THE RIDER'S POSITION
ALTHOUGH OUR MODEL IS NOT WEARING ONE, THE AUTHOR STRONGLY RECOMMENDS THE USE OF A RIDING HELMET AT ALL TIMES! ACCIDENTS HAPPEN! WEAR YOUR HELMET WHENEVER YOU ARE WORKING WITH YOUR HORSE!
The rider's position in the saddle can surely be considered one of the most vital building blocks in the art of riding a horse. For art it surely must be, as much as science! A perfect position does not always mean a perfect rider, and likewise, a rider with a few shortcomings may get more out of a given horse than even their most correct counterpart. However, this said, there is no substitute for a correct, solid seat, and this should be the aim of every rider. Even Olympic riders are constantly working on their positions in the saddle.
South African riding schools seem to be famous for not paying enough attention to their pupils' seats. There are too many Riding Schools that will overlook major faults in their riders, claiming that their pupils are there to have fun, not to be drilled. This is a very short-sighted opinion, because, how could any horse be having fun with an unbalanced, ill-positioned rider on its back?
Riders seem to be lunged less and less these days; perhaps because life is getting too fast and expensive - fitting 10 riders into one hour is more economically profitable than only one rider in one hour. Perhaps our average instructors are simply not educated enough in order to lunge a rider to improve position. Riders also seem to do everything in their power to escape the dreaded "let's work on that position" type of lesson, claiming that it is too hard work.
Surely the reaching of perfection should be every rider's aim? I feel that we should return to the basics - position is everything. I hope this article will inspire riders to take a fresh look at their own positions and that they will make a concerted effort to correct them.
No one is perfect all the time, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all try?
Why is a Correct Position So Important?
People spend hundreds of thousands of Rands on the attainment of a correct seat, it must, therefore, be important! This is, after all, what riding lessons are all about - the achievement of the perfect seat, so that a perfect union can be formed with the horse. Well, perhaps in a perfect world!
Many people will disagree with this statement. They claim that trust is enough - a willing or a forced horse alike will do anything in its power to perform for its rider, this is probably true. But as "humane" riders, shouldn't we be doing everything in our power to make things easy for our horses? Sitting correctly allows the rider to control key areas of the horse's body and communicate with him effectively. The mouth, head, neck and forehand are controlled by the hands; the ribcage and hindquarter will respond to the legs; the horse's back is influenced by the rider's seat and back. The rider should be able to control these areas and communicate with each part of the horse independently. A good example of a rider who cannot use his/her position effectively is similar to that of a driver who cannot control the brakes, gears, clutch and accelerator of a motorcar. He/she may advertently crunch the gears, press the acceleration instead of the brake, or leave the handbrake on whilst driving! The result? DISASTER!
Riding in an incorrect position will also encourage injury and behavioral problems in the horse. The horse will be forced to compensate, often to the detriment of muscles, movement and tempers! Fatigued muscles may tear; tired limbs may stumble - in short, injury is inevitable.
Riding in a correct position is pleasing to the eye and a correct rider can be spotted from miles away, and is a pleasure to watch. Horses usually bloom under correct positions.
The Correct Position
Before a complete description of the correct seat is attempted, the rider should take note that,
like the brakes, gears, accelerator and clutch of a car, the components of the seat are interrelated. They all work together and may reflect vital clues as to what the rider may be having trouble with. A rider with a poor, unbalanced seat position will never achieve the correct leg position, thus his/her leg aids cannot possibly be correct. Tense shoulders will usually lead to poor hand placement and a nodding head is always a sign of tension in the body. Another important point to take note of, is the fact that your position in the saddle will always be similar to your normal position on the ground. Also, your body shape may dictate your riding position, to a certain extent. It is fruitless to fight nature!
Important for the instructor to be aware of certain conditions that may affect the rider's position: examples of these are scoliosis, kyphosis and other lumbar disorders. It is no use yelling out at a pupil to "sit up straight" if they have a kyphosis of the spine. You will only create tension, discomfort and even pain in the rider. The rider should be shown how to compensate for his shortcomings.
The correct seat is the fruit of HARD WORK!
The seat is often considered as the basis or foundation of the rider's position. The seat comprises of two major parts - 50% the rider and 50% the horse, but both portions are the responsibility of the rider. The sad fact needs to be stated that unless the rider is capable of causing his horse to carry him on an engaged, elastic back, a good seat cannot be cultivated. In other words, only the combined correctness of the rider's seat and position, elastically balanced upon the supple, forward motion of the horse, can consummate true unity.
CORRECT POSITION AND ATTITUDE OF THE SEAT
The rider must sit straight down into the deepest part of the saddle.
Sit mainly on the seat bones, but partially supported by the pelvic structure. (pubic crest)
Equal weight placed on both seat bones.
Sit squarely in the saddle. (ie: don't collapse the hips)
Hips must be parallel to the horse's hips at all times.
Buttock muscles must be open and relaxed, together with relaxed hip joints and thighs.
Think of spreading your seat over the saddle to cover as much of it as possible.
SHOULDERS AND UPPER BODY
The shoulders should be held level, with the shoulder blades flat.
The rider's front line should be as long as possible, without hollowing the back.("D" shaped)
UPPER HEAD AND HIP POSITION
A correct leg position will allow the rider to sit clearly on both seat bones.
The legs should hang down naturally, relaxed like two strands of wet spaghetti! They gain the necessary elasticity by stretching through the heels.
The thigh must be completely turned inwards from the hip joint. This does not mean grip with the thighs! They should remain relaxed with the thigh muscle hanging relaxed against the saddle.
Upper leg to the knee should remain quite strongly pointed to the ground. (ie: think of pushing your knees straight down to lengthen the front of the thigh)
The rider should never sit on his/her thighs.
LOWER LEG AND FOOT POSITION
When observed from the side, the heel should be on a vertical line, running through the center of the head, shoulder and hip. This is because leg aids are given more effectively from this position and the rider is better able to find good balance.
The lower leg should be well turned inwards, ie, aids are given with the inner aspect of the calf.
The foot should run almost parallel to the horse's sides. This prevents:
A loose, flapping lower leg
Sitting on the thighs
Clamping with the lower legs
Digging at the horse with the heels
Together with a relaxed ankle joint, the heel should just be the lower point on the rider.
The legs should relax into the stirrups. Too much weight into the heels creates tension in the calf and ankle, preventing the absorption of movement of the horse. This is only advised in the case of the cross-country rider, who needs extra weight in to shorter stirrups for added security.
Stirrup placed squarely on the ball of the foot.
When viewed from behind, the rider's feet should be level.
The lower leg is always in light contact with the horse's sides. It breathes with the horse!
No tapping of the legs.
Knees should be dosed firmly, but not squeezing or gripping into the saddle.
The arms should hang from relaxed, yet drawn back shoulders.
The upper arms should lie lightly at the rider's sides.
The lower arm and fist should form a straight line across the reins from bit to elbow. The hand and forearm should become an integral part of the leather.
Both the wrist and elbow should always remain supple and relaxed. The wrist should not be broken inwards or outwards.
The back of the hand and forearm should form a smooth, continuous line.
Hands should remain level at all times. (unless specified for a specified movement)
Both fists should be held at the same height.
Wrists should be held vertically, with the thumbs uppermost. (like holding two mugs in the hands) in this position, the hand is the most sensitive and articulate, although there are some experts, especially amongst the showjumping fraternity who remain that the hands may tilt very slightly inwards.
The hand should be held perfectly quiet in relation to the horse's mouth. "The hands stand still but move anyway" (E. van Neindorff) It should be feeling, not fiddling about and never hard or unfriendly.
Should be able to move hands independently of body.
The fists should be carried in front of the rider, and should be carried about a fist's breadth apart and above the saddle.
The crop is held firmly in the hand and rests lightly across the thigh - avoid "tapping".
Fingers should remmn "closed" around the reins so that a consistent contact can be maintained.
THE HEAD POSITION
Head should be held upright, looking up and "through horses ears" only then can the weight of the entire upper body fall correctly onto the seat.
Do not tip head in/out when working on bends or circles - collapses waist.
Keep the chin lightly drawn in.
Carry the head quietly - no nodding - look up.
It may seem strange to include breathing in a description of the rider's position and the correct
seat, but this is often a forgotten area of riding. How you breathe may be far more important than you think. Irregular breathing, especially the extreme holding of your breath causes tension and stiffness in your body which wil1 be conveyed to your horse, and which will tire you out. Try to relax and keep your breathing deep, even and regular. Being aware of your breathing may help you understand where you are tense and when you are relaxed during your ride. This will help you identify and resolve your problem.
CHANGES IN THE BASIC POSITION
The rider should note that the basic rules of a correct position never change, they only become modified as the various disciplines demand. The riders position (esp. of the thigh) constitute a weight bearing, shock absorbing surface. In effect, the body forms a tilted "W".
A long "W" will have little spring and weight bearing surface, but if you were to close the angles, you would get a more compact weight distribution. That is why stirrups get shortened prior to jumping - not so that the rider can lift the buttocks.
THE LIGHT SEAT
The seat lightens in the saddle, so that the rider "hovers" rather than sitting squarely in it. This takes weight off horses back. Not only is this seat used for jumping or going cross country, it is also useful for schooling a young horse in the canter or one with a tense back. It is all too common to see a rider standing in the stirrups or with the buttocks in the air, collapsed over the horse's withers, which simply puts weight onto the forehand and encourages the lower leg to creep back. Correct and efficient leg aids cannot be given.
1. COLLAPSED WAIST / CHAIR SEAT
CAUSE: Often riders with this problem are sitting on the back rims of the seat bones. The waist collapses, the shoulders are rounded and the lower legs and arms shoot forwards in an attempt to regain balance. This problem can sometimes be predisposed by saddle design or stirrups that are too long.
EFFECT ON HORSE/ RIDER: This type of seat puts undue pressure on the horse's spine, leaving the rider behind the movement. It also makes the effective use of the rider's leg aids virtually impossible. The rider no longer sits in the deepest part of the saddle, but instead
is pushed backwards towards the cantle. The rider's balance and absorption of the horse's movement will be adversely affected.
CORRECTION: Lunging the rider will cause an improvement if he/she is shown how to "sit down" on the seat bones and "grow up out of the saddle". Suppling the pelvis by using mounted or dismounted exercises may also help. The rider should imagine a string coming out of the head and someone pulling up on it!
If the saddle seems to be causing a problem, change it!
2. FORK SEAT
CAUSE: This occurs when the rider tips forwards onto the front of the pelvis, causing the upper body to collapse and the lower leg to shoot back. Often this problem is caused by too short stirrups or by a lack of balance and tone in the core of the rider's body.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: The fork seat shifts weight onto the horse's forehand, making it difficult to engage the hindquarters or carry the forehand correctly. It can also have the effect of having the horse hollow its back and raise the head. Often in an attempt to sit p straight, the rider will pull the shoulders back without correcting the alignment of the pelvis. This results in a hollow back, which only serves to worsen the situation. Many modern deep seated Dressage saddles have this effect on riders. Also, many aspiring riders suffer from bad lower back pain after riding - often because they are sitting on a fork seat and their backs hollow as they try to sit back, causing the pain.
CORRECTION: Again, the rider should be taken back to the lunge ring and should be shown how to rock back off the front of the pelvis down onto the seat bones. It often helps to instruct the rider to "suck the belly-button in towards the spinal column". This has the effect of tightening the stomach muscles, pulling the chest up into the correct position. The stirrups may be lengthened by a hole or two, and exercises should be introduced to strengthen the stomach muscles, waist and the pelvis. Work without stirrups is a must. Again, the image of a puppet on a string should be utilised. It may be worth a try to experiment with the fit of the saddle to the rider, although in general purpose saddles, it is not often that the saddle design causes a fork seat. It is more common for it to influence a chair seat.
3. COLLAPSED WAIST / UNLEVEL HIPS
CAUSE: Unbalanced riders will. often "drop a hip" in order to regain their balance when turning corners or performing various schooling exercises. Sometimes uneven stirrups or a loosely fitting saddle that has slipped over slightly to one side of the horse's back causes the problem. All humans have a stronger side, just like horses do, and this sometimes causes the rider to 'push' harder into one stirrup than into the other, resulting in a collapsed waist. Often the rider will only be able to feel one seat bone and not the other.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: Collapsing the hip causes the rider to twist his/her body. Notice the photo. The rider has collapsed her hip, and this has caused her to twist through her body and rise on the left, collapsing to the right. Notice how this seat is affecting the horse's balance and straightness - the rider is tipping the horse onto his right front leg and is forcing him to carry more weight on the left hind leg, twisting his quarter out. This rider may experience some difficulty in getting the horse to canter on a right lead, as he will be unable to get his near hind leg underneath his body sufficiently for a correct strike-off. The horse will also build up a musculature to compensate for the imbalance and this will result in unbalanced movement and development. Often when the rider problem is resolved, the horse will still feell'wrong" because he has not yet built up the correct musculature.
CORRECTION: Often, placing padding into the seat of the rider's pants on the raised hip side, will correct the allignment of the hips, levelling the rider out under the horse. This will improve the horse's way of going so that he can build up the correct musculature while the rider works on correcting their position. Check the rider's legs - in the case of this problem, often the rider has one leg longer than the other. The rider needs to become aware of his/her seat bones and deliberately force more weight into the 'lacking' side's stirrup until the seat bones can be evenly felt. (Beware of tipping the opposite hip!)
Riding with mirrors or a friend to nag you may also help. It is worth checking the alignment of the saddle on the horse's back, as well as checking the stirrups. The ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE, which was developed by an Australian actor and recitor, FM Alexander, offers a unique method for increasing the rider's awareness of human balance and co-ordination. The Alexander Technique demonstrates that we have the ability to maintain our upright balance if we so choose. It may be of great benefit for the unbalanced rider.
THE SHOULDERS AND UPPER BODY
CAUSE: Tension in the shoulders manifests itself in various ways, some of which are:
- Rigid arms and set elbows
- Stiff, "poking" head
- Chin pulled in
- Uneven shoulder position
- Slouching the shoulders
- Erratic rein contact
- Often results in tipping the upper body forwards
It is often caused by fear or nervous feelings in the rider, or is the reflection of natural stress that is part of our daily existence. An insecure position will cause tension in the shoulders. Also, riders trying too hard will often tense up the upper body in an effort to 'sit better'. This has the opposite effect and will cause tension.
EFFECT ON THE HORSE / RIDER: This type of problem causes a stiff, rigid and often erratic contact, which upsets and confuses the horse. It will also encourage a fork seat, tipping the horse onto his forehand and thereby causing the associated problems. (see previous notes)
CORRECTION: The nervous rider should be encouraged to gain confidence. This could be done by lunging the rider with the help of a calm, dependable and comfortable schoolmaster. The level of difficulty of work expected of the rider may need to be decreased. Exercises on the lunge may improve the seat and making the rider sing or hum whilst riding may also help. Conversation with the rider will help to relax the jaw and neck.
LOWER LEG AND FOOT POSITION
1. GRIPPING WITH THE KNEE COMBINED WITH LIFTING OF THE HEEL
CAUSE: One of the most common riding school commands, blurted out at an alarming rate must surely be, "PUSH DOWN THOSE HEELS" ! A rider who is insecure or unbalanced in the saddle will naturally tend to curl up into a ball - a natural human reaction to any situation that is dangerous or insecure. The rider is unable to relax throughout the body, naturally pushing down weight into the heels. Often, the tense, gripping rider is unable to "open" his/her seat-consequently, the seat bones are pushed out of the saddle. A rather precarious situation indeed! This problem is also often caused by too long stirrups. Novice riders commonly suffer from this problem until they have gained a better centred seat and core.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: The most common scenario must be the novice rider who is riding the fresh, naughty horse. The rider tenses, gripping with the calves and knees in an
attempt to stay on board, forcing the heels up and the vicious cycle begins. The horse reads all this information as "GO FASTER" because this is how he has been trained - especially if he was a racehorse at one time - weight off the back, combined with firm squeezing from the calves = GO! His only reaction therefore, must be to speed up, which sends the already panic stricken rider into even more of a clinging frenzy, gripping even more. The horse continues to speed up or may become frustrated by the rider's confusing aids - reins say stop, legs and seat say go. And thus, the cycle continues until the partnership part ways!
Riders who use their heels to give leg aids, instead of the inner aspect of their lower legs, will often display raised heels. Novice or inexperienced riders usually show this position until they feel more secure in the saddle. Heels coming up means that the seat is lifted out of the saddle and is insecure.
CORRECTIONS: One of the more basic 'cures' for this fault is simply clocking up more mileage in the saddle. It may be a good idea to first check the stirrups, as this problem is often accentuated by stirrups that are too long. Lunge the rider, especially without stirrups to form a more secure position in the saddle. Because this problem often occurs with nervous riders on strong, frisky horses, a change of mount may be advised. Riders need to be encouraged to relax in the saddle, and an image that may work is if the rider is told to imagine that they are a hot, sticky blob of toffee that has just been dripped into the saddle. They should imagine themselves running, as it were, down the sides of their horses! Relaxation of the hips, thighs, buttocks, calves and shoulders is the main aim of this rehabilitation. The rider should be trying to deepen the seat. If the horse is not responsive to the leg, more schooling of the horse is needed so that the rider's leg can be used properly. Nagging with the heel will not help matters.
2. OPEN KNEES AND TURNED OUT TOES
CAUSE: Sometimes this problem is caused by inferior saddle design, as well as stirrups that are too short. Usually, this problem is as a result of a poor angle of rotation of the femur as it leaves the hip joint. Instead of a very slight inward rotation of the femur, it rotates outwards, opening the knees and thus automatical1y turning out the toes. Open knees are often accompanied by a chair seat, and the inner thigh does not lie flat against the saddle, but in effect, the rider "sits on the thighs".
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: In this position, the rider is unable to give accurate or effective. The heels are used to give leg commands, and much more leg aid is required to have the desired effect on the horse. The rider is also unable to utilise a deep, effective seat and the horse will often hollow its back and not engage the hindquarter - often trailing the hindlimbs.
CORRECTION: Work on the lunge should be used to supple the hips and thighs, and it can be useful for the instructor to draw the thigh muscle out from underneath the femur by hand. A clever exercise, often employed in the 'good old days' was to place a slip of paper between the knee and saddle. Woes betide the rider whose piece of paper fell out!
THE ARMS AND HANDS
1. REINS TOO LONG
CAUSE: With the reins too long, the aids become clumsy and inaccurate. The rider becomes forced to bring the arms behind the vertical, with the hands too close to the body. ("working into the belly button") This is often the result of open fingers on the reins, that allow them to slip through; wet, slippery reins that will slide through the fingers no matter what; and sometimes this is a psychological problem in that the rider is afraid to take up a contact for fear of hurting the horse's mouth.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER:Any horse will become very confused and irritated by this extremely long contact, although I daresay, some riding school ponies seem to rejoice at the sudden release of all control! The rider becomes unbalanced and ineffective and any kind of work by the horse will be rendered
CORRECTION: If a change of reins or gloves is not the solution, the rider should return to work on the lunge to improve the position of the hands, arms, and shoulders. Work without reins is advised. Another useful way to remind the rider of the "correct" rein position is to attach brightly coloured elastics or tape to the reins, at an acceptable length. (Plaiting elastics work very well) The rider is then encouraged to keep that specific length of rein, and this exercise often makes the rider much more aware of the problem and they will make an added effort to correct it.
2. RIGID HANDS AND WRISTS
CAUSE: Often this problem is caused by tension in the shoulders (see previous notes) or arms. These riders may be compensating for an imbalance elsewhere or they are trying too hard to force a 'correct position'. Nervous or tense riders that have had a bad experience will
also often be very tense in the wrists and arms.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: The hands are stiff and heavy and are unable to 'give', so they tend to bounce about and do not follow the movement of the horse's head. Because of this, contact comes and goes in jerky movements, which ultimately deadens the horse's mouth. Initially, the horse will fight the rider's contact by raising the head, hollowing the back and trailing the hind legs, as well as shaking the head and "snatching" at the reins. Many horses will open their mouths and become "pullers". After a while, the horse's mouth will simply go dead and it will need reschooling to become responsive to the bit again. (As well as a change in rider!)
CORRECTION: Lunge work will improve the situation, as well as suppling exercises, especially in the shoulders, arms and wrists to "soften" the arms. This problem usually has an underlying cause; often an unbalanced seat or tension in the hips. This type of rider also often displays a clenched jaw - talking, singing and general relaxation therapy may help.
3. ELBOWS OUT OF LINE
CAUSE: The elbows that grip into the sides, are stuck outwards or pushed out, in front of the body, lack all elasticity and shock absorption. They are often caused by tension in the neck and shoulders, an unbalanced position or a forced and tense position. Elbows stuck out in front could also be caused by reins that are too short. Often a problem in the lower back and pelvis area is reflected in the elbows. A rider who has a hollow and tense lower back, is very likely to stick the elbows out to the sides or push them out in front of the vertical in order to regain his/her balance.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: The hands cannot be light and responsive if the elbows are out of line with the rest of the body. Elbows that are gripped into the sides lose all elasticity. Stuck outwards, they bring the reins off the neck, breaking the bit-hand-elbow line. Pushed out in front of the rider, the weight of the arms tip the whole body forwards. The horse is likely to
object to this type of contact by raising his head, as well as hollowing his back, grinding his teeth and opening the mouth. The horse will also be reluctant to work through from behind. An inconsistent or hard contact also causes a horse to lose confidence in the rider, the bit in the mouth and causes endless problems with the scooling from that point on.
CORRECTION: The rider should, once again be returned to the lunge, where time should be spent working without the reins. The rider should be made conscious of his/her elbows resting lightly against the sides. A good idea for a rider who has stiff, rigid arms with the elbows pushed out in front is to give him/her two mugs (plastic please!) to hold instead of the reins. To add to the challenge, water can be added to the mugs ... needless to say, any bouncing around will immediately be felt by all - horse included! Pony may want to wear his bathing suit for this one!
4. WRISTS OUT OF LINE
CAUSE: There are three main deviations in the correct wrist position. These are:
Broken or limp wrists
Where the thumbs are uppermost but the wrists are flexed outwards and the fingers tend to face the sky.
Puppy dog wrists
The opposite of limp wrists, where the wrists are turned inwards, so that the thumbs are pointing towards the withers - knuckles in front.
Flat, piano playing wrists
Where the hands are turned right over, knuckles on top.
Often these problems are caused by limp, droopy wrists, or an excess of tension in the forearm - especially puppy dog wrists.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: An of the above-mentioned problems will cause bit evasion such as pulling, fixing the jaw, grinding the teeth, head shaking or nodding, "snatching" at the reins, being above the bit and ineffective control of direction. In other words, the horse will not easily understand the finer bit commands.
Broken wrists lead to sharp pulls on the reins without any precision, so the horse will struggle with correct canter leads, lateral movement or changes in direction.
Wrists turned inwards over the withers encourage clumsy, yet severe "nutcracker" actions on the reins.
Flat wrists make the hands heavy, stiff and inefficient and as this problem is often in conjunction with stiff elbows, these riders tend to have "bouncy" hands that do not absorb the movement of the horse.
CORRECTION: Work on the lunge is advised for these riders and they can also ride holding mugs in the hands. Another useful exercise is to place a short riding crop between the thumb and forefinger of both hands, so that it forms a bridge over the withers. This automatically places the hands in the correct position. A strap fixed to the front of the saddle will help te rider steady the hands in the correct position, as well as allowing the horse to gain confidence in a steady, level contact.
1. LOOKING DOWN
CAUSE: This is a very common problem amongst riders who frequently work on their own or who have little instruction. In an effort to "see" what their horses are doing, these riders continually stare down at their horse's necks or at the ground. Some riders also seem to be afraid to look away from their horses, perhaps they are scared that their horses may vanish if
they were to blink an eye?! This is especially so when jumping - many riders won't look at their fence until they are right in front of it - if they get there at all!
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: The head is immensely heavy - weighing many kgs and when it is dropped in front of the perpendicular, it often takes the neck and shoulders with it! The rider becomes slouched, and the horse's forehand will become very heavy, causing him to run along on it. The horse becomes "runny", and true engagement of the hindquarters will not be possible. Riders who look down often develop a type of 'tunnel vision' - not being aware of the arena around them or the perspective of school figures or the fences being jumped. Riders cannot ride good lines into fences when they are looking down and may mess up striding and lines.
CORRECTION: A useful exercise for the rider who continually looks down is if the instructor raises a hand with a certain number of fingers during a lesson. The rider should then call out how many fingers are being raised. The rider could also find certain landmarks such as trees or arena markers to ride towards. This can be a very irritating and difficult habit to cure. Riding with mirrors will help greatly, as the rider will be able to lookinto the mirror to make corrections, not down at the horse.
2. NODDING HEAD
CAUSE: The "nodding head syndrome" is becoming an all too familiar sight amongst the dressage and showing fraternity! Riders are encouraged to sit "easy and comfortably", which transpires to be nothing more than a drooping of the head and shoulders and collapsing the waist. In this position, the rider's head nods as a result of a loss of body tone and balance with less control of the horse's forehand. Alternatively, tension in the hips and waist causes the body to transfer shock absorbing to the head and neck. Instead of absorbing movement with the ankles and lower back, it travels to the head, and there it is released, resulting in a nodding head.
EFFECT ON HORSE / RIDER: Although there is no direct negative effect on the horse, nodding the head is unsightly and is a side effect of a deeper problem. The main fault here is a "reversed shock absorbing system".
CORRECTION: Lunging the rider should be used to loosen the lower back and ankles so that they can absorb the movement of the horse. Stretches should be attempted to counteract stiffness in these areas.
The rider's position in the saddle, as we have seen, can play a much more vital role in the way that the horse goes than many riders think. Many people do not pay enough attention to this vital area and as a result, the horse cannot perform to his biomechanical best. They do not realise that in order to improve their horses, they must first improve their own positions in the saddle.
I trust this write-up will encourage and inspire rider's to go out there and work on their own positions int he saddle!
"Practise the fugue constantly, tenaciously, until you are tired of the subject and until your hand is so firm and so sure that you can bend the notes to your will... let us look at he past: it will be a step forward." Guiseppe Verdi