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Secure the Seat for Better Balance

In this scene, the photographer caught an amazing mix of light and shadow, and the dark horse in the middle of the picture (with the tree in the middle of the green paddock) has the light reflecting from his back. 

better balance
This photograph shows Gloria Anderson riding her 7-year-old Friesian gelding, Tango. At the time the photo was taken, they were at Introductory Level and were getting ready for Training Level.
Courtesy, Becky Herrin

The photographer also took this picture exactly at the right moment of the horse lifting the diagonal pair of legs in trot at the highest point. The light underneath the horse’s feet makes it appear even higher, as if they are floating on air. This reminds me of a sentence my instructor told me: “In true collection, the horse moves like it only accidentally touches the ground for a moment.”

Tango is just turning onto a circle and following the direction with good alignment through his body. I like the way he is lifting his outside shoulder into the direction of the circle. 

Gloria is in the landing phase of her rising trot. She is looking with a concentrated expression through her horse’s ears. Tango is attentive and listening to her aids, and they both seem to trust each other.

Leg Position Correction

Looking closer at Gloria’s position, I notice that her toe is pointing to the outside. This indicates that her hip is slightly rotated to the outside, and this is visible by her kneecap pointing more to the outside. While this can be a more “relaxed” leg position, it does not provide the stability that is needed in rising trot.

Gloria should attempt to turn her knee so that the kneecap is pointing forward. This will allow her more stability over the stirrup in the landing phase of the rising trot.

To feel this off the horse, try “squatting” with your knees pointing to the outside in comparison with the knees pointing forward. You will feel how much more stable you are with the knees pointing forward.

In rising trot, it is important to maintain the balance point over the stirrups. There isn’t any forward or backward shift of weight. The movement happens in the hip joint.

When rising, the horse feels the rider’s weight more on the sides of his body. Sitting down in rising trot is more like “squatting” than it is like sitting back onto a chair. To feel this, I often advise riders to experience it in walk. Standing in their stirrups, they should feel how gravity pulls on their bodies and how the horses feel them more along the ribs than on the top of the back. Lowering and rising the seat is then more a work of the hamstrings than of the upper body.

I prefer the upper body leaning slightly forward (in the tendency of a two-point position), compared to an upright upper body that falls behind the movement. To check if her rising trot is in balance, I would ask Gloria to change the rhythm of her rising trot to “Up-Up-Sit”—standing twice and sitting down only for one stride. 

Gloria should feel that rotating her thigh more inward with the kneecap pointing forward will allow her a steadier balance in her rising trot, enabling her to switch between the normal rising trot of “Sit-Up-Sit-Up” and the variation of “Up-Up-Sit.” 

Hand Position Correction

The second detail I notice looking at this photo closely is that Gloria’s hands are facing down. The body always works in patterns. While turning her feet out, she compensates for this by turning her hands inward. To correct her hand position, she needs to turn her shoulders more out.

If you hold your hand in riding position with the hand facing down and imagine you want to rotate your upper arm outside, you will automatically start changing your hand to a more upright position.

As Gloria has a short upper arm and her shoulders are not very wide, it may be difficult for her to stay relaxed in the shoulders when carrying the hand upright. To avoid tension in her shoulders, she can keep her elbows slightly in front of her body. This will ensure that she can rotate her upper arm outside without restriction.

The upright hand position allows the rider more elasticity to follow the horse’s neck movement. When the hand faces down, the elbow joint does not move as freely, which is important because the movement of the hand starts in the elbow. 

It is the challenge of the rider’s seat to establish stability without becoming stiff. Stability needs contrasts, just like elasticity needs a connection on two ends. For Gloria, turning her legs in and her arms out would be the contrast that will allow her to secure her balance and enable her to apply the aids more effectively.

In the photograph, I also notice that Gloria’s right shoulder is slightly lower than the left during the turn. This uneveness is always a sign of lack of positive tension and stability during the turn. Most likely this will straighten up automatically when she improves her leg and hand position.

A Simple Tool for Balance

An effective tool to help Gloria improve her balance is carrying a whip under her thumbs while holding the reins. This requires the hands to be upright and gives both hands a connection. The whip should be parallel to the horse’s shoulders no matter what direction or line the horse is taking.

Then, Gloria can imagine that the whip is a copy of the bit, and whatever happens between her hands is happening inside the horse’s mouth. She then is responsible for carrying and positioning the bit inside the horse’s mouth. With that image, her hands will become more independent from her seat, and she will be able to give more precise and effective aids.

Changing her hand position and carrying them upright will also make it easier for her to correct and improve her leg position.

She must find out for herself if starting with her legs improves her hands or if starting at her hands improves her legs. The simplest conclusion of all should be: Turn out your arms and turn in your legs. Hands upright and heels out.

I hope this is helpful for Gloria and Tango to develop along the levels and enjoy “dancing” together.  

About Susanne von Diezte

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 Rider and Horse, Back to Back

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Practical Horseman.

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