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Learning to sit up - not lean forward

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  • Learning to sit up - not lean forward

    I'm switching from hunters to dressage, and I'm currently struggling to sit myself up on the vertical. I feel like my horse's head is often too low, and it just pulls me back down into a typical hunter seat.

    Is some of this just how on the forehand the horse is, or his ability to pick his front end up and not lean on my hands like that?

    What could help me to reteach myself how to carry myself when on a horse?

  • #2

    The greater your core strength, the more independent your seat will be.
    a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


    • #3
      A patient instructor.

      Longe lessons on an educated horse to teach you how to use your body to bring the horse up off its forehand. You need to totally change your mind's perception of what is correct. It takes a lot of patience on the part of rider and teacher.
      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


      • #4
        Ooh, this can be challenging. I have a saddle seat background, so you'd think leaning forward shouldn't have been a problem when transitioning to dressage... Well, apparently it was, haha. I think because I was so used to having so much head and neck in front of me, I never had to worry about leaning forward and when the head was low, I instinctively followed the balance forward.

        When you have to stay upright and your horse's head is down and low (which it will be sometimes even while doing dressage), it's a bit more challenging. Riding in a dressage saddle instead of a jumping saddle helped with the habit and also thinking to lean too far back (in a clinic, I was told to think about sitting a few degrees behind the vertical). Putting that image in my head seemed to help quite a bit.

        Also, it helps to have your trainer let you know when you're in the right spot. Initially, that felt too far back to me, so I just reminded myself to just lean back a smidge until it felt a bit too far, haha - eventually it felt right. I also have a friend that was from a hunter background, and the trainer reminded her to scoot her pelvis forward in the saddle (think, shoulders back, butt underneath you at the same time). It seems some hunter riders have trouble tipping and poking the butt out a bit too far back on the saddle when trying to do dressage.

        You'll break the habit eventually, and in the meantime, working on your core will help, but it's going to take awhile to retrain your muscles and brain, unfortunately = ) I found that running a mental check quite often would help, like, oops, am I sitting up? Probably not... Because even if the muscles are there, you've got to get your brain trained to work the right way, that's often the hard part.

        Oh yes, and longe lessons (just saw that above). Those are good for everyone = )


        • #5
          Originally posted by Beau Peep View Post
          I'm switching from hunters to dressage, and I'm currently struggling to sit myself up on the vertical. I feel like my horse's head is often too low, and it just pulls me back down into a typical hunter seat.

          Is some of this just how on the forehand the horse is, or his ability to pick his front end up and not lean on my hands like that?

          What could help me to reteach myself how to carry myself when on a horse?
          I have been having the same struggle and know what you are going through. When I used to sit up straight, it felt as though I was behind the vertical.... I really had to remember to sit on my seat bones and not my crotch and open my shoulders. I am much better, but at times I revert back especially to my old habits at the trot.

          You will be surprised at the difference in your horse when you sit up straight (like Mom used to tell us)...

          My mare would drop her neck and also pull me forward. She put her head down and her nose out to get more rein from me and pull me forward (smart mare, that she is).... When she rounds, she has more than enough rein and I stay straight.... She will still try to pull me forward, but I have been told to just give one rein not both and then she has no where to go...

          I have found lots of good tips in Sally Swift's book on Centered Riding as well...

          I am sure there are others who have even better advice, but this is what has helped me. It is really practice and trusting that you are straight and not leaning back...

          Happy Riding!!!
          We do not have an overpopulation of dogs, we have an under population of responsible dog owners!!!


          • #6
            One clinician recently gave me the tip of pretending that you are the big-bellied sheriff walking (ching-ching-ching) into the bar to make a pompous announcement-- guns on hips swinging, but mostly soft belly first.

            Trying to imitate that posture got me up and vertical like my own trainer has been trying for months...it's funny what image works...

            And now, every time I find myself leaning forward, I sing Paul Simon's "..beer-belly, beer-belly" from You Can Call Me Al and get right back at it...


            • #7
              I have the same problem and I'm even a dressage rider! I used to have a great seat, my legs were great, my hands were great, (not great as in perfect but good!) and then I took two years off due to an injury, and coming back this year has been so hard. The best thing I can tell you, is to not think of it as bringing your shoulders back. Oftentimes (and especially in my case!) this creates a badddd sway back. What one of my friends told me is to instead bring my seat forward, lift my pelvis and sit back on my pockets. At first it felt funny, I felt a lil insecure, but magically it solved so many of my problems! It brought my leg back into the right place and helped me to instead of relying so much on my legs, instead rely on my core. I still have to remind myself because its really easy to go back. But when I noticed what a huge difference it made in my horse it became so much easier! I hope this helps=]
              Words to live by:
              There's always another box on your test
              Over or through
              Throw your heart over the fence and go after it


              • #8
                It's easy to check your own balance. Eyes on the ground can tell if you look balanced, but you may not be.

                Bend your knees and lift your legs slightly. If you have to lean backward to keep from falling forward, you are leaning forward. If your trunk doesn't move at all, you are balanced.

                It's easiest to do this in the beginning without stirrups, but as you progress you can subtly check by lifting your legs while your feet are still in the stirrups. There is a feeling of being behind the vertical, but if you check, you'll usually find you're still leaning forward. It takes time to "reset" and bring yourself into balance, and stay there.

                And of course it's difficult for your horse to raise his head and shift his weight back if you're leaning on him.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Beau Peep View Post

                  What could help me to reteach myself how to carry myself when on a horse?
                  Boobs up, shoulders down and back!
                  2012 goal: learn to ride like a Barn Rat

                  A helmet saved my life.


                  • #10
                    Oh boy. I feel your pain. And I'm literally in pain from last night's longe lesson working on just this problem

                    Sitting back and OPENING up - as in open the hips and the shoulders - is a good reminder for me.

                    Check where you're gripping with your leg, too - I tend to grab with my upper inner thigh instead of using my seat and back of the thigh. I also pinch with the knee. This tips me forward, especially at the canter. Last night's lesson included lots of "airplane arms" at the canter with no stirrups to get me to really balance in the saddle.

                    My trainer is also having me focus on a light, supple contact with my calf on the horse, keeping the ankles relaxed but the leg always in position and touching the horse. Helps keep me from grabbing at the knee.

                    And if your horse gets heavy in your hands or roots, really strengthen that core and HOLD your position. Apply leg, apply a half halt, and push forward. You can have elastic elbows and still sit nice and tall and balanced. It's like that quote from Dirty Dancing: "This is your dance space, this is MY dance space". Keep your dance space


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bayou Roux View Post
                      One clinician recently gave me the tip of pretending that you are the big-bellied sheriff walking (ching-ching-ching) into the bar to make a pompous announcement-- guns on hips swinging, but mostly soft belly first.

                      Trying to imitate that posture got me up and vertical like my own trainer has been trying for months...it's funny what image works...

                      And now, every time I find myself leaning forward, I sing Paul Simon's "..beer-belly, beer-belly" from You Can Call Me Al and get right back at it...
                      Now THAT is a funny mental image. One thing that gets in the way of me sitting up straight is, ironically, that very image that my belly is sticking out in front of me! I need to just go with it .


                      • #12
                        ride down some steep hills. it has helped me alot and I didn't realize it!
                        A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.--G. K. Chesterton


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks so much for your replies!

                          One thing:

                          I tend to be able to find that special place, but can't hold myself there. Or I can't keep the horse soft when I'm there. I feel like my hands become useless as soon as I'm that far away from the horse's mouth, and come back forward to start working on getting the head down and mouth soft again.



                          • #14
                            Time, time, and more time in the saddle Sometimes I feel like I've been sweating it out for 40 minutes for 3 strides of glory when I finally get "that feeling". That's the curse of dressage.

                            Also, best not to think about it in terms of:

                            working on getting the head down and mouth soft again.
                            Think about getting the horse to work from the back to the front - the head eventually takes care of itself. If your horse isn't used to carrying him/herself in a more "dressagey" frame it's going to take a while until he figures it out. There will be lots of head and neck movement until he gets his balance and really starts to look for contact. The steadier you are in your seat and core, the easier it will be for you to ask him to soften and supple.


                            • #15
                              Fellow hunter-dressage convert here and I've been dealing with the same thing!!!

                              I noticed that when I tried to "position" myself correctly and really thought about it a whole lot while I was riding, that translated to tension. It's very difficult to hold the position and ride effectively when you're only there because you're "holding" your body in that position. You end up feeling unstable, ineffective, and those shoulders creep forward as the tension in your hips tightens you up.

                              OK, so let's wipe all those thoughts away and start thinking about how to feel good in the more upright position!

                              I love the sherriff image. He's swaggering, his hips are loose and he's leading with them, he probably had some whiskey earlier and would love to melt his seat into the saddle. I think I'm going to start using that image.

                              The one I've been using until now is my buddha belly leading the way.

                              Either way, your hips are loose and the angle is open and relaxed (opening and closing loosely as your horse moves, and so relaxed the hips move side to side, front and back with the horse's motion), your seat melts comfortably into the saddle while your thighs hang long and relaxed. Your shoulders are relaxed, open and hanging down not because you put them that way, but because that's what gravity helps them do if you just relax them. Think about a cross-your-heart bra with the criss cross straps behind your shoulders gently helping them stay open and back if that helps you, but not if it creates tension.

                              Coming from hunters, I was always very conscious of my body and having it look a certain way. I tried to carry that through to dressage, but found that was tension, and could never work. When I finally relaxed, allowed my body to be in NATURAL balance and move and swish with my horse like a willow tree moving with the breeze, strong but flexible, THEN that's when I started finally riding better. When I get tense because my horse starts acting up, I still revert and find myself tight again, but that's getting more and more rare. It's a matter of making the new, relaxed position your "home base" and that just takes practice.

                              Good luck!


                              • #16
                                Oh, my - is this ever my personal bugbear!

                                For me, the collapsing forward is a result of leaning over my hands, which I tend to carry far too low. It ends up with me in a semi-fetal position with my trainer yelling, "Sit UP!".

                                Correcting this hasn't happened completely yet, but consciously thinking about my hands, elbows, arms, and shoulders has made a big difference, and during the warmup for my last lesson, I was told there was a lot of improvement. This, along with the mental image of someone having dropped an ice cube down the back of my shirt, has helped immensely. For me, this is all an upper body relaxation issue.


                                • #17
                                  Sometimes it can be your saddle too. I have ridden in saddles that I simply cannot sit up in because of how my pelvis is shaped. Some saddles push your seat bones up too much, leaving no option but to lean forward.

                                  Can you post pictures?


                                  • #18
                                    First of all..

                                    if your horse really is on his forehand and the front end is low, you do have to be careful about not sitting too far back w/your upper body and therefore getting behind the horses center of gravity. "sitting up" won't magically pull your horses forehand up, no matter how hard you try to do it. So there is something here to consider. We don't ride babies in the same upper body posture as we do a horse who is balanced. You have to *start* where the horse is at. So you might not be all that far off.. what has to change is where you are going w/this.

                                    The first change from riding a hunter to riding a dressage horse is usually the change in your hip angle. Think of when you fold down over a jump.. that is when your hip angle is closed. Now think of unfolding.. and unfolding MORE. Until the front of your hips is vertical, you cannot really "sit up". You can do a lot of other things by accident but you cannot stack your upper body over your lower body until your lower body is correct. So focus here, not on your upper body for now.

                                    Once you have that feeling, start thinking about pushing your upper body towards an invisible wall in front of you, that starts at your now open hip flexors. You'll find that when you do this, your shoulders loosen and can drop down the back of your body. Your bra straps will loosen when you do it correctly. And you will find that suddenly your hands are independent of your body. You may also think you are *dying* because it takes a fair amount of core strength to do this. Or maybe you are really fit and you're thinking WOW, this is so easy! I hope the latter for you.

                                    Do this at the halt first, and then ask your horse to walk off. The first instinct is to collapse because you have to move w/the horse. Don't do that. Let only your seatbones move and you stay where you belong. In fact, you can repeat this to yourself.. I STAY WHERE I BELONG. If you start grabbing w/your legs to stay here, pull them out sideways from the hip and then let them lay back down. Wiggle your toes and don't push into your stirrup. Voila! You now look like a dressage rider and you are at least part way there. I'm not going to follow thru into trotting other than to say that your knee joint is a pivot for your pelvis and your ankle is a pivot for your knee and you'll need to keep wiggling your toes and thinking about that wall as you post forward. Have fun!
                                    "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                    • #19
                                      These things are my check list:
                                      -seat bones being pointed straight down, and do not arch your back the way it can be so often espoused in hunter seat. Comment intended to achieve a nice posture, but it's in the end working against you.

                                      -tummy or belt buckle leading, but don't let your tummy just hang -- keep some muscle tone in there or it will be bad for your spine.

                                      -head and neck back.

                                      And driving and sitting -- be really vigilant here, b/c thhose things can be really rough on your posture. Use a lumbar support pillow!

                                      It's all do-able!


                                      • #20
                                        You've gotten some good suggestions here... but here are some things (based on what I've heard) that I would check:

                                        1) Does your saddle put your leg too far forward? If it does, your butt will be too far back, and you will constantly be adjusting to stay balanced by leaning forward.

                                        2) Are your elbows stiff/locked? Generally I don't like to tell people to bend their elbows and lift their hands up but... if you're riding a young horse, (you say yours tends to get low, and on the forehand), some people achieve the soft mouth by lowering their hands, getting stiff in the elbows, and messing too much with the reins. Making your hands low and wide can be a helpful technique at points, but it shouldn't be your normal hand position. Pick your hands up, bend your elbows. It may very well help you sit up.

                                        3) This goes hand in hand with #2 (and also with young horses on the forehand). Make sure the engine is going. I mean REALLY going. Think about landing and airplane... you sit up, the nose goes up, and the BUTT MUST COME UNDER. Ultimately, that is how you get him off his forehand. Not really by lifting the poll... but by getting his hind legs under him. So make sure he's going!