Riding correctly is a matter of learning to ride in confidence and comfort.
The suggestions in this article are the corrections you can use to make yourself and your horse more confident and comfortable. These are the corrections I make with most new students in the first few minutes of their first lesson. They are the easiest corrections to make in all of riding.
In fact these corrections are so easy and so obvious I’m surprised I have to make them so often, yet there are a lot of students riding in incorrect positions with their horses in unsuitable frames at unrealistic energy levels. The result is they and their horses are miserable when they shouldn’t be.
The really good news is, figuring out what is right for you and your horse is simple, easy, and quick because, as you’re about to see, it’s just common sense.
First – Get on the level
In order to ride comfortably you need a well balanced saddle. A saddle is well balanced if it fits the horse and provides you with a level place to sit. The most common saddle fit error is a saddle that goes uphill – the seat is up in front and lower in the back. The actual seat – the place where you’re supposed to sit – should be level or very slightly sloping down toward the front. If the saddle is uphill, or you’re not sure if it’s uphill, try putting a folded towel or riser pad under the back of it. A word of caution here, this will only work on a saddle that fits your horse reasonably well to begin with.
While it’s possible that a riser pad will be sufficient as a permanent fix, it’s also likely a qualified saddle fitter will be required. Ok – that will take more than 30 minutes, but a folded towel or riser pad under the back will show you in just a few minutes how much better riding on a correctly balanced saddle can be.
Second – Sit like you stand
When you stand, you don’t keep your heels down – you keep them under you! So, that’s the way you should ride.
Although you’ve probably been told a few thousand times to have your “heels down”, that only works well if you have the elasticity of a 12 year old or are a professional who rides 5 or 6 horses a day. For most adult amateurs trying to keep their heels down forces their feet forward which throws them out of balance.
To feel correct balance and how it’s affected by forcing your heels down, stand up (right now!) with your feet about shoulder distance apart while allowing your arms to just hang naturally. Bend your knees slightly and “settle down” a little until you find a comfortable steady position. Now, if you look down, you’ll notice your heels are directly under your hips which are right under your shoulders. Also notice that you’re not falling forward or back, but are in perfect balance and are comfortable standing just that way. Let’s call this your “balance position.”
While standing in your balance position notice that your heels are level with, and have about as much weight in them as the balls of your feet. Put more weight in your heels as though pushing down on them (lifting the balls of your feet does the same thing) and you’ll feel how that creates an imbalance which tends to make you fall back.
If you stand in your balance position again and then put more weight in the front of your foot, you’ll probably notice this causes you to lean more forward. What is true for you standing on the ground is true while sitting on your horse. Too much weight in your heels makes you fall back. If you have too much weight in your toes, you’ll tend to fall forward. If your stirrups were adjusted too short to force your heels down, you will always be falling back. Conversely, if your stirrups are too long and you’re pushing down in your toes to reach them, you’ll tip forward.
The bottom line is, if you adjust your stirrups and position your feet so that you have the same balance in the saddle as you did in your balance position while standing on the ground – that is the perfect position — and stirrup length for you.