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20 Jun 1. How to be the best rider you can be: back to basics

Most riders recognise that there is room for improvement and want to do better. Taking instruction on horseback and understanding horse psychology along with the theory behind applying different aids can help enormously, but correct practice is of paramount importance, especially as we all have at least some bad habits that it will take time to eradicate. Going back to the basics may seem a retrograde step but in doing so, a rider can often discover very helpful new insights that may seem simple but that can make a huge difference to the horse’s performance. In these articles, we will take a look at various aspects of riding where improvements are often needed and can be achieved with determination – crucially, developing an independent seat. Among other topics, we will discuss what is needed to achieve the correct upper and lower body positons, better balance in the saddle, more accurate leg aids,...

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19 Jun 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...

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18 Jun 3. Improving your lower body position

  As we have already discussed in Article 2, your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should all be in a straight line if viewed from the side, but a common fault is to position the leg too far forward, such that you can see your toe if you look down. This means you are bound to be behind your horse’s movement as you will be sitting on the back of the saddle, exerting more pressure on its back than is needed or desirable. And if you then lean further forward to try to achieve a more balanced position – as many riders do – you will exacerbate the problem. In fact, the correct leg position will enable increased stability. Instead, you should relax your thighs which will allow your heels to become aligned with your hips. This may not come naturally – long, relaxed thigh muscles require both a stretch in the...

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17 Jun 4. Becoming more balanced in the saddle

  When we watch top dressage riders, it is impossible not to be impressed by how still they sit in the saddle and how well they move in rhythm with their horse, yet are able, apparently effortlessly, to apply exactly the right aid at the right time to ensure the horse understands what they are asking for. We have discussed how important it is to develop the correct upper and lower body positions and that a key aim as any rider seeks to improve is achieving an independent seat. This requires balance in the saddle which in turn demands a stable frame and a strong core so that you can remain relaxed and don't need to grip with your legs or rely on your reins to stay balanced and in the correct position. This will allow you to remain securely on board even if your horse behaves unexpectedly, for example swerving quickly or...

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16 Jun 5. Giving accurate leg aids

Once you have established an independent seat – strong core muscles, a stable frame and the ability to move each part of your body independently – you can start thinking more about what is needed to ensure you can give the most precise leg aids, with the correct degree of pressure in exactly the right place. We have talked before about the need to remain relaxed as tension in any part of your body will prevent you from communicating as clearly as possible with your horse. And even once you have perfected your own position and achieved a balanced seat, it may take time for your horse to accommodate itself to your new way of riding – a horse that likes to please will, if you ride it regularly, have tried to understand what you are asking even if your aids have not been completely accurate or correct. In order for your...

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15 Jun 6. Achieving light hands and giving the correct rein aids

While we may use our intention, our core and our legs to achieve the desired movements from our horse, rein contact and ensuring we have soft or light hands and the ability to communicate clearly through the correct rein aids are also essential if we are to get the best results. We have already discussed the correct position for a rider’s hands (see Article no 2 – Improving your upper body position) but, as a reminder, your wrists should be straight and your thumb the highest point of your hand, with a straight line from your elbows to the horse’s mouth. Everybody aims for soft/light/good hands, but what does that actually mean and, equally importantly, what does it not mean? It does not mean having such a loose hold on the reins that they can slip through your fingers if your horse tries to grab them from you – you need to...

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14 Jun 7. How to use a whip correctly

Every rider who carries a whip, whether a short stick or schooling whip, should be aware that this additional aid is to be used only to reinforce the message sent to your horse by your legs and not as an alternative or as a punishment. You may think there can be little skill in the use of a whip, but you would be very wrong – timing and the force with which it is applied are critical, as is the ability to tap the horse in the right place without affecting your rein contact, so it is important to recognise and learn when and how a stick should be used. Obviously, we would all prefer our horses to respond quickly and correctly to the natural aids that we give, but if your horse does not, even if you think you have given a clear signal of what you are asking for, it...

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13 Jun 8. Learning Weight Aids

In most of our previous articles, we have mentioned the importance of developing an independent seat, a prerequisite for becoming the best rider you can be. We have discussed how you can improve your upper and lower body position, become more balanced in the saddle and ensure you apply the correct leg and rein aids, but understanding and being able to use weight aids properly are also key to communicating well with your horse. Unless you have mastered an independent seat, however, you will be unable to apply weight aids correctly, which will confuse your horse and can countermand your leg and rein aids when you are asking for a particular movement. A rider with an independent seat, on the other hand, will be able to feel what the horse’s body is doing, and to choose and apply the best set of aids to achieve the desired outcome. To recap, an independent seat...

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12 Jun 9. Relaxation

In our last article (no 8), we talked about the need to be relaxed in order to achieve the independent seat that is a prerequisite for becoming the best rider you can be. This time we’ll discuss ways to help you remain relaxed even when riding an unfamiliar horse in unpredictable circumstances. It is important to realise that to be fully relaxed when riding, you need to be mentally as well as physically relaxed – if you are thinking or worrying about something else in your life, it will spill over into your physical behaviour, causing tenseness that your horse will immediately notice and respond to.  All of us have experience of coming to ride when we are frustrated by or anxious about something – heavy traffic when you are already running late, an unexpectedly large bill, family or relationship problems – and those feelings communicate themselves to your horse,...

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11 Jun 10. Improving your balance

We have talked about the importance of balance before,  but it is worth considering some exercises that can help you to achieve a secure and balanced seat (which can be practised on a real horse but also, to greater effect, on the EQUICISE, a life sized simulator). We have discussed how the ability to be both relaxed and balanced requires strong core muscles and flexible hip joints, allowing you to move in harmony with your horse as you follow its movement. And we know that you will prevent your horse from performing to its best ability if you are unbalanced, as horses typically try to compensate for a rider who is sitting crookedly. You can work on strengthening your core muscles in the gym, by taking yoga, Pilates or other classes, by doing exercises at home or by practising on the EQUICISE. In our last article, we looked at ways to ensure you...

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