Back to the Basics - Rider Position and Affect of the Aids
By Catherine Chamberlain
On March 26th and 27th I had the opportunity to ride my horse Chance in a two-day dressage clinic with accomplished international dressage rider and dressage trainer Shannon Peters at Round Mountain Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona. The biggest help I received from Shannon was her constructive criticism of my riding position. She clearly explained and demonstrated every small change that needed to take place in my body position and also defined the biomechanics of why the change needed to occur. It was incredible how even tiny changes in my position had such a huge impact on my horse! Shannon has a great eye as well; she was able to point out five things that I needed to work on in my position just as she came out to meet me when I was walking around on a long rein. The biggest difference I feel that she made was with my seat. I have a quiet seat so many people do not comment on it, but Shannon recommended that I use my abdominal muscles in front to pull my seat more underneath my center of gravity as I tend to balance just slightly too far in front of my hips. She explained that it's important for a rider with a longer waist like me to always check my balance and position in the saddle to ensure I am affective. If I allowed my position to tilt forward slightly with my seat out behind me, then it was much easier for my horse to get behind the aids. We also worked on me being able to turn to the inside with my waist to increase the bend of my horse's body.
Then, Shannon made me work on achieving a definite bend in my elbow which caused me to become strong in the back, shoulders, and biceps, but soft in the forearm and hand. My horse enjoyed this connection a lot more and I had much less resistance in the bridle. She also had me think about turning my pinkie fingers towards each other in order to keep my thumbs up and my elbows in.
Finally, Shannon had me work on pulling my lower leg back by using the muscles in the back of my thigh instead of just bending my knee, which causes my lower leg to become short and positioned too far in front of me. In this new position I felt much more balanced and automatically my bad habit to pump my upper body in the canter went away. I also felt like my seat was more independent of my hands and I could use one aid without accidentally using another.
Once we spent the first day working on my use and affect of the aids and my body position, the second day we included some work on the movements from the Prix St. George and FEI Young Rider tests. Shannon clarified for me how to bend the horse in the body instead of only bending the horse in the head and neck. Immediately our half-passes, haunches-in, and other lateral work became much softer and easier for my horse and I. We also worked on the three and four tempi changes and how the preparation was essential to having a good line of changes every single time. Finally we finished up with a few medium and extended trots and concentrated on the power coming fluently from the hind legs to a soft connection in the bridle. Over the last couple of weeks I have worked on everything she said in the saddle and also during my daily workout routine and I definitely feel many improvements in my balance and the coordination of my aids Overall it was a fantastic weekend and I cannot wait for another opportunity to train with Shannon!