Ways to Improve as an Equestrian Without Spending Money

By TPH Interns CLAIRE WITALEC and SAHANA PARASHER

Horseback riding is often considered an expensive sport, reserved only for those with money to spare.

But what if you could improve your riding skills and deepen your connection with horses without spending a single penny? 

Below, you’ll discover four cost-free ways to progress as an equestrian without breaking the bank.

Watch Lessons

Watching lessons is a great way to improve your equestrian skills without spending money. 

Whether you’re cleaning your tack or waiting to take off your horse’s ice boots, watching lessons can help you improve as a rider. 

Focus on what exercises the horse and rider are practicing, such as figure eights and transitions, as these can inspire new training techniques for you to try the next time you’re in the saddle. 

Remember to also pay close attention to the subtle movements from the rider and how they influence the horse’s behavior. These observations can help strengthen your knowledge of the aids in your own riding. 

Also, identify your own personal riding weakness. Watching how others address similar challenges can be helpful. 

For example, if you struggle to collect a more forward horse, see how someone else accomplishes this. After watching a lesson, you may also find it helpful to ask the rider or your trainer questions, ranging from why specific exercises are beneficial, to which aids a particular horse responds to best. These questions can help strengthen your understanding on any lingering points of confusion.

Watching other riders on your own horse also proves to be helpful, so ask a skilled rider friend to get in the saddle instead sometimes. When doing this, spot how your horse reacts to the rider’s leg, hand, seat, and voice cues.

Observing lessons, or even a local clinic, is a very accessible and enjoyable way to progress as an equestrian when you aren’t able to be in the saddle yourself. 

However, always ensure you have the trainer’s and rider’s permission before doing so, and remember to remain respectful to all participants involved. This includes respecting the riders’ and horses’ privacy and space and not interrupting the lesson with unnecessary noise or movement. 

Observe Everything You Can at Shows

Just because you can’t be in the show ring yourself, doesn’t mean it’s not worth attending shows. 

Take the time to research local showgrounds in your area, search for upcoming events, and plan your visit. 

Before leaving, make sure pack something to take notes. Instead of using your phone, consider bringing a pen and paper, as studies show that writing things down helps with memorization.

Once you arrive, make it a point to observe classes across different disciplines, allowing you to compare and contrast the unique aspects of each one. 

This experience is essential because it provides insight into what disciplines you may want to compete in if you have yet to decide. Or, it can be a great way to learn from other riders in different disciplines than your own. 

Pay attention to how top riders navigate courses and patterns, how they communicate with their horses, and maintain their positions in the saddle throughout the show ring. Observe who wins, and think about why the judge pinned the class the way they did. This will teach you what it takes to win in that discipline, and what differentiates a champion ribbon from a reserve champion ribbon.

Although checking out the posted course can often be overlooked by those not jumping them, take the time to analyze the specific course designs and layouts when attending a horse show. 

Observe how elements like tight turns and combinations challenge riders in the arena. Additionally, pay attention to which elements appear easier and which appear more challenging. 

This can often indicate where riders are making their mistakes. Notice how each of the riders adjust their strategies to navigate these tricky elements accordingly. By recognizing potential difficulties, and observing how experienced riders handle them, you can enhance your own performance in the show ring next time and gain a deeper understanding of course designs.

Finally, ask questions about anything you need clarification on throughout the day. 

For instance, you could try talking to a judge or show official when they arent busy, ask riders about the specific challenges of the course they just rode, and the strategies used by the top riders in the class. 

Although the internet can be a helpful tool for research, some things can only be learned from firsthand experience. 

Volunteer

If you were to ask someone who doesn’t ride horses what it means to be an equestrian, they might say something along the lines of “someone who rides horses.”

 However, if you actually ride horses, you would know that the term “equestrian” refers not only to your skills while horseback riding, but also to your ability to care for the horses your ride. 

Volunteering at your a local stable allows you to grow your horsemanship on the ground by attending to the horses needs. Oftentimes, you can even receive a credit towards shows or lessons with trainers by helping out around the barn.

You’ll find many volunteer opportunities  available, from mucking stalls to teaching beginner riders. 

Another fun summertime position is helping out at horse summer camps. Doing this can expand your expertise while inspiring the next generation of horse lovers. You can also meet other volunteers who share your passion for horses, make new friends, and foster a sense of community with those who share your passion.

From helping children face their fears to learning about the proper care of horses, volunteering is a rewarding, educational experience that is entirely cost-free. 

Horse shows, especially scholing shows,  also typically need volunteers, so don’t overlook your local horse show as a potential volunteer opportunity!

The sense of accomplishment and fulfillment you’ll experience from helping others and contributing to the equestrian community is truly priceless. It also reinforces your sense of purpose and value in the equestrian world.

Do Fitness Exercises

Take a moment to envision every action that occurs from the time you mount your horse to the cooldown walk after your lesson ends. 

Whether you envision maintaining a steady posting trot, achieving the perfect distance to a jump, or simply controlling your horse with subtle cues, all of these actions require your entire body to work together in unison. 

Strengthening your muscles through workouts provides a cost-effective way to improve yourself. You can do exercises like planks, squats, and lunges at home to strengthen your core and legs, which are essential for riding.

Your core stabilizes your posture in the saddle, helping you maintain balance and control. 

To strengthen your core, you can do planks. Hold a plank position on your forearms or hands, keeping your body straight. Try to hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Aim to repeat for three sets.

Strong legs are also essential to the sport because they help maintain connection and provide cues to your horse. To strengthen your legs, you can do squats. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat while keeping your back straight, and then slowly stand up. Go for three sets of fifteen reps.

Additionally, enhanced balance and coordination improve your ability to stay in sync with your horse’s movements. To help strengthen your balance, you can do leg swings. Start by standing on one leg and swing the other forward and backward in a controlled motion. Try to do 15 swings before switching your legs, and do three sets on each leg.

Finally, strong arms are also crucial for maintaining contact with the reins and communicating effectively with the horse. To strengthen your arms, you can do push-ups by starting in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Then, lower your body and bend your elbows until your chest nearly reaches the ground, and then push yourself back into a plank position. Aim for three sets of twelve reps.

Incorporating these workouts into your weekly routine can significantly improve your riding—even when you’re away from the barn. 

You’ll improve your posture, stability, and communication with your horse by strengthening your core, legs, balance, and arms. These exercises provide a practical and cost-effective way to advance your riding abilities when you aren’t able to ride. Remember that consistency is key, so commit to a regular schedule and watch how these weekly additions positively affect your time in the saddle.

Overall, the equestrian world can be pricey, but you can find a number of cost-free ways to improve your abilities. 

These activities will elevate your skills as a rider and horse person, leaving you with a new and profound understanding of the equestrian world. 

So, whether you’re a seasoned rider or just starting out, these cost-free methods are innovative ways to progress as an equestrian!