Getting back in the saddle is a situation a lot of equestrians face at some point in their lives. A riding career can be interrupted or sidetracked for many reasons. Studies, moving, relationships, work obligations, illness – the list goes on. But suddenly, the opportunity to make horse riding a part of your life again appears and you wonder if you have forgotten all your riding skills. We have also been there, and in this article, we share our top 5 tips for getting back in the saddle.
If you used to practice horse riding earlier in your life, then riding will be easier for you than for a beginner as you will still know the basics and retain some muscle memory. That said, you will most likely need to build up your leg and core strength, work on your balance and flexibility and brush off and update your knowledge about horse riding techniques and horse care practices.
When I took up horse riding again after a decade without much contact with horses at all, I quickly realized how much had changed, both with me physically and mentally but also in the equestrian community. I got back into riding without any real preparation and probably would have had a much smoother experience if I had prepared. So, having learned a few lessons, here are my top tips for a successful return to the saddle!
Get into A Fitness Routine
Horse riding requires the use of pretty much all the muscles in your body, especially those that balance and stabilize you in the saddle as the horse moves under you. As a more occasional travel and adventure rider, every time I get back into the saddle I am reminded how much work the thigh and core muscles do (especially the next morning when your legs hurt so much you start questioning your life choices).
This is why building up some strength and endurance before you get back into the saddle is going to help you a great deal. Not only will it make the actual riding easier, but it will also reduce the aches and pains the next day if the activity isn’t a complete shock for your body. If you are ready to start building your strength back up, we have created a free training program that will build the basic cardio and strength you need.
Check and Update Your Equipment
When I started riding again, I went to a tack store to get a pair of riding pants and was shocked at how much rider equipment had evolved! Riding pants were no longer synonymous with stiff jodphurs and fabrics that ensured you brought half the hay in the barn back home with you. Now, riding pants had silicone patches for saddle grip and looked more like your average yoga pants than the bulky and uncomfortable clothing I remembered.
Depending on how long it has been since you were last an active horse rider, you may want to check if your equipment is still up to date and if your riding clothes fit you comfortably. Is your helmet still up to code and approved by STI, ASTM (US) or CE (Europe)? Would you like to upgrade from those old riding pants like I did (highly recommended – it’s a new dawn!)
If you find yourself in need of any new gear, you are welcome to check out the clothes and products we currently use, love and recommend here.
Book a Refresher Riding Lesson
Getting back in the saddle isn’t quite like riding a bike. It will take a few sessions to get back into the swing of things and having someone to help jolt your memory and remind you how to execute all the commands you once had top of mind, is going to be very helpful.
A trainer can also help correct you and give advice on the most effective strategies to get back to the level you were once at. Most likely, you will only need a few classes before your muscle memory comes rushing back and you start remembering old tricks.
Beyond the physical, restarting horse riding can also bring with it some mental challenges, be it confidence, nervousness, mindset, fear or other things that can pop up. A trainer can help you work through these challenges as well and give you exercises or ‘homework’ to hopefully overcome or at least manage them. Having someone following you on this journey will provide you with support, but also keep you accountable to your goals.
Ask around to find a trainer that can best help you and your situation. Ask about their experience and see if they have helped other ex-riders in the past.
Choose Your Horse Wisely
When you get back into riding, set yourself up for success by choosing the right equine partner. Perhaps you don’t really have a choice, but if you do it’s worth the effort to find a horse that is well-trained yet patient enough to allow you to make some mistakes.
Very temperamental or challenging horses are a no-go right now and equally are slow and stiff school horses. Your skills and confidence are not yet up to scratch for hot-headed horses and getting on an old, tired school horse will likely kill your enthusiasm in the blink of a posting trot.
Your trainer should be able to help you select an appropriate horse based on your previous experience and the length of time you have been ‘out of the game’. If you are nervous about getting back in the saddle, see if you can spend some time with the horse ahead of time to get to know him a little before you ride him.
Be Patient with Yourself
Your muscle memory will reboot but depending on how much experience you have and how long it has been since you last rode, it will take you some time to get back into the swing of things. Try to enjoy the journey and remind yourself why you wanted to get back in the saddle in the first place.
If you’re worried about losing motivation, why not set weekly or monthly small, incremental goals to keep you motivated and accountable? Or perhaps rekindle a friendship with someone you used to ride with that can help you get back into things or start again with you if he or she has been out of the game for a while as well. That way you can look back and see your progress and give yourself a pat on the back for the hard work you have done and your persistence. Stick with it, and you will soon feel like you never left.