Your posture in the saddle impacts your and your horse’s ability to perform well – and your overall wellness. Improving your riding posture begins on the ground to develop more awareness of your body and learn to best positions improve your balance and suppleness while decreasing stress and strain.

Each of the following exercises can be done either sitting (with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent at 90º) or standing.

1. All in Your Head

Do you have:

  • Difficulty looking where you’re going?
  • Neck tension while riding or neck stiffness after riding?
  • Difficult sitting the trot?

The problem could be all in your head position.

Your head weighs about the same as a bowling ball (4.5-7 kg).Holding it in the wrong position creates stress and strain on your back and neck muscles. When is has the proper alignment, your skeleton does most of the work.

Exercise: Correct Head Position:

One at a time, hold your head in each of the following positions as you slowly & gently turn your head to look left, forward and right

  • Pulled back – chin tucked in
  • Pushing forward – chin out
  • Balanced – chin parallel to the floor; eyes looking towards the horizon

Notice in each position:

  • How freely your head turns
  • How far down your spine your can sense the movement
  • How easily you can breathe.
  • Any changes in your seat or hips.

2. The Eyes Have It

Riding with intensely fixed eyes causes:

  • Your horse stiffens when asked for a transition
  • Difficulty getting your horse to stop completely
  • Tendency to be too far forward in the saddle

Holding a fixed, hard eye focus impacts physical tension, breathing, and anxious feelings. Simply softening your gaze and opening your peripheral vision creates:

  • Calm focus
  • Improved body awareness
  • Decreased anxiety

Exercise: Soft Focus

With your head in balanced position:

  • Find a spot just above your eye level and allow your eyes to look up at it
  • Focus intently on that spot – notice how you are breathing and any tension in your body
  • Defocus your vision and soften the muscles around your eyes, brows, cheek, and mouth
  • Notice the changes in your breathing (slower, deeper), release of physical tension, and quieter mind

3. Up To Your Neck

Looking down when riding creates a posture of rounded shoulders and a closed chest which causes you have:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Neck aches when riding
  • Trouble sitting up straight in the saddle

Lifting and lengthening your neck makes it easier to open your chest, breathe deeply, maintain the balanced head position, and soften your gaze without much effort.

Exercise: Lift and Lengthen Neck

1. Breathing through your nose, focus on your windpipe. With your head in balanced position, chin parallel to the floor – slowly raise then lower your chin. Notice changes in windpipe, upper ribs, chest and shoulders
2. Collapse your front rib cage and round your back moving the spine backwards slightly. Then push your ribs forward feeling the upper back move slightly forward. Notice areas of tension in each of these positions. Find the middle ground between rounded and forward upper back.
3. Lengthen your neck upward and find the position where breathing is easiest. When your shoulders sit on top of the ribs:

  • No muscular effort to maintain the position
  • Shoulders can drop back and down comfortably
  • Collarbones widen
  • Upper chest lifts easily
  • Breathing is easier

4. Sitting Pretty

Sitting up tall and straight requires the correct position of the 3 normal curves in your spine.

  • Cervical spine (neck) curves slightly inward
  • Thoracic spine (upper back where ribs attach) curves outward
  • Lumbar spine (lower back) curves slightly inward.

Problems in any of these curves limits movement, causes tension, discomfort and muscle fatigue, and can lead to damaged vertebrae. You will struggle to maintain the correct position, have discomfort in your back during or after riding, and ride with round shoulders.

Exercise: Sit Up Tall And Straight

Notice the position of each of the 3 spinal curves then focus on your upper back and rib cage sensing the curve there.

1. Explore movement of vertebrae in each of the 3 areas noticing the thoracic spine has the least movement.
2. Round your upper back feeling the sternum and rib cage (front) drop
— Move spine forward noticing the sternum and rib cage lift
— Find the position where your ribs feel open in front and back, shoulders rest on top of ribs (no muscular effort needed to hold position)
3. Push ribs out by moving the sternum and upper back forward. Notice the ribs stick out in front of shoulders.
— Notice areas of tension particularly the neck, back, and arms
— Find middle ground between rounded and forward where your head is aligned over your torso, and there is no tension in your shoulders and neck

When you find the correct position, you are able to:

  • lengthen your spine upward
  • keep your shoulders over ribs without muscular strain
  • maintain the posture with less effort

Happy riding!