That perfect riding position has a poker straight upper body, with the shoulders directly above the hips, but unfortunately we aren’t all built with the ideal conformation and, much like our horses, we have to make do with what we’ve got.
Getting riders to sit up correctly though is easier said than done. Instructions such as “sit up tall” can lead to tension and raised shoulders, whereas directing someone to “put their shoulders back” can cause them to hollow their back in an effort to please you.
I heard a very good analogy for getting riders of all ability to sit up correctly, but to also help them engage their core.
Before you start attacking the upper body for not being upright, take a look at the seat and pelvis. Some people have naturally forward tilted pelvises, so they are more likely to hollow the lower back. Others tilt backwards, which causes the lower back to collapse.
Ideally we want the pelvis level; imagine there’s a bucket of water between your hip bones, and tilt your pelvis until it’s level and the water won’t slosh out. You can do this standing on the ground first, which may be easier, and then try and replicate this position in the saddle. You should then feel both your seat bones on the saddle.
Then you should feel that your back goes up to the sky. And this is where the analogy comes in. Imagine you’re sitting on a dining room chair, one of those hard-backed ones, but it has a dodgy leg. So you sit very carefully, lightly, but holding yourself together within your tummy muscles so that your weight doesn’t accidentally go towards the dodgy leg and cause you to wobble around, causing a racket and drawing attention to yourself. Yep, we’ve all been there!
It’s not so much a matter of drawing yourself up tall, or bringing shoulders back, but more holding yourself together and controlling your weight distribution.
If the shoulders are still rounded and collapsed forwards, then you can imagine someone has put an ice cube down your back. This opens the front of your chest slightly and rolls your shoulders back, but stops you hollowing your back.
I had a go at being very conscious of sitting on a wobbly chair last weekend and found that my core muscles were definitely fatigued, but also I found I was more effective with my seat and not letting my shoulders roll forwards (which they are prone to doing) helped my hand position and I could ride up into the hand more easily.
Try the two analogies out, and let me know if you find them useful in correcting your position.