This article is brought to you by ADM Forage First Patriot Feeds.
When you walk down a sidewalk, you’re subconsciously using your body to navigate the terrain, walk comfortably, and get to your destination in an efficient manner. Rarely are we conscious of the way we hold our elbows when we walk. Or if we’re taking short or long strides. Using your body might be second nature when you’re on the ground. But being aware and cognizant of body positioning in the saddle is key to becoming a better—and more confident rider. In this three-part series, I will be breaking down the importance of body position. As well as how to use your body effectively to become a better rider.
Does it really matter how you use your body in the saddle? Don’t we all sit the same way? Let’s break it down.
Do it for Him
I don’t like to say that I teach training techniques. Instead, I teach “people” techniques. The most versatile and well-trained horse in the world can only perform to the level of the rider. And so often poor balance and body position inhibit the horse’s movement. If your horse isn’t performing to the level you know he can, or if he isn’t using his body correctly, your body position might be the issue. If you’re looking to be the best partner you can be for your horse, you must learn to use your body properly while in the saddle.
I often see beginner riders or riders struggling with confidence that are passengers atop their horse. Working on your body position can take you from passenger to rider—and the difference slight changes can make is staggering. Understanding how to use your body effectively to communicate with your horse can also help build your confidence. A rider in control of their body will be in better control of their horse. If things go south, you can react and respond appropriately.
An Instinctual Reaction
If a horse becomes reactive during a ride, a beginner or unconfident rider will usually lock up. The immediate instinct is to go into a fetal position, becoming stiff and tense. Then, the rider will typically pull back on the reins while simultaneously squeezing with their legs as their fear grows. This sends mixed signals to the horse as he receives signals to go forward and backward at once, and results in further reactive behavior. Poor balance can result in increased fear for new riders. I believe that if you’re truly fearful, you can’t move forward until that issue is addressed. If you don’t trust your horse, your horse won’t trust you. Conquering the fear is the first step, as a rider that isn’t truly fearful can adapt quickly using these tips and improve their body position.
If you think of yourself as a dance partner to your horse, you can see why using your body correctly can directly impact him. A partner that constantly steps on your toes, pushes you out of frame, and drags you around the dance floor, does not a good dance partner make. A horse’s weight is 60% in the front end. However, he is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. As he moves, he must shift weight to his hind end to propel himself forward. And you can hinder this with incorrect body positioning. Leaning forward makes it more difficult for him to drive from the hind and can cause unnecessary strain on his front legs. You must sit in the middle of your horse to allow him to use his body correctly. Now, you can certainly ask for him to move his body differently by shifting your weight forward or backward. But this must be intentional—and he must be allowed to understand what you are asking.
Find the Middle
How do you know where the middle of your horse is located? Draw a line from the middle of the withers to the point of the shoulder. And then another line from the point of the hip to the bottom of the buttocks. Draw a third line from the withers to the hip and a final line along the bottom line – point of shoulder to the bottom of the buttocks. You should have a trapezoid. If you continue the line from the top of the withers and the line from the hip up over the back, following the same angle, you will make a triangle. The point of the triangle is where the horse should be perfectly balanced at the top. That’s where our shoulders should be. If our shoulder gets ahead of, or behind the triangle, it will change the balance of that triangle. And in turn, change the balance and movement of your horse.
Using your body correctly and being mindful of body position while riding, isn’t just something the pros do. In fact, I would argue, that to rise to that level of riding, you must be acutely aware of body position. This is something that impacts every horse, every ride, and every rider.
In part two of this series, we’ll break down the proper position of the head, elbows, and shoulders. By learning proper body position while you ride, you’ll improve your balance, communication with your horse, and confidence—and allow your horse to travel correctly in the process.
Terry Myers is a leading trainer, teacher and national clinician, but above all he is a true horseman. Myers has trained stock and hunter horses for state, national and world competition. But he doesn’t just train the show horse. His training is for all horses regardless of the discipline. He incorporates work with both horse and rider to achieve balanced movements. Through Myers’ 50+ years of experience and work with thousands of horses and riders, he has developed coaching and demonstration methods which provides logical information that is easily understood and put to use. Consistent feedback from clinic attendees is confirmation that Terry’s training ideology and teaching style produces results.