Do you want to perfect your position?
Derriere Equestrian sponsored rider Erin Orford offers her tips...
Concentrating on the upper part of the body, shoulders have a huge influence on your whole riding position and ability. Most people have right side dominance, and therefore tend to ride automatically more strongly with that arm, hand and leg, which can often create a horse which leans in that direction. Subconsciously, we may tend to ride for longer on our favorite rein, as this feels more comfortable, and in general gives us an easier ride! It is very important to be aware of this and set our exercises equally on each rein.
Correct posture in your riding is essential for consistency, as well as well-balanced and obedient work from the horse. Your shoulders are key, so aim to keep them square and upright. Dropped shoulders either side or hunched shoulders are commonly seen in rider’s work, often causing elbows to stick out, resulting in poor rein contact and loss of balance.
This can all be corrected with careful thought and the right position.
Imagine pinching your two shoulder blades together behind you, and pushing your chest forward and upward. Be sure to keep your head centrally balanced, and always focus on where you are going, as opposed to the horse’s head or neck. You should be able to draw a straight line from the horse’s bit to your hand and elbow, and ideally there should also be an imaginary line from your ear, shoulder, hip and heel, although this latter ‘ideal’ does vary according to the rider’s physiology, the saddle you ride in, etc.
None of this ideal body position will be possible if your shoulders and core are not in the correct position, which is the foundation for maintaining good rein and leg contact, and will result in the horse moving evenly.
None of us are completely symmetrical; we all have an element of asymmetry (to different degrees), so it’s important to keep going back to trying to achieve symmetry in the saddle. It doesn’t take much to throw you off balance – I have one arm slightly longer than the other, so I ride with my reins slightly shorter on one side to ensure my shoulders and core remain straight, which helps to ensure an even contact on the horses’ mouth.
We are often quick to criticise the horse if things are not quite right, but we should always first check that we are giving them the best opportunity to get it right.
Conversely to our own ‘right handedness’, because we do so many things from the left hand side of the horse (as this is easier for us), we create in the horse a preference for his left rein. Horses are always easier on one rein than the other, and it is always predominantly left, as we are predominantly right! This is another reason for ensuring all exercises are performed equally on both reins and include regular changes of rein to create suppleness on each rein for both parties. A really interesting challenge is to learn to mount and dis-mount equally easily from either side of the horse, which is gymnastically difficult, but can be learned with a little time and patience.
Small chunk training
It may prove helpful to break your goals up into bite size chunks, and focus on perfecting a certain area of your riding position (such as your shoulders) for a time; and in another session, consider your seat or legs. When possible, ask your trainer or a friend to video some of your schooling sessions, so that you can analyse the complete picture; it is surprising how often what you feel doesn’t match how you look. This is great for checking symmetry and straightness as when you have a stiffness or stronger side, what you perceive to be straight is often slightly crooked and this becomes your ‘norm’ or your ‘centre.’ If you’re not lucky enough to have support on the ground, mirrors can be particularly useful both on and off the horse, to train your muscle memory to recognise true straightness.
Naturally, a good sports bra aids shoulder position when riding, as it allows you to relax and ‘free up’ the area, rather than ‘hunching’ subconsciously to avoid breast ‘bounce’.
The Derriere Equestrian Sportief sportsbra is a fusion of encapsulation and compression; it is designed to lift, separate, shape and support a woman's breasts, without the use of under-wires, and is a key part of your riding and training wardrobe.