We've heard and seen your pleas for help—on our online forums, in letters and e-mails, on our Facebook page and in your Jumping Clinic photo submissions. … You want to know to fix those annoying position problems that you just can't seem to shake, no matter how hard you've tried.
To help, Practical Horseman editors dug through 15 years of back issues and thousands of photos ("Can you believe someone wore THAT?") to find our favorite solutions to your most relentless position challenges. Enjoy reading advice from top experts that is as valuable today as it was back when it first graced the pages of our magazine. As you read through them, you'll notice that most of the problems are interconnected. It's no surprise, then, that "work without stirrups" was suggested in every article, in addition to the exercises offered here. (Note: Remember some of these, ahem, "classic" photos were taken years before our current approved headgear rules. As always, we strongly urge you to wear approved headgear whenever you ride.)
1. I look down
Why it's a problem: When your head is out of alignment, you may collapse forward, tip sideways, bob or wag your head, and impair your vision and ability to turn your horse.
Fix: Your head's very heavy—so when you hold it up and aligned with your spine (think of keeping your chin about parallel to the ground), you help align the rest of your upper body, too—like a stack of building blocks, every part balanced on the others with a minimum of strain. This alignment helps you ride with relaxed shoulders, arms and back.
Begin a posting trot around the ring and take both reins in your outside hand with a light contact. Raise your inside hand straight out in front of you at shoulder height and keep your eyes on it; extend it to the side, then rotate your extended arm and hand from your shoulder, reaching as far behind you as you comfortably can. As you continue watching your inside hand through these motions, maintain a steady posting trot. Reverse direction and repeat. It sounds simple, and it is—but if you do it for a few minutes each time you ride, it will help you develop balance, feel and the independent use of your eyes and head.—Missy Clark, April 2000
2. I hunch my shoulders and collapse my chest
Why it's a problem: You round your shoulders forward, collapse your chest and send your center of gravity ahead of your horse's. Your tension wires itself to your arms, and your forearm muscles visibly tighten. As it spreads like a virus through your body, your knees clutch—which turns them into pivots, sending your heels up and your lower legs back. With your hunched body and dropped chin, breathing becomes a chore; so does zeroing in on your distance to the next fence.
Fix: At the walk, shake out each arm (as you'd do to dislodge a pesky insect) to literally shake away tension. Then take a deep breath (which will relax, lift and open your chest) at the same time that you roll your shoulders up toward your ears, then push them back and down. Repeat this exercise whenever you feel your shoulder muscles tense as if pulling your shoulders up.—Kathy Fletcher,
3. I lean at fences with my upper body
Why it's a problem: You're heading toward a fence when your upper body drops forward, your knee pinches, your lower leg slides back and you start balancing off your hand. You climb so far up your horse's neck that he's on his nose and can't push from his hind end. Instead of letting him come up and close your angle as he jumps, you close it yourself and "leave the ground before he does." His only option (if he's a good guy) is an awkward, weak, you're-not-sure-if-or-how-it's-gonna-happen jump—or a flat-out chip. If he's less than honest, he may step aside and go around—or slam on the brakes and dump you.
Fix: Shorten your stirrups two or three holes and stretch up, which brings the inside of your leg flat against your horse with your toe higher than your heel. This strong base automatically puts your upper body over your center of gravity—leaning is virtually impossible if your base is centered—and forces you to ride the correct motion from the back of your seat to your crotch, rather than riding up and down. And it puts your arms and hands out in front of you. (Too-long stirrups make you use either the back of your leg or your knee as your base of support—and neither works.—Tony Workman, November 1998