Non-horse people think that riding a horse means you put your butt in the saddle then kick to go and pull to whoa. But they don’t know how to ride. Just like I think golfing is just whacking a ball with a club, but people who golf know that there is much more to the sport. Proper riding is a detailed athletic sport made more complicated by the fact that we have to partner with a 1,200 plus pound team mate.
Proper rider body position starts with an athletic stance that is common to many types of sports. An athletic stance is one that is feet apart, knees bent, toes turned out, with equal weight in each foot. The upper body is positioned over the hips, with the shoulders square, neither leaning forward or backward. Think of your hips as a bucket of water, if you roll hips forward you will spill out the water. Your head should be looking forward, not looking down or cocked left or right. If you do this, you can feel how balanced you are. This is the same stance used in many sports, including basketball or volleyball. In basketball, you are ready to move left or right to guard the basket. In volleyball, you are prepared to quickly move left or right, to go after the ball.
An athletic stance is nothing but a balanced stance and can be mimicked when in the saddle, giving you balance when riding. If you are not balanced in the saddle, your horse cannot be balanced. To prove a point, next time you ride, put your horse in a nice trot and feel your horses rhythm. Then count the feet as they hit the ground. You should have a fairly even count. Then lean forward and tilt your head to the inside. You will see your count change and the rhythm of the stride change.
When I was young, way back in the ‘olden’ days, we were taught to ride with toes forward, which causes you to pinch in the knees and hollow out your back. Any time you hollow out your back, your pelvis tilts forward (dumping out that bucket of water we talked about). This makes your horse’s job much more difficult, causing them to be forehand heavy. But by turning your toes out, you can wrap your legs around your horse.
Don’t squeeze with your knees. When you squeeze with your knees, usually with toes forward, you become a giant pimple ready to pop off your horse! By turning toes out, the seam of your pants will be ahead of the contact of your horse. If the seam of your pants is in contact with your horse, you will be squeezing with your knees and actually begin to lose contact with your seat. Since you don’t want to fly off your horse and look like a yard dart, learn to turn your toes out, wrap your legs around your horse and sit deep in the saddle. What does deep in the saddle mean? Stand up in the stirrups, sit straight downward, then roll back on the pelvis so that you are sitting on your pockets. As the old saying goes, sit on your ‘W’s’ which is the W design on the pockets of Wrangler jeans.
Back to our athletic stance…what happens if you are in an athletic stance and you lean forward? You will fall on your face. On horseback, your horse is nice enough that when you lean forward he doesn’t let you fall. He will however, move out of balance because you are out of balance. Here’s a new flash…you don’t need to lean forward to make your horse go faster! Instead, sit deep in the saddle and use your legs. Leaning forward puts the rider so far out of balance that they are very vulnerable to being thrown from their horse.
For many years, the 4-H books have said the basic body position includes the alignment of the ear, shoulder, hip and back of the heels. You should be able to draw a line all the way down.
Similar to any sport or athletics, to develop good riding skills you need to ride consistently and frequently. A good golfer does not get that way by golfing once a month. Tiger Woods did not develop great golfing skills by playing every now and then. Proper rider position and good riding skill have to develop over time and become second nature to the rider. Once your seat and body position is balanced, you can begin to improve the movement and performance of your horse.
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.