Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.
By: Michael Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Doing homework is critical for the safety and welfare of both horse and rider.
When we think of homework, many adults cringe and recall the days of elementary school, high school, and college when they had homework. For our Youth…when they hear the word homework, they often share how much other “real school” homework they have to complete and that they do not have time for the “horse homework.”
Why does such a simple word cause such a negative reaction for many folks … because homework is work and rarely do people consider it fun (but they should if it is done correctly and with a purpose that helps us with our passion).
Now if we have a favorite subject – let us say trail riding, obstacle work, working cattle, or jumping — just like a favorite subject in school…the homework associated with those activities gets done. For many people – homework is only focused on the “fun” part of the riding experience. These folks will work on specific activities that they see as fun…or as a means to their end goal of getting a win or an award.
Homework for People.
Homework is working on obstacles.
Homework is jumping.
Homework is working cattle.
Homework is riding that dressage test to help the rider memorize the “pattern.”
Homework is purchasing the new blinged bridle or pad or clothing so you look good.
For good horsewomen and good horsemen — there is so much more to homework. Homework is about gymnastic work for the mind and body of the horse and rider. This list below is the homework done by good horsewomen and horsemen – this is the list that true riders focus on.
Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be straight.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be obedient.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be fit.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse know where his/her feet are at all times.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be supple.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be responsive.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be balanced.
Homework is working on exercises to help our horse bend correctly.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider balance.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider feel of the horse’s feet.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider refinement of aids.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider breathing.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider planning ahead while riding.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider connection.
Homework is working on exercises to improve rider stamina.
Homework is working on transitions.
Homework is working on the Walk.
Homework is working on patience.
Now in case you missed it – I separated homework into two categories —
Homework for People & Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.
Of course I made this separation intentionally – because the next section is for the riders who want to do homework to develop both the horse and rider. Here is a list of exercises that will help good riders (and their horses) continue to improve and be ready to take on anything and succeed and focus on the well-being of the horse.
- Shallow Loop serpentines at the walk and trot
- Walk and trot your horse from the ground. Do this from both sides … plan to work ¼ mile or more on each side of the horse and at each gait. If you cannot trot – then work the walk at multiple tempos. (This is much to do about harmony of horse and handler and rider fitness).
- Set up one of those amazing ground pole patterns we see all over the internet … work those patterns at walk and trot while riding your horse.
- Walk and trot transitions in the saddle – make transitions between the gaits every 13 strides.
- Walk and trot work over ground poles with and without 4 1/2 to 5 feet spacing between the 3 ground poles.
- Walk work without stirrups while riding and focus on Turn on Forehand, Turn on Haunches, backing, side passing, and balanced halts – all without stirrups.
- Work on riding straight lines at walk and trot. Make sure your eyes are up and that your seat bones are even and that you are balanced. Have a spotter to make sure you are keeping your eyes up and looking ahead.
- Ground poles work from the ground with your horse. Work at walk and trot and do this on a cavesson or halter. With and without saddle is a great way to work the horse. Make certain you are working to achieve straightness of your horse with the proper bend.
- Ride staircase leg yields at the walk with your horse. Notice if your horse has the ability to move the same in each direction.
- Count footfalls on a straight line and on circles at the walk and trot. Mark out your straight line and circles with cones (or other marker) and work on consistency of the number of footfalls from cone to cone (marker to marker) at both walk and trot. You can do this from the saddle on this day.
- Ride squares and practice TOH (Turn on the Haunches) at each corner going in both directions then work on TOF (Turn on Forehand) at each corner going in both directions.
- Walk and trot in the Snowman pattern (from Jane Weatherwax – 20 m circle, then 15 m circle then 10 m circle). If your horse is not at the developmental stage to properly execute a 15 m or 10 m circle – then consider making each a 20 m circle). For the proper snowman…if you start left, then middle circle is right, then last circle is left — switch it up and start both directions.
- Ride S turns through a circle at walk and trot
- Ride at walk and trot around 7 cones (use buckets or rocks if you do not have cones). Keep focused on bend and tempo
- At the trot, practice three seat positions of rising/posting, sitting and two point….and keep tempo the same
- Ride a 20 meter circle at walk and trot at three different tempos in both directions
- Core day! Work on core exercises for you and for your horse. Hillary Clayton has a great book on core exercises for your horse. For the rider – leg lifts or sit ups might work nicely – you decide. Once you get your plan set for this day – consider doing this 3 times a week for you and your horse.
- Trot to halt to back for two steps and then ride forward once again at the trot. Repeat this up to 10 times.
- Work on moving shoulders of the horse to the left and right at the walk and trot
- Work on improving the finesse of your rider aids by tossing a ball or kicking a ball (with both hands and legs).
- Ride the Spiraling Circle at the walk (and if you feel it is good – then also complete at the trot). For sure go both clockwise and counterclockwise. Do a 20m, then 18m, then 16m, then 14m and finally a 12m circle and then go back up at the same size change. Really focus on stabilizing the circle and bend before you worry about going to the next size smaller or larger circle.
Be more for your horse and be more for yourself — ride with a focus on mental and physical gymnastics so that you live your passion of riding.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.
Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California. Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse. Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T. You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.