Dressage Horse Training: Symptoms versus Sources of Rider Position Errors

Hello Everyone,

I went ahead and showed Ava 3-3 this weekend (Aug 2-3, 2014) even though we were not quite ready.  I just didn’t want to let a second year go by without getting Ava into the show ring and we decided to ride for the ring experience.  We got to the Horse Park early and walked Ava around for about 2o minutes and Ava had a good sigh and dropped her head.  Then it was time to saddle up and warm up.  Ava did better than I expected but in the warm-up went through cycles of ok to snorting like an oncoming train.  Ava’s back was tight and although lateral work loosens her back, I also didn’t want Ava to get overtired.  Her right hind leg is not strong enough yet to do many canter departs and even though full of nervous energy, Ava can still tire her muscles before the brain relaxes.  As a result of managing Ava’s energy level, I allowed my body to regress back to a less correct body position.  If you watch my video of the Day 1 ride, you can see that my hands are too high and my legs are forward in almost a chair seat.

This is what I want to talk about in this discussion.

Symptom 1:  Fix your hands

If there is one mantra I want to repeat, rider’s hands are a symptom–NOT a cure.  How many times have you heard a trainer tell a rider to lower their hands or fix their hands?  This is a futile critique because it does not get to the heart of the matter and the problem will keep recurring when the rider is alone.  For me, my hands are high for usually 2 reasons.  One, sometimes when I “fluff” up on the reins, I never return my hands to the correct lower position.  I need a ground person to alert me when this is happening.

Symptom 2: Chair Seat

In the case of this ride, my hands were extra high because my lower legs were out in front of me so I did not have a solid base for half-halting or balancing the ride.  So, it’s a matter of gravity.  If your legs are out in front then the upper body must lean back a bit to balance and the hands will ride up to compensate.

For Day two of the weekend, I began the warm-up and my goals for the ride to fix my hands and seat.  I was not going to fix Ava overnight but I could address myself.  I worked my boots around so I could get my heels down.  This allowed me to find my more normal position I have when I ride in my half-chaps.  I had my warm-up coach focus on my heel hip shoulder alignment to ensure I was sitting correctly.  I also used my pinky fingers as a reference to make sure my hands were in a lower position (as well as my ground coach).  This combination allowed my hands to stay in a lower position with less concentration and also had Ava more under herself with less effort.

Symptom 3: Leaning Back

The third aha I had was the comment “sit up straight and don’t lean back.”  For me what needs to happen is to actively engage my core (belly).  I am now strong enough to use my belly but it is still my habit pattern to keep my belly relaxed.  If I just lean forward, I can do this with a relaxed belly and it just leads to getting my horse on the forehand.  If I am leaning back and then I engage my core, then this brings my shoulders forward and helps the horse engage as well.  It really is true that the horse is just a mirror of our bodies.

Communication is such a key part of learning to ride.  Many times I’ve had a trainer tell me to fix something and either I think I’ve fixed it or the trainer assumes I am unable to fix it so the problem continues.  I like to video as often as I can because sometimes when I listen to the lesson and watch what I’m doing, I can usually make a simple correction.  I recently had a lesson and was told not to let the horse pull my hands.  After watching the video I saw my hands were high.  In my head pulling forward is a different axis than up and down so I made no attempt to lower my hands–until I saw the video.  I think this is why communication is not complete until the receiver of information has reiterated the concept back to the teacher to ensure complete understanding.

Good Riding,

Tara, Author “Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding”


Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

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