What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Understanding the importance of a good position
- Your seat and where it should be
- Your legs and heels and how they affect your stability
- Your head, shoulders and arms and how they affect your position
If you were to mark your position in the saddle out of 10, how would you score? Would you make the perfect 10? Or would a few simple position faults undo everything for you? These basic position faults have the potential to put a halt to your progress as a rider. Yes, they can have that much impact on your overall riding performance.
The reality of the situation is that without a correct position in the saddle, you tend not to make a whole lot of sense to your horse.
Your position in the saddle is something that riding instructors the world over focus on daily during lessons. A lot of riders sadly don’t realise how important their position is to their overall riding, because if they did more effort would go into correcting it.
Why is Your Position so Important?
Simply put, a good position puts you in the right place to be able to communicate most effectively with your horse.
Another advantage of a good position is the dramatic decrease in your risk of unexpected dismounts (falls) because you are more secure in the saddle. So, if you are working towards an independent seat, it makes sense to devote some time to perfecting your position.
I want to visit a few areas where your position might be letting you down, and give you a few ideas on how to improve your overall position – and in doing so, improve your riding.
Your seat and where it should be
Are you guilty of sometimes treating the saddle as a place to sit, rather than a place to communicate from? Your seat is probably your most important tool when it comes to communicating with your horse.
If your seat is not correctly positioned in the saddle, the result is you talking gibberish to your horse!
It sounds a little harsh, but it is true. The right position where your seat is concerned is essential from the first ride. As you develop as a rider, your seat becomes more and more important to your communication with your horse.
If your seat position is incorrect, or if you have been allowed to ride one way (which is the wrong way), your seat will be ineffective from the beginning. These position faults will become amplified further down the line.
What is ‘Good’?
That being said, what is a good position when it comes to your seat? Basically, you should be sitting on your seat bones. They should not be sticking out behind you, nor should you be leaning back on your tailbone.
If you could imagine your seat bones being two flashlights. A good position will see those beams of lights pointing straight now to the ground below where you are sitting in the saddle. They would not point backwards towards your horse’s hind hooves, and they would do if you were sitting a little forward, or perched in the saddle with your bum sticking out behind you. Nor would they point towards your horse’s front hooves, which would happen if you were rolled back on your tailbone.
Your seat affects the rest of your body. When your seat is plugged in correctly it has an almost domino like effect. Everything else will have a greater success rate of maintaining its position as well.
How a Faulty Seat Position Affects Your Legs in the Saddle
Many riders immediately notice how, once they have corrected their seat position, the their legs feel different. Your legs cannot function to the best of their ability while riding if your seat is faulty. The biggest cause for concern is gripping with your thighs and knees due to being perched in the saddle (your bum will be sticking out behind you and your back arched).
When you are sitting correctly on your seat bones and carrying your body using your core, it allows your pelvis to open. This, in turn, allows your legs to drape down around your horse’s sides. This is important, regardless of what discipline you are doing.
A closed pelvis creates a clothes-peg effect on your horse using your legs. They become similar to a vice-grip; clamped closed in a bid to keep you in the saddle. Rather think of actual drapes, material. Your legs should be in contact with your horses sides, but not gripping or clamping.
Your Ideal Leg Position
One of the markers of a good position is the visible line from your head, through your shoulders, through your hip to your heel. When that line is present in your position you are balanced.
If you are struggling to imagine this line, try this:- The next time you are in the saddle imagine you can click your fingers and, like magic, make your horse vanish. If the line is present, you will land on your feet. It it is not, you will either land on your face or on your bum.
The head, shoulder, hip, heel line is the start of learning to become a balanced rider. It puts you in the best position to use your own body for balance, rather than relying on your horse.
The Ever Important “Heels Down”
Oh, it may just be the most uttered phrase in arenas the world over. But it really is an essential part of developing a good position which will lead to your independent seat.
How much weight you are going to have in your heels will vary depending on your discipline. Jumping generally requires a little more than dressage. What is important here is to recognize that by dropping the weight into your heel, you elongate your leg.
How a Relaxed Knee Improves the Overall Use of Your Leg
The final position fault to do with riders legs is squeezing with the knee. Next time you are in the saddle, I want you to try something. Slip your hand between your knee and the knee roll of the saddle. You should be able to swing your knee away from the saddle with very little resistance.
Notice how, when you do this, your leg remains in contact with your horse. It remains ‘on’ while your knee can stay relaxed.
Why do you not want your knees on? Two reasons. Firstly, you certainly don’t want to pivot on them because you would be a little top-heavy, increasing your chances of toppling off! Secondly, your knees act, along with and ankles, as your shock absorbers. If they are fixed in any way, this will result in bouncing, loss of position and ineffectiveness in the saddle.
Your head, shoulders and arms and how they affect your position
One of the most common position faults in this area is failure to carry the head. It sounds strange, but a simple way of ensuring this is not the case in your riding is by focusing on creating and maintaining the space between your chin and your chest.
However, your head can also influence your overall position through the direction it is facing. Look where you are going and you will find that your head positively influences the position of your shoulders. This of course will have a domino effect on your arms as well.
Opening Your Chest and Shoulders
I personally do not like the term ‘shoulders back’. I find that it encourages riders to needlessly arch their back, which causes excess tension in both horse and rider.
Rather start with a correct seat position. Then imagine opening or stretching the distance across your chest from point of shoulder to point of shoulder. This will naturally encourage you to sit a little taller, focus on where you are going and, open your chest up.
The Elbow, Wrist, Hand, Rein, Mouth Line
The final part of your position I want to touch on today are your arms. There is a second line that, when applied, makes all the difference in smoothing out the communication between horse and rider.
That second line is from the elbow, down through your hand, through the rein to the horse’s mouth. It should be straight at all times. No Vs or kinks in it. Neither the rein or the hand should deviate off that line between the elbow and the bit.
Riders who work on mastering all of these potential position faults find that their communication with their horse improves dramatically. It is truly amazing how effective a few small changes can be.
Your Physical Fitness and its Impact on Your Position
Riding is a Team Sport – you and your horse. Just like your horse, the stronger and more developed you become physically; the more fluid your movements and “self carriage” become in the saddle.
Creating a detailed exercise program for your horse, while failing to take your own fitness into account will result in, at best, mediocre results in your riding.
Establishing and then maintaining an effective position in the saddle requires strength, suppleness and discipline. Taking responsibility for your fitness is just as important as assuming responsibility for your horses fitness.
We are starting a new round of the free 30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge on 1st of February. This will be different to anything that has gone before; you choose what you want to do based on your unique circumstances. You can sign up HERE
Links mentioned in the episode:-