Not only is renown dressage rider Damian Hallam in the ‘perfect position’ with a career that seems to continue to rocket sky high, but his enviable position in the saddle is also something that many riders aspire to..
Courtesy of Dressage Deluxe Damian gives his top tips for the perfect position in the saddle!
Did you know that your head is the heaviest part of your body? So by looking down at your horse all the time, you are both tipping forward and making life harder for the both of you. The ideal position is to look up and past your horse’s ears. Looking down stiffens the spine and causes your horse to feel like he is carrying a heavier load. If it is safe to do so, then a good tip, is to slightly pull the peak of your hard hat down, so you consciously have to look up to see ahead (this is particularly good for those riders, who only ever school their horses at home, as it’s a habit seen at all levels!!) Be aware of any tension in your face –are you grinding your teeth?! You will be surprised how many riders do this, without even noticing – try smiling to yourself, this loosens any tension in the jaw and to on-lookers, it will also make you look like you are having fun!!!
Remember you should always ride leg to hand, so your hand should never pull back in order to get a contact with your horse’s mouth or be the first and only aid to decreasing the horses pace. The ideal position for the hand is in front of you –as a pair and never crossing over the horse’s neck. As you hold the reins your arms should hang softly by your sides, with your elbows close to but not touching your body – imagine there is a weight hanging from the crock of your elbow, this can help keep your elbows in place. The ideal position for hands is slightly below your navel, but not resting on the pommel or below by your horses withers! Some riders ride with their hand almost up to their chests, presuming because they have been told to think of carrying a tray – but this analogy can be taken too literally and although we all desire still hands – too rigid a contact, with no fluidity will also unsettle a horse as much as a rider with busy hands . Ideally your thumbs will be about six or seven inches apart with thumbs on top and a relaxed fist, with fingers closed around the rein.
‘BACK’ TO BASICS
Breathing is a hugely important for both relaxation and if you are nervous or tense you will forget to breathe. Your horse will pick up any tension, which won’t help you both achieve very much!!
The ideal is for a straight back, but in order to help protect and support your back (especially in sitting trot) it is your stomach muscles that should need to be strong. You can influence your center of gravity by using these stomach muscles, as well as using them during half halts, halting and transitions. Many riders swear by pilates, so that they can strengthen their ‘inner core’ muscles and enable them to achieve a better position in the saddle, as it also makes them more ‘body aware’ in terms of how they stand, sit and move. Remember that your horse is an equine athlete and you owe it to him to keep your own physical fitness in check, so that you allow him to work correctly without you banging around on his back
It’s important to find your balance in the saddle and the only way this is going to happen is to clock up the hours in the saddle, under the expert eye of an instructor. As most of us pick up bad postural habits in every day life, you may need to work extra hard at achieving the ideal position e.g.: sitting up tall and stay relaxed with your shoulders back, because you are slumped in front of a computer all day!! Sit squarely, with your seat bones comfortably in the middle of the seat. Make sure you are not slouched to one side and keep that feeling of being relaxed.
Let your legs hang down loosely by the horse’s side and only touch your horse’s side when asking for an aid. You want your leg to sit above the girth and behind (if asking for a movement or turn) Look down and check that you cannot see your toe or your heel. Your feet in the stirrups should be pointing in the same direction as your knee that is lying, but not excessively gripping, the knee roll of the saddle. Don’t let your ankles cave in, or swivel so your toes are pointing in.
Don’t jam your feet too far into the stirrup in an attempt to keep them on!! Loosing your stirrups using indicates tightness elsewhere in the body and once this is resolved, generally you should find it easier to keep them!! Kicking a lazy horse all the time, can also lead you to lose your stirrups , so make sure that you school your horse to be ridden ‘off the leg’.
Practice really does make perfect, so expect to correct yourself frequently as you ride until your ‘perfect position’ becomes perfectly natural!!!
For further information on Dressage Deluxe: 0800 321 3001 www.dressagedeluxe.co.uk