Sit Correctly to Improve Balance

Biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze critiques Lesley Grove at Intermediaire.
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Dressage in the last years has become more and more colorful. It is good to see that so many different types and kinds of horses can perform and the principles of dressage are true for all of them. Looking at the photo of True Texas Colors, I realized that not only were his colors a bit unusual but so was the moment captured. 

At first glance, it looks like right canter, but for that the horse is landing with the wrong hind leg.

It seems that this is a photo taken in the moment of a flying change that was not engaged from behind or uphill enough for the level.

Lesley is sitting upright and looking straight in the direction she is riding. In a dressage arena with such a gorgeous view, it must be easy to look up. She is carrying her hands a little wide apart, which can help to steady the balance and can be helpful for a moment but should not become a habit.

Her right hip and shoulder are leading a bit, which indicates a seat for right canter (but the hind legs of the horse then are wrong).

I notice that Lesley is struggling a bit with her leg position and stirrup. She is pushing her toes down and turning her leg slightly outward. Her seat is pushed a bit back in the saddle by this and her leg cannot hang long and supple from her hips. I can also see that she has a little difficulty with her saddle, as her knee is nearly on top of, instead of behind, the knee-roll. 

I cannot see from this angle for sure, but if the saddle is a bit too small and cut too straight for her leg she is facing the dilemma of either sitting in the deepest point of the saddle and having no place for her leg, or trying to place the leg correctly and sitting further back (as shown in the picture). If she is sitting further forward, the stirrup length should be fine, but sliding her pelvis back has caused her stirrup to look long and she has to push her toes down to be able to keep contact.

It is not easy to balance in the seat when the base (leg position) is not relaxed and free. Lesley is clearly trying to sit as balanced in her upper body as possible and she does keep her head above her pelvis, which allows the horse to find his balance.

The moment of the photo does not tell me how much True Texas Colors is stepping under his rider’s weight. I do get the impression that it is important in his training to work on developing self-carriage. It would help for Lesley to get him to lift his shoulders and become lighter in his forehand.

In the landing phase of a canter stride a horse should look more uphill, as a hind leg is on the ground and both front legs are in the air. The topline of his back is more straight, maybe even a little downhill, and this gives me the impression that this canter stride will end a bit on the forehand. However, he has a lovely neck and good self-carriage to compensate for this. 

Tip: Here is a helpful exercise for a horse that needs to improve balance: Ride a lot of short intervals between shoulder-in and renvers and other movements where the horse needs to coordinate more between his engine (hind legs) and his shoulders (front legs). This work will free his back and encourage a better lift of his shoulders.

Even though this photo may not show the best moment of Lesley and True Texas Colors, they look like a good team and fit nicely together.

Susanne von Dietze is a leader in equestrian biomechanics. A physiotherapist, licensed Trainer A instructor and judge for dressage and show jumping, she gives lectures and seminars throughout the world, including at the prestigious German Riding Academy in Warendorf. She is a native of Germany and now lives with her husband and three children in Israel, where she competes at the international level. She is the author of two books on the biomechanics of riding: Balance in Movement and Horse and Rider, Back to Back. Find her books at www.EquineNetworkStore.com.