Courtney King-Dye’s Advice to Improve Your Balance in the Saddle

Courtney King-Dye critiques Emme Johnston at Third Level.

This rider (Emme Johnston on Just Jake) shows an upper body that is slightly behind the vertical, and her leg is slightly in front of it. If I drew a line through her body perpendicular to the ground, it should go directly through her ear, hip and heel. A rider in this alignment would be in perfect balance if I placed her on a diving board and told her to do a back dive. If I removed the theoretical diving board, she should land on her feet. Currently, this rider would land on her butt. 

Emme Johnston rides Just Jake, her 14-year-old Canadian/Thoroughbred cross gelding, at Third Level. (Credit: Photos courtesy, Cindy Sydnor)

Although her leg is too far forward, it’s in a good position. Her seat looks good enough that I would suggest lengthening her stirrups a hole. It looks like her leg hangs down well, but the combination of leaning too far back and trying to push her heel down makes her leg go forward instead of staying beneath her seat.

To improve this rider’s balanced alignment, I suggest doing transitions in and out of a two-point seat. She needs to get herself in a balanced half-seat position and then, focusing on keeping the leg position exactly the same, return to a sitting position. After a little while, go back into half-seat again and repeat. Going in and out of the half-seat should be easy, like butter, if her legs are in the correct position. This exercise can and should be done in all three gaits. 

This rider’s hands are a bit high. If I were to draw another line from her elbow to the bit, it should be as straight as if the arm were a continuation of the rein. In her line, there’s a slight break at the hand. This may be partly in an effort to bring the horse up off his forehand. That may also be why she’s leaning back.

The horse’s nose needs to be up slightly because he’s a little bit behind the vertical, and his pole is lower than the middle of his neck (when it should be the highest point). It is apparent that the horse is against the contact because his mouth is open and dry. 

For Third Level, this horse is too much on the forehand, which is apparent because his right hind hoof carries less weight, hence leaving the ground before the left front.

I suggest this pair do many transitions to get the horse less on the forehand and to improve the contact. Trot, then walk just two steps, and trot again. Be sure to keep the nose up. I realize that this rider may struggle to get the horse round, which causes the issues I’ve discussed, but I would first pay attention to the balance, and when that is good, then work on roundness. In my opinion, this is the best way to achieve softness and self-carriage.

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony’s Mythilus and at two World Cup Finals riding Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist (






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