But I Don't Ride English!


WARNING! This article may excite you. It may cause your blood pressure to boil. It may even inspire you to do something about your riding. I hope so!

Having taught a number of riders, ranging in experience, for the last seven years, I have started to notice an interesting trend developing amongst riders of various walks (or should I say) rides of life. What really started me thinking was when a client of mine, who had been riding his horse with a western saddle, (although if you asked him what a lope, jog or roll-around was, he wouldn't know) wanted to fit a different saddle to his misbehaving horse. I offered him one of my general-purpose saddles to try, upon which he immediately got cross and said, "Maar ek ry mos nie Engels nie!" (BUT I DON'T RIDE ENGLISH!). Needless to say, he didn't get very far with his riding and gave it up a few months later - because he claimed his problem horse was rubbish. What was also interesting to note, was that he rode with very hard hands and with a poor sense of balance, and all attempts at correcting his seat were met with disgruntled comments.

A few months ago, after a conversation with a rider who is very involved with polocrosse, about his saddle, which is a stock saddle similar to one most polocrosse players use. He also commented that he had sold his general-purpose saddle because every time he rides in one "... it feels like I am about to fall off it!"

Perhaps you are reading this article now and thinking, "I could never ride in a Western saddle - it makes me feel so out of balance!" or, "English saddles are so uncomfortable, they make me feel so insecure on my horse's back." Might I suggest that if you have experienced this type of problem, you may be suffering from the curse of a poor seat!

It is amazing to me how many people are content to ride their (poor) horses without paying any attention to the way they are sitting on them. I'll put it plainly - position affects performance! Too many riding schools are just not interested in the cultivation of a correct position and effective seat, and riders 'piddle on' for years and years and wonder why their horses are not improving. I am passionate about this. I believe it is the foundation of an effective relationship between horse and rider. This is not to say that I don't believe in fun too - riding should be fun, first and foremost, but how much fun do you think the pony is having with his rider falling about the saddle and yanking him around in the mouth?

Let me go further, to say this - whether you are showjumping, showing, doing dressage, a western rider, or whatever, THE BASIC POSITION DOES NOT CHANGE!
Each discipline has a modified version of the correct position, where parts of it are adapted for very specific reasons, but the basics stay the same.

Let us look at specific examples.

Figure 1 - The Dressage Rider

Notice the correct elements of the position, namely, the straight line running through head, shoulder, hip and heel; as well as the straight line running from elbow, through the hand to the horse's bit (mouth). The heels are down and facing forward, which indicates the correct angle of the thigh as it leaves the hip joint, and the leg is relaxed throughout. The head is up and looking ahead and is not tipped at an angle or forwards or backwards.

Now, let's look at the Western rider:

Figure 2: The Western Rider

You will notice that the very same straight lines that are shown in the Dressage rider are present in the Western rider. Head, shoulder, hip and heel. Elbow through hand to bit. The heel is also relaxed and facing forwards. The head held upright; the seat relaxed.

In both these examples, you will also see that the angle of the hip is quite open and the leg fairly long and straight. There is a particular reason for this, which I will deal with in another article relating specifically to rider position. However, if you have done dressage or Western riding, you will know that the rider's seat and weight in the saddle are used to communicate the rider's aids to the horse - much more so than the hands or legs. Subtle changes in the weight distribution and direction and weight of the seatbones tell the horse what to do. So really, there is not much difference between the two. The rider needs the same amount of control and relaxation of the seat and body to efficiently communicate the aids to the horse. What about the showjumper?

Figure 3: The Showjumper

As you may see, the straight line running from elbow, to bit, through the hand remains, but the rider has now closed the angle of the hip, causing the body's line to now run from head through knee to hip. The reason for this is that the showjumper communicates less with the seat and hips and more with the legs and hands. The thigh carries more of the rider's weight than the 'bottom', as it were! The correct lines, between the jumps, however, basically do not change.
And so every discipline can be shown to contain the same or similar elements of the correct position. The true test of a rider's ability and correctness can in fact, be found when the horse or saddle is changed and the rider is able to maintain the same sense of balance and neat position in the saddle, and is able to ride the horse sensitively and to its best potential.

Test yourself! Ride a different horse today in a different saddle or try a different discipline. Are you suddenly unsure of yourself in the saddle? Does it feel as if your balance is completely out of sync? Dare I suggest that maybe you need to improve your position and seat in the saddle! You don't do Western/English (whatever that may be!) /Polocrosse/ Vaulting/Showjumping/Dressage/ Bareback? Then maybe you shouldn't be riding!

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