09 Feb 2. Improving your upper body position
As we discussed in our first article, the ability to sit correctly is critical to good riding and a prerequisite both to allow you as a rider to make progress, whatever your goals, and to enable your horse to move correctly and achieve its full potential.
It is well understood that the correct position involves a straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel, such that you are effectively in a standing position. One way to assess your leg position when on horseback is to check if you can see your toe – if you can, your leg is too far forward, a common fault and something that practice will help you to correct.
And it is important, as if your leg is too far forward, you will be behind your horse’s movement and it may respond by spurting forward or slowing down. You may then tip forward in an attempt to rebalance, an action that clearly only makes things worse – the upper body should remain in a vertical position. In order to enable your pelvis and hips to absorb the horse’s movements, you should imagine lifting your rib cage upwards with a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upright. At the same time, your shoulders should be relaxed and down and your elbows bent so they can flex and absorb the movements of your horse and allow your hands to remain still.
But while your hands should also be relaxed, you still need to hold the reins firmly – some people use the analogy of wet sponges, with the correct pressure ensuring you do not drop them, but also would not squeeze them dry. Your wrists should be straight and your thumb the highest point of your hand. You should have a straight line from your elbows to the horse’s mouth, but where you hold your hands will depend on your horse’s frame: they will be lower if your horse is stretching, higher if it is in a working frame and higher still if in a collected pace. In a later article we will discuss how to hold and use a whip without compromising your hand position or rein contact.
Keeping your balance in the correct position in all paces takes time to perfect and practice is the only way to ensure it becomes second nature – supplementing time spent on horseback with practice on an equine simulator can be very helpful. Once you have succeeded in adopting and maintaining the correct upper body position, you will see a noticeable improvement in your riding as well as in your horse’s performance.
Practise this on the Equicise simulator
Use 'Instruction Ride' setting. Press reset. Position the spare mirror so you can clearly see how straight you are sitting by looking at your reflection in the mirror behind you. Using marker tape from shoulder to shoulder and down your spine you can see clearly if you are leaning slightly to one side. Move the simulator up and down through the paces and check that your body remains perfectly aligned at all times, you can also look at the reading for the seat sensor and position yourself so that the red circle representing your body weight remains in the centre of the circle at all times.
Next time: improving your lower body position