How Important Your Position is In The Saddle ft. Wild Atlantic Rider & Smyth Breaking & Schooling

From Owning a young, unpredictable & unreliable horse there are some things that automatically go out the window. Your money being one & my riding position to be in at a close 2nd. Adjusting your body to survive some of the plunges, bucks or rears your young horse puts in at the beginning of their riding career can have a massive effect on your riding position.  

As the years have crept by, both Dante & Coco no longer belong in that “young Horse” category anymore, so I think its safe to say all of our excuses are well & truly out the window! While It is hard to let go of that small excuse it is an eye opener to see how much a young horse can damage your so called “perfect” riding position. The habits you pick up can be brutally painful to reverse. 

Drooped shoulders, which in turn puts my legs into a bad position not to mention my hands!

Step in one of my newly appointed instructors Anne Hatton. I have began doing lessons with her after seeing a great success rate in Orla, lets just say I am thrilled. It has been very refreshing to hear the focus in our lessons being put on me & not on my horse. From this. I realised how many bad habits I have picked up from the fear of Dante’s bad behaviour in the past, adjusting my ways of riding to suit him without realising, but now I am realising that my bad habits are nearly effecting us moving forward.

My position, This is something I struggle with BIG TIME. I have been focusing more on myself these last few weeks, I even took up Pilates in a hope to strengthen my core! We thought it would be a great idea to reach out to some of our fellow bloggers/equestrians & ask them their weaknesses, their tips & most importantly how do they maintain that “perfect” position?

Keep scrolling to see what they have to say! 

What are your tips for maintaining a good position in the saddle?

Amy & Katie – Smyth Breaking & Schooling

Smyth Breaking & Schooling – Amy: I find getting someone to video when I’m on the horse is the best way. Then I can pick up on any faults and work on them, while also getting someone else’s view. Practice, Practice, Practice!! Katie: my tips for maintaining a good position in the saddle is the allow your body to be supple and to move with the horse. You have to think of your hips down belonging to the horse whilst from your hips up belong to you. This means that you are allowing you horse to move under you while keeping your upper body in a quiet and still position. This has helped me mainly for canter work and especially trot work. 

Wild Atlantic Rider: There are many tips for checking your position but for me it’s really important to be self aware. I try to speak to myself when I’m riding the same way I would if I were teaching. I also believe in taking what you learn from your training sessions and actively working on them. We spend so much money on training and lessons, but unless you can take those tips and advice home and consciously implement them you’ll continue to slip into bad habits and will find it hard to improve and progress. 

Do you have any bad habits in either your flatwork or jumping position? If so, what have been your go-to techniques to get rid of them?

Smyth Breaking & Schooling – Amy: At the moment, I’m a terror for letting my reins get loose as I jump with one of the horses. You’ll sometimes hear me going round the course saying “shorten your reins”! I have a point on my martingale that I try to keep my hands above that point to work on improving this bad habit. 

Amy Smyth on Sully at Mullingar Equestrian Center

Katie: My bad habit in flatwork used to be that I relied on my outside to ‘pull’ the horse out more so than push them out with my leg. I’ve overcome this habit by carrying a short whip horizontally and holding it with my thumbs,  as that allowed me to be more aware of where my hands where and what I was doing with them. Leg yielding on both reins with my horses has got me to use my leg more. Circles were a great exercise to do whilst straightening my habit out. I was more aware of my outside Rein and had to use my leg more to get a better, more balanced circle. By working on my bad habit and constantly correcting myself every time I felt myself going back to using my outside rein, I have now buried that habit.

Catherine on her horse Giselle

Wild Atlantic Rider : With Flatwork – my biggest thing was focusing too much on the outline instead of getting my mare, Giselle, more forward off my leg. This was causing me to be too “handsy.” Last April I was lucky enough to have a lesson with Judy Reynolds who really got after me to ride her forward and getting a reaction, while keeping the outline – it was harder than it should have been!! This is something my dressage trainer has said to be before, but From that lesson I have focused on the feeling we achieved that day, that Giselle should feel like she’s pulling me forward into the contact. When it comes to Jumping – Giselle loves her jumping, and it can be very easy to let her take over sometimes. However, if I don’t keep a good forward rhythm in my canter I feel my lower leg can get loose. My heels come up a bit and my toes stick out. So for me, the biggest thing is to ensure that your horse is taking you forward and keeping a good rhythm in your canter so you can sit still and move forward and sit back when you need to. When the spokes start to come off the wheels, that’s when your position goes out the door!

Wild Atlantic Rider Top Tips: – Grid-work, put a few bounces and a line a jumps in front of you and you have no choice but to learn to sit still, keep in balance and keep your weight in your heel.And you cannot underestimate the power of working with no stirrups – for both disciplines. Riding off your seat, strengthening your core and improving your balance will help on all fronts.

Do you do anything out of the saddle to help with your work in the saddle? 

Katie of Smyth Breaking & Schooling

Smyth Breaking & Schooling Amy: I do yoga/Pilates to work on my core & balance. Then go for walks/runs to maintain a level of fitness. Everyone works on their horses fitness but a lot of riders forget about their own. Katie: Fitness is key. I keep myself fit so when I’m out competing I can hold my own position (esp out cross country)  and I can stay alert and focused for quick decision making out on course. By staying active during the day and keeping to a somewhat healthy diet this allows me to be on form for the horses.

Wild Atlantic Rider: At the moment, I don’t do enough! But anything that will improve and increase your own fitness level is a bonus. I used to swim a lot, I found that helped as it’s a lot easier on your joints, while making you use every muscle in your body!


Orla’s journey with her position…

Before my recent fall, I had been putting A LOT of effort into sorting out my riding position. There were a number of elements of my position that were really bothering me – my hands, my shoulders and my lower leg – and I knew they were having an impact on Coco’s way of going so I needed to do something to fix them. For so long, the focus was always on jumping so it wasn’t until I started my lessons with Ann that I suddenly had someone shouting at me nearly every step, “Look up!” “Don’t get handsy!” “Shoulders back”. And I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was literally every step. So I knuckled down and on Ann’s orders, I started taking a minimum 10 minutes of every riding session to just focus on me and forget about Coco. In those 10 minutes I decided to try something that was recommended by one of our followers on Instagram.

Not perfect, but definitely an improvement!

I noticed that the issue with my hands was actually coming from my elbows. They were too ridged and were causing my hands to move with my whole body when riding.

Orla’s Riding Tip: So to get a feel for how much my elbows needed to open and close,I pulled the saddle straps out from my numnah and tucked my baby fingers into them. By doing this my hands were stopped from wandering with the rest of my body, my reins stopped slipping through my fingers and I could get a real feel for how much my elbows should be opening in the trot.

I did this every riding session for a week and in that one week, my instructor could see the difference in my position. It was funny too, as once my hands were positioned correctly, the rest of my position came together and Coco became much more forward going. It’s like it all just clicked into place. I’m hoping that once I’m ready to get back into the saddle it won’t be like starting from scratch and I’ll still remember everything I had learned but only time will tell!


When I focus less on Dante’s “head” and more on sitting up tall, The rest of my position tends to fall into place!

Your riding position at the end of the day will be what you put into correcting it. There will be some horses that you ride that you will have to tweak certain aspects of your position to suit the horse, or some horses will quickly tell you how not to ride with their reactions. I find that riding different horses from time to time really is an eye opener to the way you move in the saddle & it gives you great feedback on what you should be focusing on.

Have you any specific tips or tricks that you swear by when it comes to improvimg your position in the saddle?

Recently I have come across a lot of Equestrian Biomechanics exercises that I know I will definately be giving a go to strengthen up some of my weaker riding habits.

As Always, thank you for reading & a massive thank you to Amy & Katie from Smyth Breaking & Schooling and to Catherine from Wild Atlantic Rider for your input on the topic. Be sure to head over to their socials & give them a follow!

Until Next Time,

Darielle

Your Tips for Having Steadier Hands while Riding

Over the last few months I’ve started noticing that my hands weren’t very steady so I decided to ask some of our followers on Instagram for their tips and advice on how I might be able to improve my hands. I got a lot of solid advice on that post so I thought it would be good to share the advice with everyone. Everyone’s account name links to their instagram account so be sure to check them out!

SHORTEN THOSE REINS

wildatlanticrider: You have to be really conscious of it and be strict on yourself.. but start with a shorter rein, that’ll help. My mare takes advantage and will spook if I’m not consistent with the contact. If Coco comes out Of The frame, even with the shorter reins, just keep focusing on your line and riding forward with the steadier contact.. It’ll feel weird at first but practice makes perfect! #alsoaownerofaspookymareWild Atlantic Rider is a fellow blogger so be sure to check her out!

Trying to be more conscious of my rein length

d_foran02: Shorten reins and lift your hands up and forwards. Encourage her to follow your hands and lift her frame a bit more in front. Also second making sure she’s really listening to your leg and bending her body around it. Hands are just for slight flexion changes so should remain quiet majority of the time. If she pops off the bit use your leg to encourage her back on to it and try avoid using your hands unless she really distracted. It helps keep a steady frame in the long run but kills you

ITS ALL IN THE ELBOW

jennie_connell: Reins a little shorter and hands a bit in front of you and allow the elbow to open and close when rising and sitting.
insidetrackeventing: Soft elbows – if you keep your elbows fixed there is no give and your hands won’t move with the horse. Its something that comes as you get stronger in your core – another fellow blogger, Inside Track Eventing!

IMPROVE THAT LOWER LEG

Doing some light seat canter work to help stretch out and strengthen my lower leg!

sarahburritt: …to improve your flat work you should first start with your seat and lower leg because the movement in the hands and upper body often comes from instability in the lower leg. I recommend starting with dropping your stirrups a hole or two and work on extending the leg because you’ve got room to go there for a very nice look and you need to build lower leg strength and not use your heels to apply a on and off stabbing pressure. It will be hard and you will feel a little unstable the first couple times but you will build lower leg strength and a nicer position, take more breaks if needed but try to hold your leg on and really think about straight lines between you thumb to wrist to elbow and shoulders to hips to ankles. 

HANDY (excuse the pun) TIPS

Getting there, slowly but surely!

laurensmyth93: Hold a whip horizontal under both thumbs 🙂 did the job for me!
smarty_marty_: Remembering thumbs on top, keeping an even contact on both reins and elbows by your side. Ride the contact from the leg…
becksbackinthesaddle: One of the things that I learned is opening and closing my elbows – I never knew you were meant to do it! One of the exercises that I have doing on the lunge is threading my little fingers through a loop (threaded through the d rings on the saddle) in trot. It gives you a senses of how much opening and closing your elbows need to do just to keep your hands still. – Last but not least of the bloggers, Becks Back in the Saddle!

SOME OF THE MORE AMUSING SUGGESTIONS…

danger_byrne: Hold a cup of scalding tea in each hand , and you definitely won’t move your hands

rayconnolly2157: Furry handcuffs maybe …


I definitely found a lot of this advice very helpful (although maybe not the furry handcuffs). I’ve slowly started seeing an improvement in my hands and my contact on the reins so thank you to everyone for the advice!

Have you got any tips for improving your hand position? Make sure to share in the comments!

Thanks for reading,

Orla