Training Tips from #TeamDiO Member Cara Oprea
Training tips Although I myself am not a trainer, I am proud to say I have several years experience riding in the Hunter Jumper discipline with several different instructors throughout Indiana and Illinois. Each of them has had a slightly different attitude and training program and has presented riding fundamentals in a different way. Along with that, over my many years of riding I have gathered my own cluster of riding tricks that I’ve found work for me and hopefully work for other riders as well.
No Stirrup Riding
The dreaded no stirrup lesson and infamous No Stirrup November is disliked by many. It’s not fun, its not easy, and it may hurt a bit, but IT WORKS! There’s a reason, (several good reasons actually) seasoned trainers incorporate no stirrup riding into lessons (and no it’s not just to torture their students!). No stirrup riding forces riders to grip the saddle with their inner thigh and leg muscles, which in turn greater strengthens these muscles. This in turn helps secure your seat in the saddle which helps connect you to and feel your horse more underneath you. Myself personally, no I do not always ride without stirrups or think it needs to be done all the time as a drill, but I will incorporate it into part of my rides a once or twice a week and for a little longer the week before a competition. This practice also prepares you for the unexpected; a judge at a competition won’t care if and when you lose a stirrup while in the ring, and it would be a shame to be limited or not do your best just because you lost a stirrup!
Upper Body Fixes
My arms are my Achilles’ heel for riding. I’m very content with my seat and leg position as a rider but I am guilty of having busy arms and having them get in the way sometimes! I have a bad habit of dropping my hands onto my horse’s neck or pulling unevenly through turns and lateral work. My trainer found the perfect solution for this problem; a riding crop under my thumbs. This is a well-known trick in the hunter jumper world and it works wonders for me to quiet down my hands. I hold my reins the same way I normally would and grasp the crop between my thumbs and index finger. This forces me to keep my hands together as one with lateral work and while turning as well. It provides balanced contact with my horse’s mouth and equal pressure on each side of his face. My trainer also had the solution for my bad habit of dropping my hands on my horse’s neck while riding and while jumping. The Equicube; another popular tool most riders are familiar with. It’s a small, softball sized cube riders grasp and hold while riding. It is used as a core and posture-correcting tool but helps me tremendously with keeping my hands up. When riding, the goal is to hold the cube independently off of your horse’s neck, otherwise it is considered cheating. My trainer introduced me to the cube when I was still just getting back into riding and I absolutely hated it at first. I felt very disconnected and behind the motion on my horse because I wasn’t able to lean on my hands or my horse’s face for balance or support and instead had to sit upright to keep the cube above my horse’s neck. Once I practiced more and more with the cube, I gained more balance and straightness in my seat and finally learned to hold my hands above, not on, my horse’s neck. This also helped tremendously with jumping and half- halting more forward horses as I developed the correct habit of half-halting backwards with my hands and not pulling down on the horse’s mouth. To this day I will still use the cube for a refresher if I feel my hands getting heavy or notice myself resting them down on my horse’s neck.
Flat Work for Jumping Results
With the training program I am in currently, we focus largely on flat work; collection, extension, bending, lateral work, and everything in between. Getting the horses to really feel and understand our leg cues on the flat so that over fences they are able to stay balanced and be more maneuverable in the air. With my previous horse, I really liked to have her responsive to my legs both in terms of extension and collection as well as turning. Being a jumper horse and being a larger Warmblood, I needed her to be able to turn sharply while remaining balanced and forward. Being a mare, sometimes she was sensitive to rein pressure and would oppose if you rode too heavy with your hands or too much in her face while turning. To find a happy solution that allowed communication about where we were going without upsetting her, I practiced turning her with more leg-based cues. I would practice turning her with less and less rein pressure and more leg pressure at her shoulder in the direction I wanted her to go until she caught on to the idea. We would practice this first at the walk for a bit each ride, then bring it to the trot, and eventually at the canter she would navigate around the arena just based on my leg movements. I could eventually feel the same responsiveness from her with my leg cues while navigating a jumper course and would be able to leave her head and face nearly untouched. This was something that worked very well for us as a pair and something I do like to have horses I ride be at least a little familiar with.
Riding tips from trainers I previous trainer from back when I was riding and competing in high school gave a lot of great advice which helped shape me into the rider I am today. One thing she always stressed to me for jumping was about finding distances to jumps and sticking with your decision “when the jumps get bigger”. She would always tell me not to second guess myself on an imperfect distance and would stress “whether its the right decision or wrong decision you have got to make one for you and your horse”. Riders know that even with an level pace, direction, and straightness not every jumping distance is going to be perfect when on course and adjustments will need to be made prior to the jump.
Like my trainer said, even if you are unsure of the distance or decision you make, you have got to stick with it. You cannot be indecisive and leave you horse hanging to a fence and especially not when the jumps get bigger and less forgiving. This can lead to a refusal and make a “stopper” out of a horse or lead to a crash through the jump and possibly an injury. I’m very proud of what I’ve learned so far with horses and know I still have much to discover and always will. With horses and equestrianism you can never stop learning and you will never know everything.
There is always more to learn to improve your riding and your relationship with these beautiful creatures!
Why Cara Chooses DiO
The number one thing I love most about DiO liniment is their commitment to all-natural ingredients throughout their products. I feel that riders are more conscious and aware now of what goes into the products they give their horses and this the foundation that DiO prides itself on. Its perfect for a quick rub down after practice or to use the concentrate to whip up a strong spray before wrapping our horses as well. I also use DiO on myself after long days at the barn or gym and can feel it get deep into the tissues and alleviate sore muscles almost instantly, which means my horses will feel the same relief when I apply it to them as well. I want to keep my equine teammates feeling and performing their best, and I know DiO is a key to that from warm-ups to practices to show time.