Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Pre-Ride Exercises For Your Horse"

Howdy Folks,

How often do we see horses fetched from the pasture, stall or trailer, hurriedly saddled and folks just mount up and ride away? Often these horses are up, and moving out in a hurry, the rider shifts gears to discipline. In my humble opinion that's not fair to the horse. And can be made so much better with a few easy to do "Pre-Ride Exercises." Part of the tacking up time should be giving to your horse, too.

The other day when I shared the "One Step" exercise in my post "Reconnecting Your Horse To Her Feet" I mentioned that it was one of my "Pre-Ride Exercises."  A few folks have asked what my other "Pre-Ride" exercises are. As I said in that post I never step in the saddle without a few "one-steps" and I do the "rock-back" along with it.

Kessy LOVES the "Poll Wiggle"
The first thing I do when I go to Kessy is ask her to put her head down for the halter. Horses should always lower their head for you. It is polite to you, and actually feels good to them. It is easy to teach, and if you are having any difficulties with this, please feel free to email me. At this time I do a few "Poll Wiggles." Lightly place your fingers around the Poll and wiggle, just enough that would jiggle a bowl of jello. Your horse may ask for more vigor, go for it.

Then while she stands ground tied, I do a row of TTOUCH® circles starting at the side of her neck in the thickest muscle, going all along her back about 2 inches down from the spine, through her croup and down her thigh muscles. Do both sides. It will take about a minute per side ... Kessy can come and go as she pleases and is usually outside for these, then we walk to the barn to brush and tack ... On the walk I do a serpentine path, good for their legs and back. If you've trailered to ride, before you tie to tack, take a short walk doing the serpentine walk. Horses really appreciate a little walk after a ride.

Belly Lift
When we get to the barn I lift each leg, about halfway up, hold it a second waiting for the release, and do little circles, then set it down. Don't just let go, set it down. Softly. Next I ask for the belly lift, hold it a few seconds and release, slowly. Then I'll saddle. Girth loose, not yet snug.

Before I put on her headstall I do the "Cheek Wiggle." Place your left hand on the noseband, slip your fingers of your right hand under her cheek, lightly grip and wiggle, gently. For a few seconds. Repeat on the other side. Then the headstall goes on and I check the girth, then do the "one step" and "rock back."

On the way to the mounting block I ask for a few circles, left and right, at a walk and "keeping the inside shoulder up (very important)." I finish the girth, move to the mounting block, and step up. One last important exercise. The first step should always be a "lateral step" not straight on.

A big benefit to doing these aside from the relaxing and bonding is, if you make these exercises positively routine, when you're away somewhere, and you stick to the routine your horse will have a familiar feeling. It will build confidence before you ever start on the trail, or step in the show ring. All together they'll add only a few moments to your tack up time, will be time well spent and you will be giving to your horse. You and your horse will soon be gently starting each ride with soft comfortable steps. These exercises also have a wonderful way of simply making "bad habits" just go away. For you and your horse.

Kessy and I hope you'll make this a fun part of your pre-ride. Feel free to ask questions. There are others, perhaps I'll blog later about them, but these are the ones I do without fail.

Gitty Up,
Dutch Henry 


  1. So beautiful, Dutch, I'm teary eyed. Thank you for your tireless "equine compassion" ministry!

  2. You're sweet, Kit, Thank You. And THANK YOU for all you do to spread the word, too ... It's for the horses ... I like that name, Equine Compassion Ministry ... You nailed it!

  3. Hi Dutch! I can tell by the way you talk about taking care of horses that you're kind a compassionate - something I demand in a trainer and a rider. That said, thank you for all of your suggestions about pre-ride exercises. And of course I have a question. How do I get Maximus to drop his head so I can put on his halter and take him out of his stall? As a Friesian, you know he's got that LONG old neck thing goin' on and he's way taller than I am and I'm 5 foot 6!
    Also, I thought the "rock back" and "one step" I was supposed to do when I was on top of him? I'm confused...

    1. You can do the Rock Back and One Step from the saddle. It's best to master it on the ground first though. Sorry if I was not totally clear on that. Asking Maximus to lower his head, I'd like to ask you some questions so I know how best to think about my suggestions. Different things are important to different horses and by chatting with you, I might be able to understand Maximus better. Please email me, but truly, this is fairly easy to accomplish. Just want to use the approach that might suit Maximus best. For instance, many horses like to learn to lower their head by asking while you do the "Poll Wiggle". Some horses are not comfortable with being touched on the poll, and you need to gradually introduce that feeling starting on the neck, wherever they are comfortable. I'll look for your email so perhaps we can arrange a phone conversation about it.

  4. Hi Dutch! I was cleaning out my inbox, found this, and re-read it. I'm sorry to say I had completely forgotten about it, but I'm sure glad I found it again. I will start doing these on my next ride on George. I'm kind of a visual learner, and maybe there are others who are the same way. I was wondering if you would consider making this into a video to post on YouTube?

    1. Howdy Robynne, Great! I promise George will love you for it! ...

    2. I would also love to see a video of the exercises...are there any available? We've got the head drop and poll wiggle down (she loves to have her poll touched) but I'd love to see a video example of the one step, rock back and TTOUCH circles!

    3. Great that you're doing the exercises with your horse, Linda! - Sorry I have no videos ... I'm not a trainer, just a horse advocate - But you can learn much more in the books and videos of Peggy Cummings and Linda Tellington Jones - I learned all I know from my mentor Diane Sept a senior certified Connected Riding instructor while working with her for years rehabilitating TWHs ...