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3 Small Steps To Big Riding Gains

3 Small Steps To Big Riding Gains

Editor’s Note: Heels Down Mag asked riders to tell us what three things they think everyone should do every ride. Our editorial team selected five finalists’ essays, which are being published this month. One winner will receive an EIS COOL shirt  ($92 value).


By Mel Policicchio

This winter, I began training for a triathlon. My mother, who knows I can’t swim and don’t own a bike, warily asked when I was planning to complete that triathlon. “Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “I’m aiming to get that done before 2040.”

I’m the queen of baby steps and playing the long game. Breaking big goals into the smallest possible steps with milestones I get to celebrate motivates me, so it’s no surprise that when I set out to better myself as an equestrian, I established small, but meaningful, changes to my routine that have truly bettered my riding.

Check my watch.

Maybe it’s my inner neurotic, but wearing a digital watch every ride has been
one of the biggest game changers. I’m not great at estimating time and can easily fall into thinking “yeah, that was a 10-minute walk warm-up!” after only 4 minutes or “man, I’ve been schooling that half pass for half an hour!” after a mere 12 minutes of trying. By checking the time, or sometimes even setting timers on my watch, I can organize my ride and be sure not to short-change my warm-up or cool down. It’s also helpful for reframing the way I think about challenges. I didn’t spend a month working on a tricky movement, I spent a cumulative hour over the course of a month. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like I’ve lost time or am stuck where I was three months ago.

Listen to the force.

You know how you know things like “steady the outside rein” but then fail to
do it until your trainer shows up and reminds you for the uptenth time? I realized the trick for me is hearing these reminders out loud. I’ve started giving myself verbal reminders of small, but crucial equitation tips like, “lift your hands,” or “let your chin be parallel to the ground.” By speaking this aloud, I’m more likely to make the correction and find myself being more mindful of my position when I ride. Even though I’m just parroting back to myself what I’ve been told a million times, hearing it spoken aloud makes all the difference.

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Drink more water.

Here’s where I put on my older sister pants. The (sad) truth is, we’re all usually dehydrated, especially in the hotter months and double especially when you’ve been
moving around at the barn for hours. I’ve started drinking one bottle of water per horse I’m riding that day, plus refilling so I have another bottle for the drive home. It sounds like a lot, but trust me, as someone who drank a cumulative 100 oz of water for the first half of my 20s, I’ve learned the hard way that 1.) human bodies do actually need a lot of water to function and 2.) a hydrated mind is a sharp mind, making all the difference in training sessions.

I’ve formed the habit of taking a drink before I start grooming, when I’ve finished putting on the saddle while I get myself ready, and then bringing my water with me to the arena. I also take a drink after I’ve finished our warm up and take another before cool down. Before you know it, the water is gone and your body thanks you.

Growth of any kind is a marathon, not a sprint. Improving ourselves as riders and horse people can feel both endless and thankless, but by making small, everyday changes over time, you’ve set yourself up to obtain measurable improvement that you can feel good about.

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