We begin all our riding sessions with warm-ups for both horse and rider. For the horse, this involves progressing walk and trot, circles, changes of direction and suppling exercises to warm up the muscles and joints prior to exercise. For the rider, the warm up serves an additional function: to develop an independent seat.
The warm-up exercises we do each time are intended not just to loosen the joints, but to specifically test your ability to isolate your upper body from your legs and seat. This is necessary in all forms of riding as a horse takes different cues from the rider’s legs, seat, hands and body. In mounted combat, where the rider must make powerful thrusts and cuts in all directions while asking his horse to move through cues from the legs and and seat, this is even more vital. A rider who inadvertently moves his legs when he swings his sword will send the horse off in an unintended direction, most likely at an unforeseen pace!
This is why the third requirement in the Riding 1 checklist is
3. Exercises at the halt
As you progress in your riding you will move from doing exercises at the halt, to warming up in walk, trot and canter, but the basic movements remain the same. In all of these exercises, keep your weight evenly in both seat bones and your legs in correct alignment (knees over toes, hips over heels). It is better to have a smaller motion or reach and maintain correct lower body placement than it is to reach farther but shift your legs or seat.
Be aware of your horse’s reaction. If you have a young or spooky horse, have someone hold him while you do these exercises at first.
1. Arm circles. With your reins and crop in one hand, slowly reach straight behind you with the other arm, and bring it up in a slow circle above your head, forward, and down. Keep the shoulders square to the front of the horse, isolating the arm from the torso. Repeat 4 or 5 times, then reverse direction. Switch hands, and repeat.
2. Forward & Back Reach. Reach forward with one hand and touch your horse’s poll (the top of her head, between her ears). Reach back and slide the hand gently along your horse’s spine till you reach the dock (base of the tail). Repeat with the opposite hand.
3. Stirrup touch. Slide one hand down your leg, going as far as you can without upsetting your seat. If you can touch your stirrup, bravo! Now cross your hand over your rein hand and reach as far down that leg as you can. Repeat with the other hand.
4. Ankle circles. With the reins back in both hands take your feet out of the stirrups. Pull your toes upward as far as they will go, maintaining your thigh and calf position. Rotate up, out and down 3 or 4 times, without changing your seat or inadvertently kicking your horse.
5. Thigh stretch. Place reins and whip in one hand. With both feet still out of the stirrups grasp bend your leg at the knee so you can grasp your ankle with your free hand, keeping your weight even between both seat bones. The purpose of the exercise is not to stretch the thigh (it’s called thigh stretch because that’s what it resembles), but to help you maintain balance in the seat alone.
There are many more exercises you can add as you progress, including ones with both reins and stirrups dropped, and full torso movements, but these are sufficient for beginning riders. Make a point of doing these every time you ride and pretty soon you’ll be able to do this at a gallop: