I've seen so many different people's equitation, and I've been told to sit in so many different positions that I don't know what the correct way to ride English looks like. What do I have to feel and look for when I'm riding English?
Gabrielle has also e-mailed me some great pictures of her and her gelding Jesse to critique. Over the next week I will be posting the pictures with some further explanation and some exercises that can be done to make corrections and adjustments.
Thanks for the question. Here are some suggestions on English Equitation I hope I can help clear a few things up for you.
Equitation – Refers to the position of the rider. In an equitation class, the rider is judged as opposed to the horse. One caveat, if the horse is collected it will always make the rider look better.
The proper way to sit is with your ear, hip, and heel in a straight line. I take a longe whip and hold it up next to my students vertically to allow them to see their own line and make adjustments accordingly. I make a straight line with the whip, and the student should adjust that the ear, hip, and heel is in alignment.
Your chin should be straight ahead, not up in the air or tipped down. Sit up straight do not lean back or tip forward. Keep your shoulders up and back. Not too far of course, just make yourself have the posture your Grandmother always told you to have.
Legs and Toes
I really don't like when I hear an instructor say that the rider needs to keep their toes straight ahead. Toes need to be slightly turned out. If the toes are not slightly turned out the calves will not have contact with the horse. Your toes should not be crunched in your boots and don’t forget to keep those heels down.
Reins, Hands, and Horse's Mouth
You do not want to palm the reins. The reins should be in your fingers with your thumbs on the sides of the reins, remember to keep your fingers closed on the reins. Do not squeeze the reins. You should have contact with the horse's mouth, but not holding him back allow him to move forward. Any pressure you feel on the reins is your horse's mouth.
You should be able to feel the horse's mouth as you ride. Do not be stiff in any part of your body. You should "flow" with the horse. Meaning, ride with his stride not against it. Your hands should be out in front of you, but keep a soft bend in your elbows. Don't let your elbows stick out, keep them close to your sides, but not touching them.
Check Stirrup Length
Sit in the saddle and allow your legs to hang down on the horse's sides, with your feet out of the irons. The bottom of the iron should be at the level of your anklebone. If your stirrups are too short, posting will be difficult. If your stirrups are too long, you will not be able to put the proper amount of weight in the irons. The amount of weight that belongs in the irons is the weight of your leg nothing more, nothing less.
Work on your position first, then your horse will be able to ride in frame with his head and neck level, his nose should not be nosing out, behind the vertical or behind the bit (when the horse draws his head toward his chest to avoid contact with the bit), and have his back round, his strides should be collected and ground covering.
This is the brief explanation, even though it is very long and involved. I hope this helps!