Find out how to sit correctly in the saddle and influence your horse more effectively with exercises from trainer Mark Butler.
1. Exercises to help you sit straight
Sitting straight should not mean tense and hollow backs. The lower back should be slightly rounded to absorb the horse's movement. In halt, lift your knees so they are slightly over the front of the knee rolls of the saddle. Your back will then automatically round. Sit back into the seat and feel your back flatten but not hollow.
2. Heels down, not toes up
A lot of the time to achieve heels down, people will shove their lower leg forward and point their toes up which leads to them applying the aid in the wrong place. To find the correct leg position relax your leg and bring it up in front of you, so your knee is just over the front of the saddle. Then rotate your hip joint so you draw your leg back behind you, slightly away from the horse's side. Sweep it forward under you again, and let it hang at the point where it is in line with your hip, ankle and shoulder. Once your leg is in this correct position rotate your ankles so your heels are down by turning your toe out, then down, then back in and up while maintaining your leg position. Your stirrups should feel shorter because you have stretched your leg muscles.
3. Elbows in, hands in front
A straight line between your elbow, hand and the horse's mouth keeps a true line of communication with the mouth. Put your reins into your right hand and drop your left arm, down by your side. Slowly circle your arm up, two or three times and then stop when it is at its highest point above your head, brushing your left ear. Then lower your arm vertically downwards so it hangs down below your thigh. You should feel like your shoulder blades are pushing down on your ribcage. Bend your lower arm and elbow and hold the rein to get a correct upper arm position.
4. Defying gravity
When a horse turns a corner, gravity and the motion of the horse propels the rider to the outside of the saddle. Leaning outwards disrupts the horse's balance and is often the reason he feels the need to 'motorbike'. Your outside leg should take care of the back of the horse's ribcage and his haunches and the inside leg looks after the front of the ribcage and his sternum. To scuplt your body correctly for each turn, when you turn to the left, your left seat bone should press on the saddle, your left shoulder comes back, your inside leg stays where it is and your outside leg moves back slightly. You need to turn in your breast bone towards the direction you are going. To turn right do the opposite.
5. Swing with your horse
On a 20 metre circle in walk, sitting trot and canter first lean forward into a jumping position but keeping your seat lightly touching the saddle. Then stay on the circle and gently lean back behind the movement still with your bottom in the saddle. If you practice alternating between the two in all the paces you will become stronger in your position and allow the horse to produce more swing and not become tight through his back. During these exercises your lower leg should remain in the correct position.
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