The rider's position in the saddle has a huge influence on the horse's musculoskeletal health and performance. A rider that is balanced and symmetrical will help the horse move freely, while a rider that is unbalanced or asymmetrical will cause stress, discomfort, and potentially cause injury to the horse's muscles, joints, and spine.
As riders, we are all striving and working towards maintaining a correct position in the saddle, this is for our own safety and for the health and welfare of the horse. How a rider sits in the saddle will affect how weight is distributed and the amount of pressure put on the horse’s back.
A good position allows the rider to communicate effectively with the horse and to follow its movements without interfering. A poor position can cause pain, tension and injury to the horse, as well as making it harder for the rider to control and direct the horse.
Factors that affect the rider's position
Alignment of the pelvis, spine, and head. A balanced and neutral position allows the rider to move in harmony with the horse, so it can move as naturally as possible. Any misalignment in the back or pelvis can cause an unstable position, which may result in the rider tipping forwards, backwards or dropping a hip to one side. These imbalances create uneven pressure on the saddle, which then impact on the horse, which over time can result in discomfort and pain – as well as impacting on the horse’s movement.
Focus on maintaining a balanced and neutral position, with the pelvis, spine, and head aligned and the shoulders, hips, and heels in line. Riders should also relax their muscles and joints and move in harmony with the horse's motion.
It is always useful to have instant feedback from someone on the ground, mirrors and from videos and photos.
Giving the aids
Riding in balance also allows the riding to maintain a consistent and elastic contact on the reins to guide and support the horse. An out of balance rider may use the reins to help them to feel more secure – this can cause discomfort and miscommunication with the horse, affecting its posture and performance. Also, applying more pressure to one rein that the other can have a detrimental affect on the horse.
A stable and relaxed lower leg position means you can give clear aids to the horse to help control and direct him. If the leg is mobile or the rider grips it can affect the horse’s movement and create resistance.
Timing of the aids is crucial to riding in harmony.
Applying aids correctly and well however, isn't just about being in balance. Timing of the aids is crucial to riding in harmony. To get the timing correct riders need a good understanding of what the training outcome is and how to go about it and a thorough understanding of the biomechanics of the movement to assure that aids are applied precisely at the right moment and position to enable the muscles to respond correctly and easily.
A confident and relaxed rider will have a knock-on effect to the horse, enhancing trust and harmony. To learn more about this subject watch the lecture demonstration. This is part 2 in the 4-part on-demand lecture demonstration series.
Becoming a more sympathetic rider
Having a better understanding of how your position in the saddle affects your horse is crucial. You own it to your horse to do all you can to improve your balance and stability in the saddle, for his health, comfort and welfare.
To learn more on this subject, we recommend the on-demand webinar, Muscular Misconceptions. This takes a detailed look into exactly which muscles lie underneath the saddle and girth area. As well as examining their importance to riding, posture, training, health, comfort and tack fit and dispel some myths about their anatomy and function.
Once you have an understanding of these structures your riding will become more intuitive and you'll be able to apply the aids in tune with your horse's movement and muscle contraction.
This is such a big subject and we have only just started to scratch the surface in this article. I hope you find this article interesting and useful. :-)