but since you can’t do any lateral work or smaller circles you can work on the straight line with true flexion/counter flexion. Other fun things you can do is poles, both on the ground and raised depending on your horses injury.

REMEMBER – ride on good footing, no lungeing yet, no small circles (if humanly possible as you ride your horse with four feet on the floor rather than four feet in the air like a horsey bouncy ball.)


Have fun and Stay Safe!

Rehabbing your horse after injury – Walk Exercises

It happens.  Injuries happen.  Once you get over the initial disappointment and you have been given the all clear from your vet to go back to work, going back to work will mean walking, walking and more walking.

The first thing you will need to know once you have the OK to get back to work is what will your rehab program look like.  A general rehab program will start with a few minutes of walk.  Then every few rides you can increase by 1 minute until you get upwards of 20-25mins at which time you can introduce 1 min of trot and so on and so on…..   At any time, you feel an odd step or a return of noticeable changes to the injury site, then you should back off slowing down your rehab process. Depending on the injury, you may need a thumbs up from the vet to be able to start trotting.

Another thing you may want to discuss with your vet is if you need some kind of tranq or calming agent to help with your rehab process.  Some horses can walk for hours and never get hot or fresh, others come out of the stall vibrating with extra energy and walking just isn’t going to be enough to take that edge off.  Both you and your horse need to be safe and give your horse the best chance at recovery without threat of re-injury.  The whole purpose of rehabbing your horse is to bring your horse back to work while limiting the amount of stress to the injury while at the same time building up flexibility and strength.


Starting back to work at the walk can be very boring!  Here are some options for you to try and get thru the time in and interesting and productive way.  Check out the video Rehabbing your horse after injury – Walk Excersies by Equi-Learn of 6 yr old OTTB, Sidney who is coming back to work after an injury.

  • Going for walks in Hand
  • Under saddle – walking a square without tight corners
  • Transitions Transitions Transitions!
    • Walk – Halt – Walk
    • Medium Walk – Free Walk – Medium Walk
    • Transitions within the walk, Small Walk – Big Walk – Small Walk
    • Halt – Rein Back (if this is an option with your individual injury)
  • Centre Lines, with and without the halt
  • Walking over poles, graduating to raised poles
  • Get out of the arena and walk the trails (if this is a safe option for you)

Some things to seriously consider when doing your rehab.

  • When working, work your horse with high quality even though there is a low quantity of work, so work your horse in front of the leg, properly thru their body and over their top line.
  • Most injuries require you to stick to straight lines and avoid lateral work.
  • Watch your footing.  Soft tissue injuries will need to have firmer footing to avoid over stressing some tendons and ligaments.
  • No Lungeing.
  • Stop immediately if you feel an “off” step or notice any negative changes to the injury site.
  • Help combat boredom and depression by spending more time with your horse, those who have been in full work and in top shape sometimes do not take well to “hangin’ around”.
  • Keep in touch with your vet on your progress, they may want to check on things before you start trot work and then again before you start the canter work.

Good Luck, Stay Safe and Have Fun!