It’s the New Year–soon to be the Chinese Year of the Horse–and many riders out there will be making resolutions and goals for their riding. Keep in mind that any activity you do with your horse is an opportunity to practice effective communication, to build your partnership, to learn, and to have fun! If you’re looking for ideas, here’s a list of 214 different things you can try with your horse or pony in the new year. Let me know how they go or add your ideas in the comments section!
1. Get the mail out of your mailbox on horseback.
2. Canter straight between two poles set parralel on the ground; make them as narrow as you can.
3. See how small of a circle you can trot without walking.
4. Ride a dressage test, but replace all trot sections with canter, all canter sections with walk, and all walk sections with canter.
5. Attend a fundraiser ride or Poker ride in your area.
6. Tie or remove your reins, and jump over a jump with no hands.
7. Give a child who might otherwise not have access to horses a pony ride.
8. Ride in the rain, intentionally. You never know when you’ll have to ride in the rain; see 4 minutes into this video and then keep watching.
9. Throw a lasso off your horse.
10. Try riding in a new saddle; I like to borrow from friends.
11. Place two poles on the ground a fair distance apart, then see how many strides and then how few strides you can ride between the two. If it helps you, you can have someone help count strides from the ground. You can do this in the walk, trot, or canter.
12. Ride someone else’s horse, even if you have to pay to do it.
13. Give your horse a back massage.
14. Teach your horse to do belly lifts.
15. Try jousting on your horse with pool noodles as your jousting lance.
16. Jump a course of jumps with only one hand holding the reins.
17. Go on a beach ride. (Be sure to check the local rules and regulations first.)
18. On your next long weekend, call up some friends and go on a group trail ride.
19. Start your next ride by doing the opposite of what you normally do to warmup.
20. Try doing an “around the world” while someone holds your horse. Start by facing forward normally in the saddle (though bareback is easier), then swing a leg forward over your horse’s neck so you are sitting sidesaddle, then swing so you are facing backwards, to the other side, and forward again.
21. Attend an educational clinic as auditor or as a rider in a discipline other than your primary riding discipline.
22. Try a new braid style on your horse’s mane. Some of my favorites include the french braid, button braids, or the lattice weave.
23. Write an objective advertisement for your horse, as if you were going to sell them. Of course you don’t have to sell them, but think about and write down how you would describe them to a potential buyer.
24. For one month, keep a diary chronically any and all rides you have with your horse. Here’s my diary from the 100-Day Trainer Challenge with Solar.
25. Learn to wrap polos correctly.
26. Explain to someone who knows nothing about horses something you are working on training your horse. Check to see if they understand you.
27. Find your horse’s favorite spot to be scratched.
28. Bake a batch of horse cookies for your horse and see if they like them.
29. Use clicker training to teach your horse a new trick.
30. Count how many steps your horse takes to get around the arena or roundpen once.
31. Pony another horse while you ride your horse.
32. Post the walk to build your leg position and core strength. Here’s video of exercises to improve your leg position.
33. Practice halt to canter transitions. Try to do these without trotting before canter, and without leaning forward or using spurs or a whip to get your horse to go.
34. Sometime when you’re schooling, jump a show jumping oxer in the wrong direction.
35. Ride through as many puddles as you can this winter.
36. Practice emergency dismounts while your horse is moving. Be sure to take both feet out of your stirrups before dismounting and always land facing forward.
37. Get on your horse using the horse trailer.
38. Video your next ride, and then video a ride a month later to compare.
39. Write an essay about your horse or your riding for an equine publication, blog, an association you belong to, a contest, or even just for yourself.
40. Take an artistic portrait picture of your horse.
41. Sidepass the width of the arena, focusing on your horse’s legs crossing over evenly each step.
42. Catch your horse without a halter (ie: let them catch you).
43. Live tweet your ride (@ChesnaKlimek).
44. Find a song with a beat that matches your horse’s paces.
45. See how far away from your horse you can get in a fenced arena while they stand ground tied without walking (or running) away.
46. Join a local drill team.
47. Find a safe, flat area and race against your friends to see whose horse is faster.
48. Ride in a parade.
49. Drag a rope off your horse (don’t tie the rope to your horse).
50. Jump five bounce fences in a row–they don’t have to be very tall.
51. Practice backing between two poles on the ground; make it harder by setting the poles in an ‘L’ shape. 51. Make a nameplate for your horse’s stall or paddock.
52. Dress your horse up on the next holiday you celebrate. Here’s Pip and I wearing ugly Christmas sweater.
53. Jump a fence from the walk; no last minute trot steps allowed!
54. Ride a dressage test that you’ve never ridden before. Dressage tests are available online for free. There are USDF tests, USEA tests, tests from other countries, and Western dressage tests.
55. Jump over used furniture.
56. Have someone lunge you on your horse, so you can practice your position without having to control the horse.
57. Sing a song aloud while you ride a jump course.
58. Try to get your horse to place their front feet inside a hula hoop on the ground. Then try to get them to place their hind feet inside of it.
59. Do a complete 360 degree turn on the haunch in which your horse’s back hoof remains planted in the ground.
60. Create your own Puissance and see how high you can jump; just make sure the fence will fall if you hit it. Here’s a video clip from a bareback Puissance world record jump.
61. Have someone watch you ride and clap every time they see you doing something that looks good.
62. Ask to give your trainer a riding lesson.
63. Let someone else ride your horse.
64. Enter a show at a level lower than you normally ride and focus on perfecting the basics.
65. Ride down a hill that’s steeper than you’ve ever ridden down before.
66. Trot ten steps, walk ten steps, trot ten steps, walk ten steps… Be exact.
67. Go on a trail ride somewhere you have never been before.
68. Halt without pulling on the reins. For a visual example, watch Edward Gal and Totilas.
69. Ride ten minutes longer than you normally do every ride for a month.
70. Make a first aid kit for horse and rider for your barn and/or horse trailer.
71. Learn how to give your horse a shot.
72. Count your horse’s teeth.
73. Ride as deep into the corners of the arena as you can.
74. Drag your riding arena surface so it’s smooth and flat. Then try to ride a special design into the footing like a piece of art.
75. Do something daring.
76. Create a new riding trail.
77. Lunge your horse over a cross-country jump.
78. Ride across the long diagonal of the arena and do as many simple changes (walk to canter/canter to walk or trot to canter/canter to trot) as you can.
79. Ride a reining pattern.
80. List five things your horse did well at the end of your ride for an entire month. Don’t list any weaknesses.
81. See if you can get your horse to move their right hind leg, and only that leg, from the halt.
82. Ride your horse over a teeter-totter built for horses.
83. Apologize aloud to your horse the next time you make a mistake.
84. Go on a drag hunt with a local hunt club.
85. Do medium or extended trot down the long wall of the arena, and as you enter the corners of the arena collect and compress the trot as much as you can, carry it through the short wall, then return to medium or extended trot on the next long wall.
86. Create a secret handshake with your horse.
87. Ride your horse in their turnout field.
88. Dismount from your horse without using your hands.
89. See how slowly you can ride through a jump course.
90. Ride through a jumping grid with your eyes closed.
91. Try Garrocha. A PVC pole can work well. Here’s a video.
92. Try to breathe in and out with the rhythm of your horse’s breathing when galloping.
93. Get on your horse from the opposite side.
94. See if you can pick something up off the ground from your horse’s back. Perhaps like these people do (wear a helmet though!).
95. Ride in the dark.
96. Ride as many halt to trot transitions as you can down centerline or between two points.
97. Try to touch your horse’s ears while sitting on their back.
98. Saddle your horse using only one arm.
99. Ride as many serpentines as you can squeeze into your arena, using the full width of the arena.
100. Back between two trees on a trail ride.
101. Take a picture or video while riding your horse.
102. Set four poles equidistant around a circle. Practice cantering around the circle, over the poles, in an even stride.
103. Discover if your horse is left handed or right handed (which side are they stronger on?)
104. Jump your horse over a small jump, then have them step over the same jump without jumping.
105. Play hide and seek with your friends by letting your friends ride out ahead of you; see if your horse can find them on a long rein.
106. Ride your horse into the barn.
107. Canter away from a group of horses without swerving or looking back.
108. Plan a pas de deux with a riding friend. Here’s some professionals from the ’80s doing one.
109. Lead your horse while riding a bicycle.
110. Ride a four-leaf clover shape in the canter, focusing on making the same size loops each turn and maintaining a steady rhythm.
111. Canter as slowly as you possibly can without trotting or walking. See if you can canter so slowly that a person can walk or jog next to you on the ground.
112. Take a riding lesson from someone you have never ridden with before.
113. Drape a tarp or blanket or other unusual item over a jump and jump it.
114. See how low you can get your horse to put their head while standing next to them on the ground.
115. Pick out your horse’s hoof from the opposite side of their body.
116. Walk your horse away from the barn as quickly as they can walk; on the way back, try walking them as slowly as they can possibly walk.
117. Drop your reins while trotting and see if you can maintain a consistent trot rhythm without them.
118. Give your horse a full body bath.
119. Groom your horse with your non-dominant arm.
120. Try to touch your toes while sitting in the saddle.
121. Ride with your stirrups two holes shorter than normal for two weeks.
122. Take a riding lesson bareback. Here’s video of Olympic rider Isabel Werth riding bareback.
123. Sidepass over the top of a cone, barrel, or pole on the ground.
124. Get your horse to follow you around the arena with no halter lead or reins.
125. Ground drive your horse.
126. Ride a barrel racing pattern in the slowest canter you can.
127. Ride your horse double with another rider.
128. Laugh out loud.
129. On a 20 meter circle, leg yield in to a small circle, then leg yield back out to the 20m circle.
130. Open a gate on horseback. Watch Pip open a gate during The All Breed Challenge.
131. Write a poem about your horse.
132. Carry an outside bend once all the way around the arena each direction.
133. Try riding a 20 meter circle with no inside rein.
134. Take your feet out of your stirrupsand lift your knees so they touch over the pommel of the saddle. Try to maintain this position while cantering. It might help to do this while your horse is being lunged by someone on the ground.
135. Teach your horse to turn using only a neck rope.
136. Go on a picnic with your horse. Saddle bags or a backpack can carry the food!
137. Ride a lap around the ring with your eyes (not your head) looking up high at the sky.
138. Teach your horse to bend with no reins.
139. Back your horse in a 10 meter circle.
140. Set a clock for one minute and do as many roll backs as you can during that minute.
141. Do 2-point position during your walk breaks.
142. Wear a riding helmet every ride. Check out Riders4Helmets or other sources for more information about riding safety.
143. Do sitting trot with no stirrups.
144. Ride bareback for an entire week. Challenge your balance by jumping, going on a trail ride, or herding cows.
145. Set out measured markers and determine how many meters per minute your horse covers in their normal canter speed, and how many meters per minute they cover in their normal gallop speed.
146. Count each step of the walk once down the long wall (1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4).
147. Post every third step while trotting.
148. Back your horse up on the ground using only body cues (no pulling or hitting).
149. Ride every Wednesday, no matter what, for two months.
150. Spend an entire ride doing transitions only: walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to trot, trot to walk. It helps to do the transitions at specific markers, such as the letters in a dressage arena.
151. Get involved with a breed organization or local riding group, and do at least one ride as part of that organization each year.
152. Find five different ways to mount your horse.
153. Hug your horse.
154. Unbridle your horse while sitting on them. See Solar and I do this during our freestyle performance.
155. Measure the angles of your horse’s hooves.
156. Create a square using poles on the ground. Then, practice halting with all four of your horse’s hooves inside the square from the walk, trot, and canter.
157. Consciously smile for a full five minutes on your next ride.
158. Ride in front of a mirror.
159. Teach your horse to enter the horse trailer with no leadrope. This guy can do it from across a field.
160. Set out cones or markers randomly around the arena and fully circle as many as you can in five minutes.
161. Ride a square shape (best done in the walk or canter): Instead of arching through corners, turn your horse on their haunch so they swing their forehand around as if in a pirouette.
162. Get your hay tested to evaluate your horse’s diet. And check for strange small creatures…
163. Shoot silly spray while riding.
164. Gallop like you’re in a movie scene. Such as this one.
165. Teach your horse to come to you without ropes.
166. Put tape on your reins in the place to hold them that is the best contact for your horse.
167. Try polo or polocrosse. If you can’t find a group to try it with or the right equipment, try broom polo!
168. Teach your horse the electric slide.
169. Go cow sorting or cow penning.
170. Stand on your horse.
171. Make a Youtube video tutorial with your horse, teaching something that you have mastered with them.
172. Paint or draw a picture of your horse while they pose for you. Or let your horse paint, like this horse does.
173. Increase the size or the frequency of your horse’s turnout.
174. Practice a flying lead change over a pole on the ground.
175. Ride to a neighbor’s house or a nearby store or drive-through.
176. Walk forward and have your horse step their inside front leg to the inside every third step so you gradually change directions.
177. Place buckets with a single horse treat inside randomly around an enclosed space. See how long it takes for your horse to eat all the treats.
178. Back your horse into the horse trailer (if you have a ramp).
179. Fill a plastic cup with water and see if you can ride carrying the cup without spilling any water at the walk, trot, canter, and back-up.
180. Teach your horse to bow.
181. Practice dropping your stirrups at speed and picking them back up without stopping, looking down, or using your hands.
182. Choose one thing to never do with your horse, then never do it.
183. Let your horse lead.
184. Gallop with your hands out at your sides Black Stallion style (tie your reins or take them off so they don’t hook in your horse’s legs).
185. Do something with your horse that you’ve made fun of someone else for doing.
186. Choose a ride to verbally describe to your horse what you are going to ask them to do before you administer any cues.
187. Practice walk pirouettes. This is a turn on the hindend in which your horse is bent towards the direction of travel. Start by rewarding one step at a time and build on it so you can do a full pirouette, or two. Here’s someone’s short video demonstrating walk pirouettes.
188. Ask someone who watches you ride for advice to help you and your horse. You don’t have to take it.
189. Trot as fast as you can possibly trot without cantering.
190. Enter a money class at a show.
191. When it snows, go skijoring. Check it out.
192. Learn how to rasp your horse’s hooves.
193. Teach your horse to pivot away from you on the halter, like they do in showmanship classes.
194. Praise your horse more often.
195. Ride your horse at a local cross-country course, even if you don’t take any of the jumps.
196. Do an entire ride in which you do not move forward. You can work on backing up, bending in place, moving individual feet, etc…
197. See how quietly you can get your horse to travel. Listen to the find the rhythm in which they produce the softest footsteps.
198. Body paint designs on your horse.
199. Take your horse’s pulse before a ride, and after, and catalogue the results for a month.
200. Lunge or videotape your horse to see if their hooves land heel first, flat footed, or toe first. Heel first landing indicates healthy travel. Here’s slow motion video of heel-first hoof landing.
201. Buy you and your horse a present, but don’t use it until you achieve a certain goal.
202. Leg yield between two points and count how many steps it takes you. Then, repeat the exercise but try to do one less step. Then one more less. See how few steps you can leg yield between the points.
203. Close a gate on horseback.
204. Cross a bridge on your horse. Here’s a pony crossing a terrifying suspension bridge.
205. Take off and put on a your jacket while on horseback.
206. Run beside your horse in step with them to see what their stride is like for you.
207. See how low and how high you can put your horse’s poll in the same ride (without resorting to tools or equipment).
208. Identify one thing that is unique and special about your horse.
209. Identify by name as many different body parts on your horse as can (such as wither, frog, gaskin, or suspensory ligament).
210. Free jump your horse through a jump chute. Make sure the strides are set correctly for them.
211. Trace your horse’s back where the saddle sits and compare the tracing to the shape of your primary riding saddle to check for saddle fit. If you need help, schedule an appointment with a saddle fit specialist recommended in your area.
212. Practice relaxation exercises such as controlled breathing during rides so you can use the skills during more stressful rides when you want to.
213. Try pole bending with your horse. Here’s a horse pole bending without their rider.
214. Do that thing that you’ve always wanted to do with your horse.
Happy New Year and happy riding!
** NOTE: Horseback riding is a dangerous activity. Author is not liable for any injuries or accidents that may arise from trying any ideas or activities described or pictured here. Ride at your own discretion; ride at your own risk. Put your safety first. **