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Leaning forward

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist - December 28th, 2018 - Trainer Tips

A common habit that riders develop is leaning forward while riding. It evolves over time, beginning by leaning forward with the shoulders and pushing with the seat in order to urge the horse to move. The rider is compensating for the lack of leg pressure. When adopting this posture, a rider pulls their seat out of the saddle while their legs swing behind their hips, flanking the horse and forcing the toes to point down. In order to stay in the saddle, the rider grips with their knees and balances on the horse’s mouth, creating a brace throughout their upper body.

When there is a brace in the rider, there is a brace in the horse. If the rider continues to lean forward after the horse’s departure, this cues the horse to increase his speed. The rider is now in a vulnerable position if the horse spooks or bolts. Do you see it? There is a storm brewing. A wreck is in this rider’s future.

When there is a brace in the rider, there is a brace in the horse. If the rider continues to lean forward after the horse’s departure, this cues the horse to increase his speed.

Whether you show, ride arena or ride down the trail, guidelines and protocol were created for the benefit of rider safety. Seek the help of a trainer, if you need to. They have the ability and expertise to identify areas in need of improvement and can explain why you need to do so. They know the outcome and can see wrecks waiting to happen—as well as give you the necessary corrections that are specific to your needs. Having a friend video you is always an eye-opening experience, and it will shed a light on some of the habits you have acquired that you may not be aware of.

Begin by sitting in the saddle with shoulders slightly behind your hips. Your weight should be evenly distributed over both sit bones with your legs relaxed and draped over the rib cage of your horse. While facing forward, you should be able to take your hand, reach behind you, and touch the top of the horse’s hip at all gaits—walk, trot, and canter.

Keep your legs loose and close to your horse’s side. Try not to grip with your knees. Your feet should be lightly resting on the floor of your stirrups, heels down and in alignment with your shoulders. By sitting square in the saddle, you will develop balance and be in a better position to feel and move with the rhythm of your horse. By riding with your seat, you won’t feel the need to put pressure with your feet in the stirrups. Riders brace with their feet thinking that by doing so their seat won’t bounce in the saddle; however the reverse is true. When you are seated in a chair, putting pressure on the floor with your feet will cause you to stand up. The same is true while sitting in the saddle. By relaxing your feet, you will eliminate knee and hip pain as well as free up your legs. This will allow you to use your legs more effectively to cue your horse when needed.There should be a bend in your knees, if your stirrups are too long, you will find yourself straightening your legs while trying to reach for them—which shifts your weight too far back.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and lowered, away from your ears. Your arms should be relaxed, with a bend in the elbow and close to your sides.

When you ask your horse to move forward, use leg pressure to do so and keep your shoulders in position over your hips.

Think about the mechanics of walking or of driving a vehicle. As you walk, you keep your shoulders above your hips. If you want to go to the left, you first turn your head, look where you are going and your body follows. You don’t lean forward to speed up, nor do you lean into the turn or look down at your feet. You look to the left, shift your weight to the right foot as you lift your left leg to step left. If you are carrying a back pack, you want the weight in your pack evenly distributed. If there is more weight in either direction, it will cause unnecessary stress in your shoulders as you compensate and shift your body in order to stay balanced while trying to carry the pack.

While driving, you sit squarely in the drivers seat. As you turn to the left, you first look that direction, which naturally shifts your weight to the right sit bone. You steer with your hands and use your legs for the gas. You don’t lean over the steering wheel, nor drop your shoulder and lean into the turn. Staring at the hood won’t get you there either.

Creating new habits takes both awareness and time. Don’t give up.

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