Riding with Correct Balance

Biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze critiques Barbra Reis at Prix St. Georges

Credit: Courtesy, Barbra Reis Barbra Reis and her Prix St. Georges horse, Legal Majority.

This photo shows Barbra Reis on her Prix St. Georges horse, Legal Majority, during a test. From this angle, it is difficult to guess what movement she is showing, but I believe they are trotting with a right flexion or bend. 

Barbra appears to sit in the saddle keeping good contact with her pelvis and a naturally relaxed position in her shoulders. Legal Majority is very elegant and light looking, with long legs that move well under Barbra’s center of gravity. 

I get the impression that his shoulders are a bit lower than his croup, and the highest point of his neck is not his poll. This influences the angle of his nose, which is clearly behind the vertical here, giving a downhill impression. He needs to become lighter in the forehand to show the level of collection needed in Prix St. Georges. 

Barbra appears to be riding him in a right flexion or bend and, in doing so, she is also bending her body slightly to the right. She shows a tendency to look down to the right, and her right knee and heel are coming up in such a way that the right side of her body appears shorter. This easily can happen when trying to bend the horse too much. 

Try this: Sitting on a chair (and later in the saddle), shift your weight to the right seat bone and observe what happens to the rest of your body. Often when shifting your weight to the right side, you drop your right shoulder and shorten the right side of your body. That knee then has a tendency to move upward. 

For correct balance with weight on the inside seat bone, you need to shift the weight onto that seat bone while lengthening that side of your body. This will make your leg push downward into the floor (or stirrup). Lengthening your inside will allow you to keep that leg long during turns and lateral movements. 

Shifting the weight correctly to the side will cause a slight forward shift of weight. Collapsing inside at your waist, on the other hand, will almost always result in the weight staying back or behind the movement. 

This is not a big movement, but it does have a big influence on the horse. Shifting the weight forward, toward the inside seat bone, will make it easier for Barbra to keep her inside leg supple and long. She can look straight ahead and lighten her contact with her inside hand to help her horse lift his shoulders and open his throat angle to perform in better self-carriage, with his nose farther in front. 

It can be a vicious circle to use more and more pressure and strength from your inside leg to bend your horse, as this will always lead to a shortening of your inside leg while creating tension in your hip and, ultimately, holding your horse back. After a quick reminder to your horse with your inside leg, make sure to relax and lengthen the inside of your body again to avoid unnecessary strain. 

Barbra’s basic seat appears supple and mobile, and I am sure that she has the ability to let her leg relax and appear longer. Then she can ride her horse more easily in front of her leg with a more uphill tendency. 

Remembering that all aids finish by returning to the balanced position with the least amount of effort necessary is important. Using the aids in a more rhythmic pattern also can help Barbra learn how to apply and relax the aids and ride her horse with more freedom inside the frame. 

You can submit your high-resolution dressage photo for critique (300 dpi and 4 by 6 inches in size). Or you can send your photo with a link to a short video. Email to Turnout in dressage show or clinic-appropriate attire is encouraged. Don’t forget your helmet!

Susanne von Dietze is a leader in equestrian biomechanics. A physiotherapist, licensed Trainer A instructor and judge for dressage and show jumping, she gives lectures and seminars throughout the world, including at the prestigious German Riding Academy in Warendorf. She is a native of Germany and now lives with her husband and three children in Israel, where she competes at the international level. She is the author of two books on the biomechanics of riding: Balance in Movement and Horse and Rider, Back to Back. Find her books at






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