To help your dressage, saddle seat, or Western horse stay in good balance, make sure you sit up straight. You want to keep a classical plumb line with your shoulders directly over your hips and over your heels.
In this article, I’ll give you five quick tips to help you sit up straight and in balance.
1. First, check that your saddle fits your horse and the the center of the saddle is the deepest point of the seat. If the saddle tips up too high in front, it’ll make you lean behind the vertical. If the saddle is too high in the back, you’ll end up leaning forward.
2. Once you know your saddle is okay, check your longitudinal balance. Many riders lean behind the vertical (especially in trot extensions!) because they think they’re driving their horses more forward.
The problem with leaning back, however, is that you end up pushing your horse’s back down, and he becomes hollow and disconnected. You’ll also be sitting behind the movement rather than in harmony with your horse.
So if you tend to lean back, here’s a quick tip to give you some muscle memory for keeping your upper body straight.
While you’re standing on the ground, lean back and ask a friend to put the palm of her hand between your shoulder blades. Ask her to gently push your upper body forward until your shoulders are above your hips.
Repeat this several times. Close your eyes as you’re being pushed forward so you can really memorize the feeling of bringing your upper body over your hips.
Then when you’re riding your horse, visualize your friend is gently pushing your upper body forward so you can sit up straight.
3. Now let’s look at the opposite scenario which is leaning too far forward. For this exercise, focus on your hip angles. If you’re leaning in front of the vertical, your hip angles are too closed.
So while you’re sitting on your horse in the halt or walk, lean about 10 inches behind the vertical. Then sit upright so your shoulders are over your hips.
Do this several times. As you lean back, focus on what it feels like when your hip angles open. You can even close your eyes to really concentrate on how it feels to open your hips.
Then when you’re riding your horse, if you start to tip too far forward, visualize leaning back so you actually end up sitting up straight. The exercise you’ve done at the halt and walk will give you the muscle memory to find the happy medium and sit upright.
4. You can also do the same sort of exercise you did in #2 to fix leaning too far back. If you’re leaning too far forward, pretend someone is standing in front of you with a hand on each shoulder. “Feel” and “see” the person pushing your shoulders back.
Then, whenever you start to tip forward, imagine your friend pushing you back. If that’s a hard image for you, pretend they’re standing behind you and pulling your shoulders back.
5. Once you know that you’re straight longitudinally, check your lateral balance. Are your shoulders and hips level or are you collapsing one side of your waist?
To help you stretch up evenly on both sides of your body, imagine you have a toothpick between your last rib and your belt buckle on each side of your body.
If you collapse your waist, you’ll get jabbed by the toothpick on one side and the other toothpick will fall out and land on the ground.
It might seem like an unimportant detail to sit up straight on your horse, but you’ll be accomplishing two important things. You’ll help your horse find his balance with weight on top of him. And your aids will be much more effective when you give them from a balanced, centered position.