To the onlooker, dressage should look effortless.
The horse should appear to be performing every movement completely of his own volition, with the rider remaining upright and motionless in the saddle.
Achieving that perfect position and ironing out flaws takes many hours of dedicated work and practice, but it can be done!
Top Tip: Ask a friend to video your schooling sessions. Compare your position to that of one of the world’s top dressage riders – now your faults are plainly visible, and you know exactly what you need to work on!
Related Read: The Correct Position For Dressage
Here are some common rider problems together with tips on how to correct them.
When you’re schooling your horse, there’s a temptation to put yourself ‘on the bit’ too!
Your head is the heaviest part of your body. When you look down, all that weight can cause your whole body to tip forwards out of balance, pushing your horse onto his forehand.
Fix the problem by looking up and ahead of you as you ride.
Think of keeping your chin parallel to the ground and your head in alignment with your spine. Keep your head still; don’t nod or wobble.
This simple fix helps to keep your back straight, allows your shoulders to relax, and places your arms naturally into the correct position.
Loose lower leg
If your lower leg is not secure, you could find that you have trouble keeping your stirrup irons on the balls of your feet; your legs will continually swing backward, and your weight will tip onto your fork, rather than remaining on your seat bones.
The end result is an insecure seat and inconsistent balance, which can be very off-putting for a young or inexperienced horse.
In addition, if your legs are constantly moving, your aids can become lost in all that ‘background noise’.
The solution to this problem is very often a straightforward one; shorten your stirrups by one or two holes! It’s so tempting to try to achieve that long ‘dressage’ leg by simply riding too long.
Try lifting your weight off the saddle, dropping your heels and remaining in that position for a few minutes. If you find that you’re struggling to stay out of the saddle and in balance, your stirrups are probably too long.
Gripping with your knees
Many riders grip the saddle with their knees. This causes your heels to turn out and your lower leg contact to become intermittent.
Not only does this make your position insecure, it results in a continual ‘on-off’ leg for your horse.
Breaking this habit takes practice and lots of work.
Take away your stirrups and cross them in front of the saddle. Let your legs hang down and ask your horse to walk on.
Now alternately bend and straighten your knees to allow them to swing independently of your horse’s sides. Your left leg should straighten as your right leg bends and vice versa on your horse’s next stride.
Lift up your knee and hold it there just long enough to release your grip on the saddle and then relax.
Related Read: How to Stop Gripping With Your Knees
Not sitting straight in the saddle is a very common problem.
This uneven weight distribution can make it very difficult for the horse to move straight and to keep his balance. In the long term, your horse may even develop asymmetry in the muscles along his back.
Ask a friend to video you from behind as you ride down the long side of the arena.
If you’re not sitting straight, make a conscious effort to ‘pick up’ the seat bone on the side to which you’re collapsing by clenching the buttock on that side, and push more weight down into the opposite heel.
If you habitually sit crooked, you’ll need to make adjustments to your position regularly until your new muscle memory becomes established.
It’s also a good idea to have the fit of your saddle checked in case the flocking has collapsed on one side.
Unlevel or piano hands
In order to keep the bit straight in the horse’s mouth and the contact even, you must carry your hands level with your thumbs on top.
If you carry one hand higher than the other, your contact will be uneven and your horse may begin to tilt his head.
If you ride with your hands flat, your elbows will stick out and your contact can become fixed and blocking.
To keep your hands level, as you ride, imagine that you’re carrying a tray loaded with extremely expensive glasses filled with vintage champagne.
Keep the tray level so that you don’t spill a drop!
A useful exercise to banish ‘piano hands’ is to carry a short stick tucked through your hands, thumbs on top; it’s virtually impossible to turn your hands over!
These are just a few of the most common problems encountered by riders that can have a negative effect on their horse’s way of going.
To fix these problems, you’ll need to retrain your muscles to work in the correct way.
This could take time and practice if your bad habits have become well-established over many years, but it can be done, and you’ll be rewarded with a happier horse and higher marks in your dressage tests too!
If there are any other common position-related problems that you think we should add to this post, let us know in the comments box below.
- How to Stop Gripping With Your Knees
- The Correct Position For Dressage
- How Long Should Your Reins Be?
- How to Lengthen Your Lower Leg