Equitation is the base for all of our riding. When there is a solid foundation to your body and position, it allows you to interact and work with the horse with greater freedom and safety.
In Storey's Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia, equitation is defined as, "The formal art and practice of riding horses. Skilled equitation involves maintaining the body position that is considered to be correct for the type of riding involved; making appropriate use of "body aids," meaning the hands, legs, seat and upper torso; and demonstrating the mental composure necessary to control the horse and correct mistakes he may make. It is an art that typically take a number of years or master."
We are going to take a look at how our bodies should be positioned in the saddle for the most secure foundation of riding.
Knees are our shock absorbers. We've all see the car or truck commercials where they show the vehicle driving over rocking terrain and if you watch those commercials closely, you will see that the tires are moving up and down and the base of the vehicle is remaining fairly level. This is how your knees work for you, they take the "shock" or "bounce" out of the horse's movement. It is crucial to keep your knee soft and allow it to move. By keeping your knee soft and pliable, this helps to keep your seat quieter in the saddle.
When riders pinch and hold at the knee, they are trying to find a sense of security in the saddle. They are not trusting in their seat to keep them secure. Riders who pinch at the knee may find that they, inadvertently, are pushing their seat out of the saddle and this will cause an increase in the bounce at the trot and canter.
Also, when pinching at the knee, riders will push their leg out and away from the side of the horse, impeding communication with the horse and affecting the balance and stability of the leg.
Your leg should hang long and loose from the hip. There should be no tension in the knee or leg. The leg is an intregal part of communication with your horse. If a rider keeps their knees pinched or the leg tight they loose ways to "talk" to their horse.
How do you find out if you ride by pinching your knees?
While in the saddle, try to push your knees into the saddle. If you find that cannot push your knee into the saddle, chances are you are already pinching with the knee.
When your horse trots, does your seat bounce up at the trot? (This may also be caused by bracing or placing too much pressure on your stirrups)
When you are done riding, do you legs and knees sting or cause you pain?
How do you relax your knee?
Focus on your knees while at the walk. Are you knees shifting and moving or are they locked in place? If they are locked and in place, work your knees to and away from your saddle. Think butterfly wings.
On a safe horse, kick your feet out of the stirrups, shake out your legs and then bend your knee up to the pommel of the saddle, repeat this a few times before, during and after your ride.
Rider's thighs play an important part of position in the saddle!
In the picture to the left, the rider is sitting on the back of their thigh. You can see how, by doing this, the rider's knee is pointing outward and away from the horse. This will also affect the position of the seat, usually by making the rider sit with their seat too far underneath them.
In the picture to the right, the rider is sitting on the inside of their thigh. By laying the inside of the thigh on the saddle, the knee is pointing forward. Riding on the inside of the thigh will reduce tension on the knee and ankle, allowing for a more comfortable ride and better communication with your horse.
To fix the thigh, pull the leg away from the saddle at the hip. Lay the leg back down on the saddle with the inside of the thigh on the saddle. If you find that this does not work for you, while in the saddle, reach behind your thigh and "pull" the back of your thigh up. Then allow your leg to lay back on the saddle, focusing on the inside of the thigh coming into contact with the saddle.
Little trick - Look at the seams on your jeans or riding breeches. If the seam is on top of the leg, then more than likely you are on the inside of your thigh. If the seam faces more underneath or towards your horse, you are likely riding on the back of your thigh.
I ask all of my students one simple question, "No matter your age, whether you are a small child or an older person, which is bigger, your hands or your seat? Which is bigger, your feet or your seat?" The answer is always a bashful "Your seat." This is correct!
While your heels are the anchor, your seat is the base for all riding.
As you sit in the saddle, you should be able to feel your seat bones directly in the saddle. This means that your pelvis is in an upright position. If you feel like your pelvis is tilting backwards, then your seat is rolled too far underneath you. If you feel like your pelvis is titling forwards, then you are perching on your pubic bone and are too far forward.
Imagine that your pelvis is a vase holding your favorite flowers. If you ride with your pelvis tilted forward, your flowers will fall forward out of the vase. If you ride with your pelvis tilted backwards, your flowers will fall backward out of your vase. The only way to keep your favorite flowers in your vase is to keep the vase (your pelvis) in an upright position.
Left Picture: The rider is tilting their pelvis forward, riding on their pubic bone, instead of their seat bones. This will cause poor communication with the horse, an unbalanced rider and soreness for the rider.
Middle Picture: The rider is sitting correctly on their pelvis. The seat bones are directly in the saddle.
Right Picture: The rider is tilting their pelvis backwards or their seat underneath them. This position will encourage a chair seat position with the leg and may cause bracing in the stirrups as the rider will feel off balance.
THE REST OF THE LEG
While the heel seems to get the most attention, the position of the leg is just as important!
It is important to remember to keep your heel in line with your hip. This gives you the most stable and strongest support in the saddle. We all intensely dislike that table or chair that has uneven legs, allowing the furniture to weeble wobble around. Having your leg too far in front of your hip or too far behind will increase your changes to weeble wobble in the saddle also!
The picture on the left shows an example of a rider with their leg too far forward. This type of position is referred to as a chair seat, because you are sitting in the saddle like you would in a chair. In this position, riders will slouch back and put too much pressure on the back of their seat instead of on their seat bones. Riders who ride in a chair seat find that it is harder for them to post, if need be, because their legs are not underneath them to give proper support.
The middle picture shows where a rider's leg should be placed, with the heel under the hip. By placing the leg in this position, you offer your body the most secure position. The rider is able to sit directly on their seat bones with a straight back and good posture.
The picture to the right shows an example of a rider with their leg too far back. Because the leg is behind the hip, it rolls the riders seat out of the saddle and and perches them forward. The green arrow shows how the rider's seat is rolled out of the saddle because of this placement of the leg. This leg position can be potentially dangerous because of how the rider is pushed forward over the horse and if the horse were to make a sudden movement the rider would have less stability. It is also harder to get your heels in a down position if your leg is this far back.