How To Improve Your Horsemanship Without Riding A Horse

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

The best way to keep a brand-new custom made saddle looking brand-new is to break your back (hi, Rolly Lisle!) or get pregnant (um, that’d be me) immediately after picking it up from the saddle shop. I was born on a ranch and have rode horses for a living and worked on ranches as an adult, so finding myself mostly afootback after becoming a mother has made improving my horsemanship skills a challenge.

I can’t be too grumpy about not getting to ride as much when I get to hang out with this cutie all day.

Little cowgirl

Here are a few everyday situations that I have adapted to improve my horsemanship while I’m not a member of the full-time riding community.

Drive a stick shift

I love driving a pickup with a manual transmission because 1) I feel like a super-skilled badass and 2) operating different parts of my body while keeping my eyes up is great practice for my horsemanship skills.

Every time I shift, I remind myself to only send commands to my leg muscles to move and work the clutch and the accelerator. I consciously relax my shoulders, which tend to become needlessly tense when shifting. All the while, I’m looking at the road (other drivers should hope, anyway). It’s the same posture I follow when giving leg commands to my horse, and envisioning myself in the saddle when I shift reinforces proper posture for when I’m riding again.

Relax your shoulders

We all tend to carry tension in certain areas of our bodies, and I often tighten my shoulder muscles when they don’t need to be tightened. When I’m washing dishes, sitting in my comfy camp chair on the porch, or walking through the grocery store, I check the amount of tension in my shoulders and consciously relax them. I have to do this several times, so apparently it’s a longstanding habit, but the more I do it, the more habitually natural it comes.

Take deep breaths

I tend to unconsciously hold my breath when sweeping the floor, talking on the phone, or walking down the hallway. When I realize I’m doing this, I practice taking deep breaths and maintaining that pattern. If I hold my breath when riding, undesirable things usually happen. My muscles get tense and my horse picks up on the tension. My mind starts to slowly shut down due to lack of oxygen. I can’t think clearly to get my dallies quickly, put my spur in the right spot for a turnaround, or sit back nice and deep when asking for a stop.

Oxygen is essential to plant and animal life, as well as good horsemanship. Make sure you’re getting enough of it in non-horse situations and the good habit will carry over when you’re back in the saddle.

Keep your body balanced

I’m right-handed, so I remind myself to pick up grocery bags and the dog’s water bucket with my left hand to keep my body’s muscles balanced. My toddler daughter will ONLY accept being carried on my right side (my mistake from carrying her exclusively with my right arm from birth, I suppose), so my plan is to pick up and carry my next baby with my left arm to balance myself back out. Here’s hoping I can balance my body – and not drop the baby.

Talk to other horse people about horse stuff

My husband is a cowboy, so I ask him every day which horse he rode and how that horse did. Discussing and thinking about the different stages of training and various issues that crop up help keep a grounded horsewoman’s mind in the game.

Pet a horse

When helping someone else catch horses or unloading a trailer full at a ranch rodeo, take a couple minutes to pet a horse’s neck or rub his forehead. Maybe discreetly smell his mane if you’re a horse-crazy eight-year-old at heart like myself. If you can’t enjoy small pleasures like that, what good are all the advanced horsemanship skills, anyway?

By thinking about improving my horsemanship while not riding, I’ll be ahead of the game (or, at least closer to breaking even) when I get horseback again. But I’ll have to set down the munchkin to fully benefit from my saddle time…hmmm…tough decisions.

Riding a horse

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Fallon, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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