If you compete: Work through these exercises to ensure that you present a perfect picture in horsemanship classes.
If you don’t: Improve your balance to have a better connection with your horse and to be a more effective rider.
The expert: Karen Graham, Cave Creek, Arizona; top trainer, exhibitor, and amateur/youth coach.
It’s easy to envy the pretty rider with the perfect position in the saddle. It’s not easy to mimic her strong, quiet legs and seat or her perfect balance. That takes work.
With these exercises, you’ll develop the natural-looking balance that’s necessary to top that “pretty rider” you formerly envied—and work your way to the top of the judge’s horsemanship card. If you don’t show, use these exercises to improve your position for better communication with your horse. That’s what a good horsemanship position is all about.
Work each drill at a jog (or a walk, if you’re more comfortable with a slower pace), and work your way up to a lope, and then try pattern elements while doing each exercise.
1. Begin with your feet in the stirrups, in correct position—with a line bisecting your ear, shoulder, hip, and heel; your eyes and chin up; and your shoulders square.
2. Drop your stirrups. Work to maintain correct leg alignment (a line from your ear, through your shoulder, down to your hip, and ending at your heel). Keep your spine straight and your shoulders aligned.
3. Keep your feet out of the stirrups, and push your toes down as far as you can. Focus on opening your hip joint and making your leg long. Be careful to watch your body’s alignment. It’s easy to cheat on this exercise and lean forward, which means you won’t get the full balance benefit.
4. With your feet out of the stirrups, push your heels down as far as you can. Picture yourself pressing them into the ground and pointing your toes at the sky. With your heels pushed in this exaggerated position, it’ll seem easy to maintain correct form when you ride with your heels in proper position.
5. Hold onto the saddle horn for stability, and stand in your stirrups. This sounds easy, but isn’t. The important part is to maintain proper alignment from your ear to your heel, while keeping your heels down and toes forward. Don’t let your legs get too far behind you.
6. Now let go of the saddle horn. Keep the same things in mind when you find your balance. This exercise is very challenging and will point out your balance issues. For example, if you stand on your toes, you’ll lean forward and get out of alignment. This exercise also builds leg strength.
Karen Graham, alongside her husband, Scott, has trained numerous world and Congress champions. She’s an AQHA and NSBA judge. They live in Cave Creek, Arizona.