50 ways to improve out of the saddle

mindset natalie foxon rider effectiveness Jul 05, 2022

One morning as I’m driving to the stables, I get a call from the owners of the property on which my horse lives. It turns out the stables aren’t accessible today due to some construction work. 


As I turn back to head home, I get another call, this time from Brett, – “Hey what are you up to?”

As we talk, I explain to him that my riding is cancelled for the day so I’m heading home to do some work, I guess.

In true Brett-style, he then points out that I had that 3 hours blocked out for riding. Just because I wasn’t actually riding didn’t mean that I couldn’t use that time, already earmarked for riding, to progress myself in other ways that contribute to my riding.

He speaks about intention. That no matter what activity I choose to do, that the intention of improving myself as a rider was the most important element.

It stuck with me, Brett’s comment that morning, and inspired me to put together a list of things I could do when riding was out of the equation.

There are so many times for all of us that, due to injury, illness, misadventure, weather and a myriad of other reasons, that we’re unable to ride.

I hope you can be inspired from this list of 50 ways to improve yourself as a rider (when you’re not able to actually ride).

Nat xx



50 ways to improve yourself as a rider (when you're not able to actually ride) 


  1. Watch a video of your favourite rider but don’t just think ‘wow’, really break it down into their seat and aids, and how they create the sculpture in the horse.  
  2. Watch two random Grand Prix tests and look for differences.
  3. Review a video of yourself riding and take note of 3 things you’re doing well in the video and 3 things you’ll work on.
  4. Plan your next five rides and break down what you’ll work on.
  5. Do a 10-minute visualisation of working on a particular movement (this is great for training your concentration skills as well as working through training ideas).
  6. Pick a movement and break down its ingredients (what are the layers of aids that create that movement).
  7. Think of a time someone said something encouraging and supportive about your riding and send them a text or email to let them know what it meant to you. 
  8. Deep-clean your riding gear.
  9. Do a tack stock-take and declutter the tack room.
  10. Research styles of competition jackets for a future (or imminent!) upgrade. 
  11. Take your jacket for tailoring.
  12. Visualise yourself from beginning to end at a competition. Afterwards, journal about where the stress points are.
  13. Watch an old dressage video and note the differences when compared to modern horses and training. 
  14. Check in with a horsey friend and ask about how their training is going (without mentioning your own training and horse).
  15. Have a session-with-a-difference with your coach. Rather than a session from the saddle, try a mentoring session, planning progression and competitions and generally picking their brain.
  16. Imagine you're 10 years ahead of the current day and you've made huge progress, reaching many goals. From your future self, write a letter to your current self offering advice and guidance. 
  17. Print out the tests at the level above where you're at and study them.
  18. Print out the Grand Prix test and study it – that's where you're heading!
  19. Print and laminate the tests at your current level, ready to put up in the arena for easy reference.
  20. Try a class or activity that you haven't before (or in a while) that will stimulate body and mind, like yoga, art, or surfing.
  21. Try a meditation from a free app like Smiling Mind. Can you build a short meditation practice into a daily habit?
  22. Write a 'be, do, have' list for where you want to be as a rider and look for the gaps from where you are now.
  23. Think back to a time when someone was heartless, cruel or unkind to you and try a cord-cutting exercise (find one on Google) with that person in mind.
  24. Plan your next 6-months of competitions, ensuring you have a clear purpose for each show.
  25. Read or listen to an inspiring, thought-provoking or entertaining book.
  26. Join or revisit a training program and delve deep into the concepts, taking notes as you go.
  27. Try a 'negative consequences' exercise to uncover some self-sabotage behaviours that are holding you back.
  28. Send a text message of positivity and encouragement to a rider friend and bask in that feeling that you’ll probably make their day.
  29. Go through your horse photos and ponder what riding means to you beyond any competitions, accolades and ribbons.
  30. Block out the times you would otherwise be riding, and devote that time to activities that help your riding (like ones on this list).
  31. Head out to watch a clinic and take notes!
  32. Book in your next lesson and plan what you'd like to work on.
  33. Have a self-care appointment that you never get around to, such as massage, osteopath or acupuncture.
  34. Watch a series or movie on high performance.
  35. Read the dressage rules for your governing body and familiarise yourself with the nitty gritty, you might be surprised at what you weren’t aware of.
  36. Volunteer to be a writer (penciller) at an event.
  37. Choreograph and research music for a freestyle performance.
  38. Spend time with your horse with no expectations or time pressures.
  39. Practice float loading.
  40. Prepare and freeze meals to have ready to go when you're riding again.
  41. Go through a dressage test and mark on it all the preparation points and moments you'd need to half halt/rebalance.
  42. Pick a movement that you haven't trained yet, research it, and visualise training the ingredients and the movement itself. 
  43. Program some Spotify playlists for driving to the stables, competition day, mucking out.
  44. Think through your nutrition, or if it’s an area you need to upgrade, book the consultation with a nutritionist or sign up for a program. 
  45. Plan your nutrition for competition days, making sure you stick to your regular routines even if you know you’ll feel nervous.
  46. Take a loved one out for a meal or write them a card to thank them for supporting your dreams.
  47. Try something that pushes you out of your comfort zone either physically or mentally. What piques your interest but also scares you? Try that!
  48. Have a go at another hobby you’ve been interested in. Know that richly filling your life won’t take away from your training, it’ll add to it.
  49. Write down 10 habits you currently have that are not serving you in working towards your riding goals. 
  50. We all bring a unique set of physical, mental and experimental strengths to our riding. Write down 10 strengths you have and how they can contribute to your riding.  




Not entirely sure what to work on, especially when you're by yourself?

Unsure if you're focusing on the right things at the right time?

I challenge you to take on my 5 rules to making every dressage training session productive and enjoyable.

It's all in our free guide... 'Beyond the 20 Metre Circle'

We'll follow up with training tips and ideas we think you might be interested in. Unsubscribe at any time.