Whatever type of riding you do, the more correct your position in the saddle, the more secure and confident you’ll feel. The more you’ll be able to feel and move with your horse’s movement. And the more clearly you’re able to use your leg, seat, and hand aids to unambiguously communicate with your horse.
The wrong riding position creates tension, gripping, inflexibility, and sends confusing or even contradictory messages to your horse.
In this article, I’ll describe three common position errors I see in riders and I’ll provide solutions for each of them.
Everyone gets into patterns of how we hold our bodies. Your posture pattern feels comfortable even when it’s creating problems like putting unnecessary stress and strain on your muscles and joints. That also negatively effects your horse.
Familiar equals comfortable. Changing – even for the better – feels uncomfortable. Consistent practice is key to developing new muscle memory and the strength required to maintain the right posture. But doing it will benefit both you and your horse.
The correct riding position for all disciplines:
- vertical line running from the ear through the shoulder, hip, and ankle.
- pelvis tilted back so the seat bones point straight
- flat lower back (no arching)
- weight balanced over the seat bones and the back of the pubic bone
- weight even over both seat bones and down both legs
- feet rest (not push) on the stirrups
- chest lifted and opened without stiffness
- head balanced over the neck
- chin parallel to the floor
- knee dropped lengthening the top of the thigh and falls slightly away from the saddle
- ankle flexed allowing the heel to be lower than the toe (without pushing it down)
- thigh and calf gently hug the horse’s barrel.
- arms fall out of the shoulder socket, elbow bent and in front of the midline
- hands softly hold the reins just above the horse’s shoulders with a straight line from bit to elbow
3 Common Riding Position Errors
Each of these positions cause the rider to:
- be imbalanced and tense
- Have stiff arms, back, and hips
- Not be able to feel or move with the horse’s movement
- Not be able to give clear signals to their horse.
Perching – sitting with less weight in the seat bones and more weight on the pubic bone. The rider is slightly ahead of the vertical line. The rider grips with the inner thigh and lower leg. The lower leg tends to slide back.
Arched Lower Back – the pelvis is tipped forward causing the butt to stick out and the belly to protrude. The rider may appear to have the correct vertical alignment. But, struggles to keep the lower leg steady.
Behind the Vertical – shoulders are held behind the hips with more weight towards the back of the seat than the front. The rider’s leg tends to slip forwards into a “chair seat” and they stiffen the arms, upper back, and neck and use the reins to maintain balance.
2 Exercises To Improve Your Riding Position
Do these exercises on a safe, quiet horse in a safe location or on the lunge line with an experienced horse person. Start out practicing the movements at the halt and then progress to the walk. It’s helpful to have a practice with a ground person or another rider so you can take turns observing and giving feedback.
This exercise will help you recognize the “feel” of being centred or having the correct vertical alignment.
You’ll move between 3 positions – centre, forward and back. Engage your core muscles to give you stability. In each position, notice what happens in your body. Where are you gripping and tensing?
Centre – This exercise can be done with your feet in or out of the stirrups. Sitting squarely over both seat bones, let your legs drop out of the hip sockets and have an observer tell you when your shoulders are over your hips. Notice what that feels like.
Forward – Slowly, without moving or gripping with your legs, move your chest slightly (1 – 3”) towards your horse’s neck by closing your hip angle. Without moving or gripping with your legs, return to centre.
Back – Slowly, without moving or gripping with your legs, lean back slightly (1 – 3”) towards your horse’s tail by opening your hip angle. Without moving or gripping with your legs, return to centre.
Supporting yourself with your knuckles on your horse’s neck (keep your wrists straight and fingers closed), engage your core as you close your hip angle and slightly lift your seat bones up and back. Make sure your lower back is flat.
Breath deeply and release any tension from your shoulders, arms, neck, and back. Soften your ankles, knees, and hips. Focus on balancing your hips over your ankles.
Once you feel balanced, lift your hands off your horse’s neck (you can do one hand at a time and see if you can maintain this posture.
Increase the challenge of this exercise by doing it at the trot.
With the correct riding position, you’ll be and feel more secure and confident in the saddle, communicate more clearly with your horse, and be able to help him perform at his best.