HQ is thrilled to be exclusively partnered with the Dutch-based Equine Support International (ESI). ESI educates equestrians all over the world to increase levels of equestrian knowledge. This helps horse owners, stables, educational institutions and federations to take a step forward with horse wellbeing and the sport in general. ESI provides unique custom-made solutions such as national talent programmes, training programmes, train-the-trainer courses and aftercare programmes.
‘The principles of riding’ is a popular term in the equestrian sport, but what are they really and how are you able to implement them into your training to improve both yourself and your horse? ESI brings you a series of five articles that will guide you through the principles of riding. This series aims to help you to master the basics of your riding in order to benefit from more advanced riding in the future.
We all know horse riding is a rather complex sport. It involves a lot of simultaneous thinking, seeing, feeling and acting. The basic requirements for every rider are a correct position, an independent seat, balance, and a good sense of feel. Your athletic performance is dependent on your natural ability, posture, co-ordination, level of skill, and above all your mentality towards your horse and yourself.
Having an independent seat means that you are able to follow the movements of your horse, even unexpected ones. Besides that, you should be able to move your arms and legs independently in relation to your upper body.
Do you have an independent seat?
What happens with your hands when you give your horse a stronger leg aid? Are your hands moving along with the movement of your legs or are you able to keep them still and in the correct position, as relaxed as before?
Balance is based on your centre of gravity, your core, in relation to your support surfaces, namely your seat, knees and feet. When riding you should be able to draw an imaginary line from your shoulder to your hip, to your heel.
Keep in mind that the moment the rider moves, the horse needs to find his balance again. You can compare this with carrying someone on your back. When this person leans to the left and asks you to walk straight it is significantly more difficult than when this person sits still and straight.
You can say that a rider’s feel represents the accurate co-ordination of aid intensity, position, and movement of the different body parts. In order to improve your riding, you need to know and understand your own body before you can control it. Riders are encouraged to find a well-educated coach who can guide you on this path of personal development.
During ESI’s clinics, the coaches often meet people who have difficulties with their seat. There are a few exercises to avoid common seat problems. But before you look at yourself critically, make sure that your saddle fits you and your horse perfectly. This definitely affects the comfort of your and your horse’s ride.
Not releasing the reins
How can you passively resist without pulling on the horse’s bit? Passive resistance works like side reins. A side rein is able to block the horse from pulling forward but will never pull backward. When the horse is leaning on the bit, the reins gently move with the movement of the horse. If your horse is used to being lunged, a useful exercise is to ride with two cups of water in your hands and to try not to spill when walking, trotting or cantering. During this exercise, you combine practising your balance, independent seat, and your contact with the horse’s mouth.
Leaning to one side or collapsing in the waist
Before going into any more detail, ask yourself, when was your last assessment of your weight distribution?
Are you collapsing in your waist or leaning to one side?
- Do you have equal pressure on both seat bones?
- Are you sitting balanced in the middle of the saddle?
- Which seat bone do you feel more distinctly?
- To which side would you rather shift?
- Do you have even pressure on both stirrups?
It’s important for you to know if you are collapsing or if you are leaning. There is a significant difference between the two. For example, you can shift your weight to the right by moving your entire upper body to the right and feel more weight on your right seat bone and stirrup. However, you can also move your upper body to the right and feel more weight on the left seat bone. In the latter case you are collapsing in your waist.
Swinging lower leg
A swinging lower leg often causes conflicting aids. You need to communicate clearly that pressure from both calves means you are asking your horse to go forward, and pressure from one calf means that you are asking him to go sideways.
A problem such as swinging your lower leg often comes from an unstabilised upper body. If you feel that your upper body is not the cause behind a swinging lower leg, then consider these three steps:
Step 1: Check the position of your seat bones. Pretend that your seat bones are like a plug in a socket. Make sure that the pins are pointing down, and not forward or backward.
Step 2: Are you squeezing with your knee or are you riding with an open knee? If so, keep in mind that your knee is a shock absorber and should lie gently along the side of the saddle.
Step 3: When a trainer tells you to put your heels down, it doesn’t mean you should shift your heel forward. Rather drop your weight into your heels.