This picture is of Stacey Knox riding her 6-year-old American Trakehner, Amonet KGO, at Training Level during their second show together. Stacey just restarted riding about a year ago and says that “Mo” can get very nervous at shows. Because of the resulting tension, it can be difficult to keep focused on the test and maintain his frame.
In this picture, the tension Stacey describes is more visible in her position than it is in Mo. Focused on keeping him on the bit and in the frame, Stacey has turned her inside hand inward and her wrist has become tight, pulling too much of the bit from the inside of Mo’s mouth. I can see tension in her shoulders and neck. Her lower back is slightly hollow, and her seat is not deep enough and is too far back. Her knee also seems to be having a hard time finding a good place on the saddle and is pushing onto the knee roll. This does not look relaxed or comfortable.
Mo shows an active trot. His movement appears a bit downhill as his croup looks higher than his shoulders. Shifting his weight more toward his hind legs and freeing his shoulders will give him better balance. With a more secure balance, most horses feel more confident in themselves and become less tense and better able to focus on their riders’ aids. Merely activating the hind legs does not solve this, so Stacey needs to build a framework that improves not just her horse’s posture but also the interplay of her aids. Riding many half halts and transitions will be important to help improve his balance within the movement. Stacey should keep in mind that the most important part of the half halt is the give/release/yield of the reins at the end to achieve more balance and self-carriage in the horse.
Deepening her seat to gain a better connection with her pelvis to the saddle and being able to influence the horse better with her weight aids also will be important for Stacey. Once the horse is better connected to her seat, Stacey will be able to ride using less leg and rein aids. If Stacey were to stretch more in her hips and keep her upper leg straight down, most likely her lower back would become more hollow and tight because the muscles that go over the hip-joint are attached at the pelvis and lower back, too. If Stacey were to correct her pelvis position and sit farther forward in the saddle, her knee would have an even harder time finding the correct position.
The reason may be that the seat size of the saddle is a bit small for her or that the angle for the upper-leg position of this saddle is too straight for her to find a comfortable leg position. To achieve a deeper seat, Stacey should ride without stirrups regularly and focus on releasing her upper legs and freeing her hips. At the same time, it is important that she activate her lower abdominal muscles and secure her lower back to prevent it from becoming hollow.
Try this: Imagine that you are sitting on a bicycle pedaling backward. Your knees should draw small backward circles on the saddle while your lower legs stay relaxed. This backward cycling movement helps to correct the pelvis position while mobilizing and freeing the hip joints. This task can be performed in walk and later in sitting trot.
Hopefully, with a better and deeper pelvis position, Stacey will be able to stabilize her balance and relax her shoulders so that she can carry her right hand more upright and with more forward elasticity independent from her seat.
I wish Stacey good luck in continuing her riding and learning together with her elegant mount, Mo.