Out of the Saddle Exercises to Improve Your Riding Skills
With Belinda Trussell
By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
“In all disciplines, we want to be able to train our horses to move up the levels and perform different maneuvers for us,” says Canadian Olympic dressage rider Belinda Trussell. “Without a supple body, a horse isn’t capable of that... and if you haven’t got a supple rider, then it’s not going to be possible to have a supple horse.”
According to Belinda, correct rider position and function is the first step to creating a supple horse. “I always think about myself when I’m on the horse and about what I’m doing that is either creating stiffness or creating suppleness in my horse,” she says. “If I have really tight arms or wrists, or if I’m holding tension anywhere in my body, it’s not going to be possible to create suppleness in my horse.”
Belinda recommends the following two out-of-the-saddle exercises (you'll need a helper) to help you evaluate your riding position.
Exercise #1: Steer Your Partner. Photo: Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
Exercise #1: Steer Your Partner
Wrap a long lunge line around your helper’s upper chest and shoulders, and grasp the two ends of the line as if they were your reins. Ask your helper to walk forward, turning in circles to the left and right, and try to maintain a steady, even contact with your “reins.” Belinda advises: "Have a feeling for what your hands and contact are like. If you’re really holding, that person won’t be able to walk forward.” Then switch places and have your helper steer you. This will provide you with insight into what your horse experiences.
Exercise #2: Give and Take. Photo: Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
Exercise #2: Give and Take
Grasp one end of a lead rope, lunge line, or reins and have your helper grasp the other end. Ask your helper to move her hand and follow her movements to keep a soft, even contact. Ask yourself: Are my wrists locked? Forearms tight? Shoulders stiff? Is this a soft, elastic feeling between us, or is it tight and stiff? If the answer is soft and elastic, then you’re ready to get on your horse.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo: Robin Duncan Photography
About Belinda Trussell: Born in Sydney, Australia, Belinda Trussell has been representing Canada in the international dressage ring since 1995. She was the youngest member of the Canadian Dressage Team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, and represented Canada at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Belinda lives in Stouffville, Ontario, where she owns and operates Oakcrest Farm, a distinguished dressage facility.