How To Relax When Riding

how to relax in dressage

I dislike like the word relax when it comes to riding and being around horses, because the truth is they are a natural flight response horse. So naturally they are wired to bolt with signs of fear and the word relax when taken literally isn’t the best choose of words. When you say relax, I get it. But someone else may think you mean, relax in terms of chilling out on a couch and when around horses we need to stay focused, yet calm.

Then when you say relax to someone while riding, they will often then turn how-to-relax-when-ridinginto a blob and again I get what you are trying to achieve when a rider is tense, but often not the best choice of words.

So how do you relax when it comes to horses?
And what is it instead that you are trying to achieve?

Today I thought I would give you different words to describe what you are trying to achieve. Whether you are an instructor trying to get a tense rigid rider to soften or someone having a lesson and you are doing exactly what is being asked, but its not working because your understanding of the word is different to what your instructor is trying to achieve.

When we ride, there is a certain amount of strength and suppleness that is required. I like to think of this as fluid, elastic strength. You have the muscles switched on that are required to keep you balanced on the horse, but there is softness around this. We don’t tense our muscles instead we engage them and allow the body to move with the horse and you as a rider to stay balanced.

So here are my words I like to use instead.

Release

Using your minds eye scan through your body and become aware of areas that are tense or holding on. Then ask that area to release. For example common areas are tense hips locking while the core is weak. So think of engaging your core to stabilize your pelvis, then allow the hip to release and open and close with the horses movement. Allow the shoulder joint to release to let the arm move softly with the horses mouth. Allow your ankles to release to absorb the movement of the horse through them. These are all examples and when you take the time to scan your body you will discover areas that are tense or holding on. This can be through poor alignment, stress, nervousness or just habits built over time. So spend time in the walk when you first hop on and allow the body to release areas that are tense, start out your toes. You will be surprised how often these are all clinched up as well!

Engage

When we are riding, you are wanting to carry around a deep and connected seat. This isn’t achieved by being a blob or creating the feeling of a sack of potatoes. Instead its about holding yourself up, centering your body and aligning yourself correctly in both seatbones. Be tall, be engaged through your core with your neutral spine. Feel yourself become stable when you do this. Then feel how the horse responds to your balanced position.

Feel the horses movement

Often when we ride we get a piecing focus with our eyes and we grip or clinch in certain areas. Instead allow yourself to have soft eyes. Eyes that take in 180 degrees. You know where you are heading and whats around you. Then with those soft eyes begin to feel what happens with the horses movement. Feel when the back legs come forward, feel when they hit the ground. Start in the walk and notice what naturally happens with your hips when you release tension there and allow them to move with the horse with your engaged core and soft eyes.

Breathe

Breathe into your belly. When we breathe into our chest our shoulders lift and our psoas can tighten which then affects your hips. So practice breathing deep into your belly and as you breath deepening your seat. Use your breathe to calm the mind and feel what is going on beneath you. When you breathe deep and relaxed notice how your horse does to.

Deepen your seat

Allow your seat to really deepen into the saddle. Imagine your pelvis is like the base of a tree and its roots can spread deep into the ground. Let your seat really deepen and ground itself to the horses back. Then your spine is like the trunk of the tree, grow up keeping your deep seat and your neutral spine. With your soft eyes and soft breathe engage your core to create a long spine and lengthen the back of your body from this grounded and deep seat.

As you can see there are better word chooses to use instead of the word relax. So think about one place to start and work on creating that “relaxed” picture with these different word choices and see if it makes a difference.

I would love to know if this helps. Comment below or get in touch 🙂

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