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please help me stop sitting like a goose...position critique, please!

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  • please help me stop sitting like a goose...position critique, please!

    Dressage COTH friends: I'm a re-rider, back into the game after a LONG period out of the saddle (stay home Mom, kids, horseless, etc.) --and even when I was riding before, it was only with brief riding stints in weekly lesson groups before then. I've been riding since I was a kid, but with very little formal training/instruction, and I've picked up many bad habits. Coming to the Dressage forums, because even though my goal is to do lower-level Eventing (I don't care about competing, I just want to do it for the challenge and fun), I know that good solid Dressage is what I need, before I do anything else. I don't want the shortcomings in my position to hinder the horse I'm riding, so I want to fix it.

    I recently took a trip to the UK (Badminton was canceled, but we went anyway). I had a chance to ride at an English riding school, and the instructor was fantastic. Back home, watching the video. Granted, it had been over a month and a half since I rode. Watching myself, I realize how bad my position is: hands not still, leg not under me (shoulder, hip, heel; I know it, I just don't always accomplish it); I lean forward too much, pitch off balance; lower leg is weak, to the extent that I really have no leg. With no leg, I'm never pushing the horse up into the bridle, and therefore never have constant contact. I'm seem to always be losing my stirrups, I pinch with my knees, I think. The worst is my "goose" position.

    It does not help that I have what I call "an apple-shaped" posterior (no complaints from my spouse, but for me, no matter how I use my core, it always is very round, very prominent). The instructor in the video below was great, tried to help me understand how I should slouch somewhat, tuck in my belly, get my tush under me, but I'm really struggling with holding that position. Another ULR I took a clinic with told me I needed to use my core more. I have the strength. I'm 5'7", weight 145 lbs, and I'm fairly fit (I run 4 miles in 45 minutes, do lots of barn/yard work), so I don't really think it is a fitness issue (other than I could drop 10 pounds or so....)

    Please help, any suggestions welcomed. Here's video of me riding in the two lessons I took in the UK, as well as a recent video of me riding at home. Again, I realize my lack of saddle time does not help...

    me riding my leased horse (this is after a month work, for both of us....)

    My two riding lessons in the UK, last week:



    So what can I do to work on my position? At home I'm riding a 13 year old TB on a lease. He hasn't been ridden in almost two years, I just started my lease on him in February. From February to the beginning of April, was only able to ride two or three times a week (kids, home, family illness). My goal is to ride three or four times a week. I don't have a trainer, or someone to lunge me. What can I do to correct my position? Thanks for any and all help.
    “Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” Connie Reeves
    Jump Start Solutions LLC

  • #2
    Trot work -

    Your hip angle needs to be opened. It's too closed from a combo of your butt being too far to the back of the saddle (position issue, not saddle size issue), and too much balancing/pivoting over your knees. When you come down to the sitting phase of the rising trot, you have too much bend in your waist, and land too far back.

    Your lower leg is not as stable because of the pivoting/balancing that going on with your knee. Scoot forward to the proper place in the saddle, take your thigh off & away from the saddle and reposition it so your thigh it straighter and your knee lower. Think of the heel of your boot moving towards or being anchored to your geldings hind hoof. If you move your thigh and lower leg back were it needs to be and don't change your upper body, you will find yourself falling forward. You will need to engage your lower abs and area between your hip bones to be stable & strong in the upper body. If you had more positive tension in your lats area & upper back - it would improve your position as well.

    That said - don't beat yourself up, it better than a lot of other Adult Ams out there!

    ETA: I only watched the trotting work of your leased horse.


    • #3
      Not a pro here, but I wanted to say that your hands look very soft and giving to me. In the UK video, your stirrups are longer, which may account for the "no leg" feeling.

      Your leased horse look so kind. I'd ride him in a minute.
      2012 goal: learn to ride like a Barn Rat

      A helmet saved my life.


      • #4
        A very nice and practical seat! I cant really comment other than to say make sure that you dont do what I did which was open the hip ( a great suggestion above ) only to have the knees/toes turn out... I would have done it more gradually than I did which was being a loose rider to the point that my thighs need strength again

        I thought you looked great!
        ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


        • #5
          I noticed your hands/arms in the video. They seem like they are kind of sticking straight out, with only a slight bend in your elbow. If you look at advanced riders, their upper arms goes straight down their sides with a 90 degree bend in the elbow.

          I switch between hunter jumper and dressage and my arms/hands are my key to setting my position for one discipline to another. Hunters = hands close together by the withers. Dressage= upper arms against my sides with my elbows bent right by my waist. I really notice in dressage when I get my arms and hands in the correct position that maintaining the rest of the position and getting my horse on the bit becomes a million times easier.

          Looks like you are having fun!
          My blog: Journeys in Riding


          • #6
            First of all, you really aren't as bad as you think you are so don't be too hard on yourself. You are athletic, strong, and have reasonable understanding of your own body. All of these are very good things.

            Now come the piece "I" think you can improve upon. First forget your position of your legs: your problem isn't with your leg; your problem is with your core. I know you say you are fit, but a fit person does not necessarily have the core strength required to ride really well. Go to try some Pilates classes to get a feel of what it feels like to engage your deep core muslce, as well as how to isolate individual part of your core.

            Next I see a lot of tension on your lower back and the base of your neck. They might be from insufficient core, or simple habit, but regardless the cause, they contribute to your "goose" position, and unless you get this fixed, you will never achieve a more effective seat. Try to engage your core while keeping those places relaxed and nimble, which will then enable you to have a flatter, elongated back. Once these are aligned and working properly, your legs and hands will more than likely fall into place; if not, well, that is something you will need to work on next. And then depending on your discipline, you can work on whether to get into the dressage seat or the hunt seat position.
            Last edited by Gloria; May. 17, 2012, 03:19 PM.


            • #7
              NorCal makes some insightful points. I might change the emphasis, though, to starting with your seat. I agree with opening your hips more. That will help. I would also urge you to imagine sitting on your pockets, but without leaning back. You are a bit perched on your crotch and tipped forward. This makes for a tense upper body that doesn’t allow you to follow or resist the horse’s movement as needed.

              Soften your knees which you appear to be gripping with. This is pushing your calf away and causing you to point your toes out. Relax your thighs and imagine that you are sitting on a 50 gallon drum, hugging it gently with your calves. Make your body perpendicular to your horse’s back. As you rise to the trot, lead with your hips—again, don’t confuse that with leaning back. In the canter, sit on your pockets and imagine that you are polishing the seat of the saddle with every sweep forward and that there is never a gap between your seat and the saddle. In these videos, you are bouncing a bit in the canter rather than swinging your hips. By swinging your hips (think NorCal’s comment on opening your hips), you will encourage your horse to lift his back, take bigger strides, and be much smoother to sit. Your horse has a lovely expression, and your riding is better than you think.


              • #8
                So ready your grain of salt because I am not a trainer and also my trainer is very classical so here's my POV.

                He is behind the leg so your position is corrupted because you're in front of his action -trying to pull him along. Not in the usual way of riding half cocked forward (I have some video you could see as an example ), but you are in front of his action.

                He may be behind the leg because you're blocking him with your leg. You look grippy at the knees and that will stop the action. My trainer likes to say ride with your bones, your feet and your hands (or something like that). Leg on interferes with the horse's forward.

                I think you have to fix forward first and that will probably improve your position.

                JMO YMMV
                He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).


                • #9
                  My 2 cents...

                  Lengthen your stirrups 2 holes.

                  Your heel, hip, shoulder, ear need to line up.

                  Your ankles are tense and cocked. Relax ankles and think toes to the nose. Your upper thigh and entire leg from there down need to rotate inward.

                  Do posting exercise down, up, up, down, up, up (hold up one extra beat to center your body). You will find that you will need to correct your position in order to do this. You will most likely fall backwards, because your leg is too far forward.

                  On the horse you are most recently riding, check that the saddle is not too far forward towards his shoulders.

                  Start there.


                  • #10
                    Are we related? I have a similar build, and I had a real tendency to get pinchy with my knees and tip forward as well as stick my butt out behind. Still do, if the horse gets quick. Plus, I am rather, um, well-endowed up top, so that just adds to the imbalance.

                    I agree, it’s all core, core, core. You can think “open knees, open hips” all you like, but until your core is able to balance you correctly, that’s not going to work. My instructor very, very patiently broke me down from hunter style perching and built me up a better dressage foundation, but it took a lot of time and if I don’t ride regularly, I am very quick to lose it. That said, it is doable, but it’s going to take time!

                    Here are some images/exercises that work for me:

                    Sit on the edge of a chair, or, better yet, on a balance ball. Really think about “flattening and widening” your lower back. Feel how your pelvis just rolled under? That’s what you want in the saddle. I’m not gonna lie, it hurts at first. You’ll probably feel the outer muscles and tendons of your thighs protest when you do this on horseback. Again, that’s good.

                    When you flattened your lower back, you probably felt your mid back tense up, too. Yep, it has to work as well. “Upper abs” is a phrase my instructor often uses to remind me that the core is all of your abdomen and chest. Many times an effective half halt requires holding those upper abs or “getting into the back” as my instructor says.

                    Once your core is stable, it becomes easier to maintain a constant contact with soft hands. You hang your arms on your stable core, hold the reins with a soft elbow, and this gives your horse the boundary within which he has to work.

                    I’m pretty sure my toes pointed out for a long time when I started really working on my core in the saddle. Instructor didn’t worry too much about it, as long as my leg wasn’t swinging forward or back, it was OK. Once my hips loosened up a bit, the duck-feet gradually went away. Mostly.

                    The stirrups are there to rest your feet on and to take the weight of your legs. Don’t drop your heel to brace your leg in there. You can think about “pushing down” on the stirrups with the balls of your feet, this will help keep your leg from creeping up as you attempt to master this new core balance.

                    As you are working on this, should your horse get quicker than you’d like – RIDE that forward motion. Resist all temptation to get forward and curl up. Sit up, sit back, flatten your back and breathe. Even if you end up charging down the arena, you’ll be in a better position if a sudden stop or change in direction comes. Best case, you end up with a forward horse who pretty much has to come through and on the bit because your position left him/her with no other choice!


                    • #11
                      You're a natural! Your hands are quite good, with a giving contact and feel, and the angle in your elbow is correct for hunt seat (yes, I know this is the dressage forum, but there you are).

                      Before I get to practical suggestions for improving your seat, I'd like to tell you what I see.

                      You've figured out how to keep your body stable in the saddle with incorrect biomechanics that are working for you now to keep you stable and seated but will keep you from being able to progress in your riding.

                      You're gripping with your upper calves (and likely, with your knees, but I'd need to put my hand in between your knees and the saddle to know for sure). When you feel that you might lose your balance, you extend that grip to the back of your lower calves, which naturally turns your toes far out.

                      Because your stirrup is incorrectly placed on your foot and you're focused more on keeping your leg back than your heel down, you're balancing on your irons. You're very talented at using your grip and balance to keep you seated, but in order to be effective on the flat and safe over fences (yes, I know this is a dressage forum, but you do want to event), you're going to have to use your legs differently.

                      Here's what you can do:

                      1. Change the position of your foot in the stirrup. You're riding with your stirrups "close to home" - behind the ball of your foot towards your heel. Your feet should have a natural position while in the saddle and everyone is different, so I'd suggest you experiment with putting your foot on the inside branch and on the outside branch. The stirrup should be under the ball of your foot and hang straight off the leather. If you naturally turn your toes out, this will put the stirrup under the ball of your foot on the inside and under your little toe on the outside.

                      2. Take off the spurs. Your leg isn't ready for spurs, even if you've been told your horse needs them. Better to educate your horse to the leg (lots of threads on this in the dressage forum). Use your calves to aid, not your heel. If you must use your heel, don't raise it to aid, regardless of whether you have spurs on or not.

                      3. Work on gaining flexibility in your ankles. If you have access to stairs, you can work on this off-saddle. Place both feet on the nose of a stair tread, placing them as you would in the irons and stretch your heels down. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds. Do this regularly, and even if you're stiff due to injury or lack of use, you'll regain flexibility.

                      4. Worry less about keeping your leg behind you and more about wrapping your legs around your horse (yes, I know this is the dressage forum but you're in a close contact saddle) and keeping your base of support a clinging (think "breathing" not "gripping") leg from your lower calf up your thighs, with heels down (sorry for the broken record on this, but it's critical). For some people, thinking about "toes up" rather than "heels down" can prevent locking the ankle joint and having the leg shoot forward putting you in a chair seat.

                      5. At the canter, don't be afraid to move your hip joints even more to enable your seat to stay in contact with the saddle. It's great that you're not really rocking your upper body, but watching you ride, I think you can do better. It can help to imagine trying to keep a dollar bill between your butt and the saddle (or actually to do it). This will be easier to do when you stop gripping with your calves -- because that's part of what's popping you up off the saddle.

                      6. As you work on letting go of your grip and using your ankles as shock absorbers, it can help to think about having "oily joints" as Anne Kursinksi suggests.

                      7. Get up in your two-point! The best way to learn how to get all those joints oily and to keep your heels down and balance (which you're already good at) is to ride in two-point. You should feel like your lower body is fashioned out of hydraulics.

                      Of course, the best thing for developing a seat is lunge lessons, regardless of what kind of saddle you ride in. It's the quickest way to a great seat.
                      The aids are the legs, the hands, the weight of the rider, the whip, the caress, the voice and the use of extraneous circumstances. ~ General Decarpentry


                      • #12
                        Wow...some great advice here.

                        OP...my body is much like yours. I have a very hyper lordotic curve in my lower thoracic spine. It has taken me years of struggling to learn how to fix it. It was only after I started doing Pilates that I really learned how to put mobility into my pelvis and my lower back to bring my hips truly underneath me.

                        There is a pilates exercise that is super for learning how to engage and use your pelvis:

                        Lay on mat with your knees bent, feet resting on the mat. Pretend you belly-button is 12 o'clock on a clock and your pubic bone 6 o'clock. Carefully rock your pelvis back and forth between 12 and 6. Feel your spine round down into the mat. Now repeat this exercise with thinking about 3 and 9 o'clock on the side to side.

                        I spent years working to learn how to use my core and would "think" that I had it right...it was only after I learned how to do this exerice that I really learned how to engage my core and bring my hips around.
                        Unashamed Member of the Dressage Arab Clique
                        CRAYOLA POSSE= Thistle


                        • #13
                          I know you said in the OP you don't have a trainer or anyone to lunge you. So basically, you are a *cooked* goose. And I say that knowing you'll smile (I hope!)

                          If you really do want to improve your position, you are simply going to have to get a trainer and get some lunge lessons. All the ground exercises in the world aren't going to teach you how to sit down, lift your chest, loosen your hips just enough to follow, allow your legs/knees to relax and softly wrap so that you can give clear aids...yada yada, it's endless!

                          You must practice without stirrups and reins at all gaits until you have a solid position and balance. The only real way to do that is with lunge lessons with a qualified ground person.

                          Believe me, if you do whatever it takes to get a lunge lesson, once a week for six months, you'll save yourself years of frustration and misery.

                          I agree with everyone else, you have a very lovely softness about you, and great body awareness, that's why it wouldn't take all that long for you to make huge improvements on the lunge if you have someone to teach you correctly. Can you find someone to come once a week, or go out?
                          Ring the bells that still can ring
                          Forget your perfect offering
                          There is a crack in everything
                          That's how the light gets in.


                          • Original Poster

                            hello everyone....posted this morning and was gone all day. Actually, dashed out to the barn and was surprised to find my horse (the one in the first video) felt pretty darn good, even though he had not been ridden in almost a month. Kept it simple, walking, trot sets, circles. Just something to loosen both of us up.

                            Thank you, everyone, for all of the excellent advice! I'm so grateful you all took the time to not only watch my rides, but to offer such great comments. I can't wait to return to the barn tomorrow, and try out the suggested corrections. I am going to ride without the spurs. (I didn't use them at first and he felt like I was riding a brick. But I also know him better now, and I would like him to respect and respond to my leg more, without the spurs.) I am also going to do work without stirrups to help lengthen my leg. Funny thing, when I was a young American teenager I lived in West Africa. My parents arranged for me to ride at a French military base riding stable, where we had a French Military captain as a riding instructor. I had no idea back then what dressage or classical riding was, but ALL of my riding (flat work and jumping) was done without stirrups, on wonderful little West African Arab horses. I actually drop my stirrups now from time to time when I feel "stuck." I think I may do more. Sometimes, I feel more relaxed and less tight riding without them.

                            I don't have (nor can afford) a trainer or lunge lessons right now, but I will see if I could work out something with the BO where I ride. She's a great rider/trainer and maybe I could offer work in exchange for a few lunge lessons. I really want to figure this out.

                            Some of the ideas I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around. I'm a visual learner, and sometimes I need someone to simply walk up to me, re-position me and say "this, not that." In doing so I make a mental note of the "correct" feel and then know when I'm off. I still can't grasp the concept of "open your hips" (widen my legs apart? or make my body more straight? less bent at the waist?). I try to imagine what body position I see the upper level dressage riders maintain, and try to make my body do the same, try to lock in that mental image. Re: tucking my bottom and pointing the seat bones downward, how do you do that without tightening your glut muscles and pinching yourself out of the seat? Again, I realize tightness and gripping is causing me lots of trouble.

                            Again, thank you for all the kind words and encouragement. You all rock!
                            Will return with a follow-up!
                            “Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” Connie Reeves
                            Jump Start Solutions LLC


                            • #15
                              FWIW. Open hip angle and closed hip angle is the difference between standing and sitting when viewed from the side. When you stand, the hip angle is open (the thigh more vertical) and sitting (the thigh more horizontal)...so, it means stretching leg down longer so that the hip to knee angle is more open, i.e., more vertical.


                              • #16
                                Another image to open your hip angle, courtesy of Charles de Kunffy, is to feel as if you're kneeling in church.

                                Kneel somewhere with legs a little apart, tilt back just slightly, and to keep balance, your body will instinctively put you in the correct position.

                                Then just do it on the horse.
                                Ring the bells that still can ring
                                Forget your perfect offering
                                There is a crack in everything
                                That's how the light gets in.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by barnworkbeatshousework View Post
                                  Some of the ideas I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around. I'm a visual learner, and sometimes I need someone to simply walk up to me, re-position me and say "this, not that." In doing so I make a mental note of the "correct" feel and then know when I'm off. I still can't grasp the concept of "open your hips" (widen my legs apart? or make my body more straight? less bent at the waist?). I try to imagine what body position I see the upper level dressage riders maintain, and try to make my body do the same, try to lock in that mental image. Re: tucking my bottom and pointing the seat bones downward, how do you do that without tightening your glut muscles and pinching yourself out of the seat? Again, I realize tightness and gripping is causing me lots of trouble.
                                  Mary Wanless has some books out there ("Ride With Your Mind" is one of them) with suggestions for "how" to do some of these things - may be worth checking out to see if they work for you. Sally Swift's books ("Centered Riding," etc.) also have imagery that can be helpful in engaging the right muscles and making adjustments to one's position.

                                  Best of luck! I see what you mean in the videos regarding points to work on, but you also look comfortable and natural on a horse. I was not surprised to see that you first learned to ride as a child/teenager :-)


                                  • #18
                                    Firstly, you do not have to have a trainer to improve, but it is much easier with one! However in the absence of a trainer, i have something that has really worked for me.

                                    Pick one thing you want to fix. You choose. lets say for example, you want to keep your upper arm vertical. ( your upper arms are not bad, but your elbow gets a little forward because you lean forward a bit, but you pick what it is you want to work on). pick four spots on your riding arena. Say the spots that would be A C E B if it were a dressage arena.

                                    Then every time you go past those spots on the arena, fix your arms. then just ride as you would, and as you go past that spot, fix your arms. ( put cones up or something if you have no letters) then ride as you want to, and as you pass the cone, fix your arms. When you finally can go around and around and realized that you not longer have to fix your arms as you go past that spot then you have corrected that error, and are ready to work on the next thing.

                                    I have seen people go to a riding lesson, and the instructor say fifty times during the lesson, something simple like "thumbs up". If you want to pay someone all that money to say thumbs up, when a little concerted effort at home can fix the problem for free, and you use the instructor to help you with more important things, then you have dedicated yourself to improving in a more effective way.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      a treasure of good advice here! Scuttling about to get the household chores done so I may return to the barn before kids are out of school, and ride again. Thank you, everyone, so very much!
                                      “Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” Connie Reeves
                                      Jump Start Solutions LLC


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by barnworkbeatshousework View Post
                                        Some of the ideas I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around. I'm a visual learner, and sometimes I need someone to simply walk up to me, re-position me and say "this, not that." In doing so I make a mental note of the "correct" feel and then know when I'm off. I still can't grasp the concept of "open your hips" (widen my legs apart? or make my body more straight? less bent at the waist?). I try to imagine what body position I see the upper level dressage riders maintain, and try to make my body do the same, try to lock in that mental image. Re: tucking my bottom and pointing the seat bones downward, how do you do that without tightening your glut muscles and pinching yourself out of the seat? Again, I realize tightness and gripping is causing me lots of trouble.
                                        Open hip/closed hip: when you are in the saddle, look at the seam of your breeches where your hips are. With a closed hip, the seam there is more crunches up; with an open hip, the seam run straighter.

                                        Try this exercise in your chair. Note you need to feel this unmounted first. If you cannot figure it out on the ground, there is no way you can figure it out in the saddle.

                                        Sit in your chair with your elbows bent at your side, and then engage your core. You should feel the back of your seatbone/pants pocket to sink into your chair more while the front to lift up a bit. Next, keep your butt where they are while allowing your torso to grow taller (lifting from your core, not your shoulders) to open your chest and level your seat bones (you don't want the seat bone to tilt too far one way or the other either). Now close your eyes and use your mind to feel your lower back: my guess is that your lower back at this point is tightened up. You need to keep them loose and opened: breathe into that part that is tight and imagine your lower back to grow wider toward your bend elbows (while still keeping your core engaged) till the tension melt away.

                                        At this point, you should feel tall and strong and nimble, ready to move in any other direction or absorbe the power your horse is going to exert on you. Once you get this down, try it on the horse.

                                        Another thing is, once you get your core properly engaged and tension at the the lower back relaxed, I will imagine your legs will want to automatically fall down underneath you. That is why I said don't worry about your legs at this point. Once you get your core fixed, all others will start to follow.