When riding, having a good position not only allows you to use your seat, leg and hand aids effectively but helps both you and your horse to be in balance. However, the slightest deviation of your position greatly influences your horse’s way of going. To understand this better, imagine someone sitting on your shoulders. If that person leans to the left or right, you will also need to move in the same direction, so you don’t lose your balance and is precisely how your horse will feel if you do not sit correctly.
All riders, whether they are a novice or advanced, need to improve their positions. It is vital therefore that you continuously monitor how you sit in the saddle, making corrections accordingly, so they don’t become bad habits. Having lessons with a good instructor will enable them to point out any errors in your riding using the relevant exercises.
If you are working alone own for much of the time, have someone video you to assess any positional weaknesses. Riding in an arena with mirrors is extremely useful as you can see and feel your riding faults at the same time, making you more aware of what you are doing. The more balanced your position, the safer you will be, allowing your horse to move freely.
To sit correctly in the saddle and have an independent seat, the rider should:
The head is very heavy and is about 10% of your bodyweight. If you look down when riding, the shoulders tip forward causing you to be unbalanced and placing the horse on his forehand. It is always so important to look up when you are riding, not only for a good posture but it also allows you to see where you are going, helping you ride accurately.
Placing the reins into one hand, stretch your other arm out in front of you with the palm facing up as though you are holding a penny in your hand. Keeping your arm at shoulder level, move your arm slowly to the side and then behind you following with your eyes and head, focusing on your hand the whole time. Doing this exercise three times with each arm will encourage you to keep your eyes and chin up. When riding normally, always imagine there is a piece of string attached to your hat and somebody is pulling you up.
You often hear instructors telling riders to relax their shoulders. If they are tense, then there will be tension in the arms and hands as well, travelling down the rein to the horse’s mouth.
Circle your shoulders backwards, moving them independently of your hands, to loosen them.
Shrug your shoulders up as much as you can to your ears, holding your breath at the same time to increase the tension. After a few seconds, slowly breathe out, allowing your shoulders to drop back and down. This exercise makes you aware of the difference between tense and relaxed shoulders.
When riding, there should be an imaginary straight line from your elbow to the horse’s bit. Having a bend at the elbow allows you to ride with a soft and elastic contact on the reins, placing your hands in a neutral position to give and take. Riding with straight arms creates tension which transmits to your horse.
Placing your hands in front of you in a normal riding position, ensure that your elbows are the heaviest part of your arms. Lift your fists alternately, like you are milking a cow, letting your hands go softly up and down to improve the flexibility in your arms.
Hold your reins between your thumbs and first fingers, as though you were holding two frying pans. Ride in walk first to become familiar with the different feel, then continue riding exercises and transitions in trot and canter. Riding in this way encourages a soft and flexible arm, providing an even contact.
Having unlevel hands is one of the most common rider faults and can make a horse one-sided.
Hold a stick or short whip horizontally under your thumbs with your reins held in the usual way. First, ride in the walk and then trot. Notice how much easier it is to keep your hands level. It also evens out other imbalances in your riding position. Riding in this way also allows you to notice if your reins have become too long.
Riders often favour one side more than the other and end up sitting crooked which results in a crooked horse. It is vital that riders regularly check how level they sit in the saddle.
The most beneficial exercise you can do on a horse is to lift your legs away from the saddle as it unlocks the hips and encourages you to sit deeper and equally on both seat bones. Take both feet out of your stirrups, slightly raising your knees, and lift both legs away from the saddle, keeping your upper body vertical. Hold this position for about three seconds and then softly let your legs return to the horse’s sides. By repeating several times, your hips become looser. For more competent riders, you can try this exercise in all three paces, placing a couple of fingers under the pommel to give you greater stability.
Some riders have more weight on one seat bone than the other and end up leaning in on their horse. Identify which side you collapse, preferably by having someone observe from the ground. If you discover you collapse more to the left, shorten your right stirrup by about four holes shorter than your left stirrup. Riding in this way allows the “collapsed” side to lengthen and help the rider sit evenly. Once you feel the change, go back to riding with stirrups of equal length.
Your lower leg is like your safety belt. If it remains in the correct place, then it is easier to stay in balance when riding your horse. The heel should be underneath the hip bone with a bend at the knee. If your leg comes too far forward, you will tip backwards, whereas if the leg is too far back, you will tip forwards.
The best way to place your lower leg in the correct position is by riding in a two-point seat. Shorten your stirrups by three or four holes. In halt, put the reins in one hand and hold your horse’s mane with the other. Lift your seat off the horse’s back letting the weight sink into your heels. Keep this position for several seconds then sit gently back into the saddle. Repeat the exercise and see if you can maintain your balance by letting go of the mane and placing one hand on your hip. Once you feel comfortable in halt, do this exercise in the walk before moving on to trot and canter.
Maintaining the correct riding position is vital for your safety especially if your horse spooks or reacts unexpectedly. Making slight adjustments to any flaws in your riding helps both you and your horse to remain in balance and enjoy a smoother ride. Having the occasional lunge lesson on a safe horse with a qualified instructor is invaluable as you can focus entirely on your position improving your seat, stability and balance in the saddle.