Now this may sound controversial … but how important is the rider position when you look at different aspects of riding – be it dressage, showjumping, or general riding?
When you are training to be an instructor it is drilled into you, that perfect heel-hip-elbow-shoulder-ear line, or the elbow-wrist-bit line. Initially, when you teach people to ride you revert back to that “heels down”, “shoulders back” mentality whilst directing traffic.
Now I`m not saying this is wrong, as it gives you something to say as you assess the client, and we all need to improve parts of our position in order to ride more effectively or correctly. As an instructor develops experience they begin to notice crookedness in a rider and identify the root cause of a positional problem, and then have a number of exercises which will improve this.
I had an interesting couple of lessons a month ago. I videoed my client riding various movements so that she could see how her lateral work was coming along. I thought she was riding pretty well, considering she`s a mature adult she has a good level of fitness and her posture is good, and she is effective. Obviously there are things we work around, like an arthritic knee, but overall she rides with a lot of feel and effectiveness.
I guess it`s her history as a physiotherapist, but my client pulled herself apart whilst watching the videos. Not the movements or the way of riding but her position. All the teeny little faults, such as sticking her tongue out when concentrating. So the next lesson she came with the ideal position in her mind. And it all went wrong.
In my client`s desire to replicate Charlotte Dujardin`s position she created a lot of tension in her body, which transmitted itself to the horse and instead of being his usual round, soft self, he was hollow and resistant. I tried to take my client`s mind off her position by using mentally complicated exercises, and encouraged her to put herself into the correct position and then take a deep breath out in order to relax. This helped a little bit, and slowly over a couple of lessons she began to ride in her usual way, albeit with her hands carried a bit more.
So my point is; it`s all very well having the perfect position, but if it creates tension and stops you working in harmony with the horse, and feeling the movement, is it really worth it? Or should we take into account each individual and sacrifice positional points if necessary. For example, a rider who has tight, short calf muscles shouldn`t be repeatedly told to push their heels down as this will swing their leg forward and create a chair position. Instead off the horse exercises should be taught and the whole leg position improved. Or what about that client who is missing a rib from a childhood accident? They may collapse on that side, but it`s not really surprising and apart from making them aware of the crookedness and helping them reduce it, you are always going to have a slightly wonky rider. Or what about the client with short arms? They struggle to create the perfect elbow-wrist-bit line whilst keeping their hands in front of the saddle. It`s a catch-22 situation, as with the perfect line this rider may be uncomfortable with their hand position, and it may be too high, but when they have slightly straighter elbows they carry their hands in front of the saddle and in a more relaxed way.
All I`m saying it that as an instructor I try to improve a rider`s position in order to make them more secure in the saddle, or more effective with their aids, but I do not expect them to be able to mirror Charlotte Dujardin in their position.