Equitation is about more than just sitting pretty in the saddle. No matter what ring you ride in, equitation is key to advancing to new levels and being successful in the show ring. Here are some common errors in rider equitation and how you can fix them.
Stirrups Too Long
I notice this issue with a lot of dressage riders, and I believe it’s due to the assumption that dressage riders are supposed to ride with a long leg. While your stirrups should definitely be longer in a dressage saddle than they would be for jumping, they shouldn’t be too long. Even for dressage, you are supposed to have some of your weight sinking down your legs and steadily into your stirrups. A lot of dressage riders that ride with their stirrups too long have unsteady, noisy legs that move with every bouncy stride. Another telltale sign that your stirrups need to be shortened is if your toes are pointing down. This is something that should never happen! While shortening your stirrups is no substitute for a good seat, properly adjusted stirrups help you find more stability and strength.
Bouncing In the Sitting Trot
Top eventing trainer Denny Emerson’s famous mantra is “good riders don’t bounce!” Anyone who has ever had a lunge lesson knows that this one is easier said than done. Try riding without stirrups to develop core strength and balance. Also be mindful of your posture in the saddle. You don’t want to be slumped or hollow. Developing a good seat is a skill that will take time and practice in bodily control.
Not Half Halting
A half halt gives your horse a heads up for what you are about to ask him to do, so make sure to use this aid to stay in communication. If you’re making sloppy figures, poor transitions or late changes, it could very well be because you aren’t half halting. The half halt should be used as your prepare for the next movement, so don’t let an absence of half halts surprise your horse by what you’re asking.
A good seat is the benchmark of dressage, and so many struggle to find the correct position in the saddle. Tipping even slightly forward can make it that much harder to ride effectively. Leaning forward also places more weight over the horse’s forehand, which is counterproductive to the principles of dressage. Some riders look down at their horse’s neck or at their hands. Your head weighs about ten pounds, so aside from the bad posture, this habit also places more weight on the front end of the horse.
Riding Without Purpose
Swinging up onto your horse’s back and wandering around on cruise control is just as much a rider error as any position flaw. Instructors don’t like students that wait to be told that they’re doing something wrong. Having a plan for the ride and being consciously in control of your horse and yourself is something a good rider must do. Always be aware and apply yourself to breaking habits and hold yourself accountable for mistakes. One of my favorite trainers once told me, “a horse is only as good as its rider,” meaning that having a trained horse and a top coach is helpful, but ultimately it’s all up to the rider. Initiative makes the difference between being a pilot or a passenger.