Very few riders have a perfect position and if you look around a warm-up arena next time you're at a show, you will see a variety of riding techniques. Often, a fault becomes a habit, which makes it more difficult to correct. However, it's worth spending a bit more time focusing on what is going wrong until the right way becomes your new habit.
Below are five issues many riders struggle with, plus easy ways to make them a thing of the past.
1. Don't look down!
When you are concentrating on what you're doing in the saddle, it can be hard to remember to look ahead. Your head is around 10 per cent of your body weight and looking down puts more weight on your horse's forehand, making it more difficult for him to stay balanced. To rectify the problem, tie a coloured bow or a red ribbon in your horse's mane. Every time you see the ribbon it means you are looking down, which will remind you to look ahead again. Having someone on the ground tell you when you are looking down can help as well. To help you get a feel for how you should be sitting in the saddle, imagine you have a piece of string attached to the top of your riding hat and that someone is pulling it upwards. With time, you'll focus on what's ahead, rather than what's on the ground.
2. Sit up!
Tipping forward can be caused by nerves, a lack of core stability and a poorly fitting saddle. You can work on core stability by doing Pilates or yoga. Lunge lessons, short bursts of sitting trot and working without stirrups can all help, too. To adopt a more upright position, lift up through your ribcage and bring your shoulder blades closer together. When riders are nervous, they tip forward. However, tipping forward actually makes you less secure. When you feel nervous, it's safer to sit up. If you suspect the saddle is tipping you forward, get it checked by a professional fitter.
3. Bend your elbows!
Straight arms results in an inconsistent contact with the horse's mouth and in too much movement in the rider's hands. Aim to create an L-shape with your arms, so the upper arm hangs vertically by your side and your lower arm points towards the horse's mouth. Book some lunge lessons and work on your arm position. Useful exercises including keeping the correct position without holding the reins, circling backwards with the arms (one at a time) and riding with the arms hanging loosely by your sides.
4. Sit straight!
If you are stronger one side of the body than the other it can cause you to be crooked in the saddle. A series of lunge lessons can be an effective way of resolving the issue. Also, ask if you have equal weight in both stirrups and on both seat bones. Keep your upper body tall to stop you collapsing through one hip and when you ride a turn, ensure your turn your upper body, rather than leaning over to one side. Your saddle could be causing the issue, so get that checked, too.
5. Heels down!
Raising your heels puts you in a vulnerable position in the saddle. At home, place the ball of one foot on the second step of your stairs and put the ball of the other foot on the first step. Push weight down into the heel of the foot on the first step, feeling a stretch through the calf. Repeat several times, then change legs. On a horse, shorten your stirrups to jumping length and stand in your stirrups. Start in walk until you've found your balance and hold the position for several seconds. Rest and repeat. Do the same in trot and canter, when you feel confident enough.
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