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Conformation issues.. of the human variety.

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  • Conformation issues.. of the human variety.

    As the title indicates, I am struggling with my own conformation issues. I recently got stuck in a nasty cycle of negativity surrounding my riding and thought "I know! Let me grab a book to give me some purpose going into my next ride!"... yep, fail.

    I picked up "Balanced Riding: A Way to find the Correct Seat" by Pegotty Henriques - and instead of giving me new purpose, it gave me more to perseverate on. Namely, I have a LONG upper body and SHORT legs, especially from knee to ankle. Something I am keenly aware of.

    I open the book and promptly read "Possibly the most difficult shape is a long upper body combined with a short, fat leg, which causes top-heaviness." D'oh. But.. nothing further.

    I have read and heard this sentiment often for the past 21 years. I'd like to learn what others do to compensate for their own conformation deficiencies. I can read plenty of books that tell me I'm not built to be a rider, but rather, a corgi, however I find a distinct shortage of resources that discuss actually WORKING WITH these kind of.. shortcomings (ha.. ha). So tell me, not just riders with long upper bodies and short legs, but all different traits that make riding correctly more challenging - what have you struggled with, what AH-HA moments have you had, what resources are out there?

    I'll start. For me, balance OF is hard even when I am fit. My AH-HA moment came in a Doug Payne clinic in 2011, where he told me to put my feet "on the dashboard" to help maintain a centered position and not get ahead of the motion. I think of that before every fence, and my position and security have definitely improved. It was also my first revelation that maybe I can't ride a fence the same way a long-legged, short-trunked, more elegantly shaped rider can.. but that there are things I can do to work with my shape.

  • #2
    Thank you! I am similarly shaped, and have beat myself up over it since forever. Tall, willowy, long-legged just does. not. happen. in my family. We're all short, huge of bone (my ring size -- on NOT FAT fingers -- is larger than my husband's), and have short round legs. I'm 5'2" if I stretch, and I'm BONY if I weigh 120 pounds.

    I wish I could tell you my "tips" but I don't have any, beyond work with a trainer who "gets" your conformation challenges. Instructor shows me how to hold the whip across my thigh and maintain correct hand position, except I can't do it because my g-ddamn thigh is the size of China? Show me a different way, or you're useless. You might have to find someone who's built the same way as you are, but they are few and far between.
    You have to have experiences to gain experience.

    1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


    • #3
      On the bright side, your short legs help give you your absolutely fabulous leg position over jumps! I envy that.


      • #4
        Try to find top riders to emulate. Really - a mental image can make such a difference.

        I'm not sure of how to picture you exactly - but what about Margie Engle? She is just over 5 feet tall but does not appear to have that long an upper body in comparison to her legs.

        Also have you seen the book How Good Riders Get Good? There is a lot of practical advice about what you CAN do to improve your riding (obviously leg extensions are out!)

        You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


        • #5
          I have the same build-- I am 5'3 and have a hard time finding jeans short enough. I actually don't find it especially problematic over fences (which is not to say I don't have questionable equitation sometimes, but I don't think it's related to my body type!)

          Where I struggle is in the dressage-- sometimes I feel like I can't get my arms out in front of me and still bend my elbows, and I definitely struggle to get my leg around the horse in ways that I'm sure William Fox-Pitt doesn't. Lots of sitting trot without stirrups helps with that.

          So does, realistically, having horses that "fit" me-- Apollo, my retired Prelim horse, is a slab-sided 16.1, Freeman, who is currently doing Training, is a very long narrow 17 hands. Colby, my just starting out baby, is a compact, chunky 15.2-- and he is sooo much easier in some ways because I am just in the right place on him all the time.


          • #6
            Totally agree with you, Highflyer!

            You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


            • Original Poster

              I didn't expect to see others chime in with the same build as me - that makes me feel better already!

              Blugal - the link didn't work, but I will Google her! I have been told P Dutty & Buck are two to look at. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm good enough to emulate some of their more stylish moves.

              This is how I am built:

              What I look like in an 18" saddle with my midget legs (yes, my heel barely comes past an AP saddle pad..)
              A good representation of where I started OF
              More recently OF.. an improvement (now to get my horse to jump OVER a jump and not at it...)
              Yeah, check out that graceful leg!.. in my dressage saddle with 14" flaps.. and just my overall stylish getup

              And Colleen! You're crazy if you think my leg HELPS me OF! I just don't post the horrible pictures


              • #8
                First, I think you're being unnecessarily hard on yourself. You are trim and have a good relaxed heel and I think you look very nice on a horse. If you hadn't taken pains to criticize your "getup", I would never have noticed. What's wrong with it, anyway?

                Second, what purpose is there in lamenting something we have no control over? Define some things that are WITHIN YOUR CONTROL and focus on those. Wrong "body type"? Pfft. Completely unhelpful as it's simply someone's opinion and not something that is amenable to change anyway.

                EVERYBODY has things they don't like about their body. Some of these things can be changed, and some cannot. Why waste mental energy (particularly the negative kind) on the latter? I have a crooked back, and it's getting worse as I get older. I could have an 8 hour operation and spend a year out of the saddle, and look "better" according to what the normal human shape ought to be, or I could live with the weird shape, which doesn't bother me otherwise (no pain) and just . . . live with it. No brainer.

                What are some things about your riding that bug you that do NOT have to do with your leg length? My non-spine things are uneven hands, a tendency to gun for the long spot, and a lack of patience. None of them easy to fix, but a whole lot easier to work with than a back full of hardware!

                Ain't nobody perfect. Trying to fix the unfixable is like spinning your wheels.
                Click here before you buy.


                • #9
                  Good lord OP, you look wonderful!

                  Yes, you have a tall upper body. But it's a slender, elegant upper body. Those of us built like Sponge Bob, with boobs, do not have anything elegant.

                  Ok, your lower leg is short, but again, you have a really nice position.

                  The only thing that will make your leg "ride" longer, is well, decades with no stirrups, with your legs hanging down your horse's side like two tube socks of wet sand, just h a n g i n g there getting l o n g e r. If you do this often enough during your flat work, two things will happen. You'll have to lower your stirrups when you pick them back up and, wait for it, your core strength will improve, which will help you control your upper body. WFP has an insanely long, tall upper body, and while I'm sure the long legs help, that's still a lot of body up there over his horse.

                  I'm 5'3", built not like a ballerina, or even a gymnast. If I was a guy, I'd be a somewhat shorter, smaller version of Buck Davidson. His dressage, is, well, not ridden with elegance, rather with determination and focus. His xc rounds are ridden with bold, athletic skill. He can canter a show jumping course like he's doing the "A" hunters, lovely. His father, a completely different body type, is the epitome of elegance. It is, no doubt, easier for someone, just as it is for a horse, with the conformation suited for the job.

                  I see nothing wrong with your position. Work without stirrups both on the flat and o/f will make you stronger, find a schoolie to practice on if your own horse is too hot.

                  You look like a lovely rider, there will be times over big or hairy fences, that you'll either swoosh your bottom out the back door or hunch your back over to get where you need to be to get to the other side.

                  As long as you don't interfere with your horse, and can land going away, it's all good.

                  Some people with short legs prefer slab sided horses. I have short legs and feel most secure on something with a very wide barrel, takes up my legs and seems to require much less work for me to stay where I belong.

                  Good luck and have fun.


                  • Original Poster

                    Thank you Delta & 2ndyr, I really appreciate both of your comments.

                    Delta - I am always unnecessarily hard on myself. I rock through life with OCD, and this is something I genuinely struggle with. I did have my trainer put it quite eloquently, yet plainly to me in my last lesson. It went something like "Stop. Just stop. You need to be able to accept a 2, and praise a 2 [out of 10 response]. Think of how frustrating it is to HIM if he only gets praised for 10's. You've got to accept a 2 before you can get to 10." That has stuck with me, and your comments resonate. Thank you.

                    As for things not having to do with my leg - stiff in my shoulders and arms, particularly being heavy in the left rein - those are the things I need to work on.

                    2ndyr - Well, just plain thank you for your compliments, I really appreciate the kind words and will remember them. I agree with you that I actually felt a little more secure on my 16.2 HUGE BARRELED dude (in the not-so-good jump over the bench), er, more like a weeble wobble (weebles wobble but they won't flal down..), but that may also have something to do with the fact that when he stopped, he just kind of puttered out, whereas my new guy.. BOOM dropped shoulder C YA MOM!


                    • Original Poster

                      Originally posted by Highflyer View Post
                      sometimes I feel like I can't get my arms out in front of me and still bend my elbows
                      YES, YES, YESSSSSSSS!

                      One minute: Shorten your reins!
                      Next minute: Bend your elbows!
                      Me: PICK ONE!


                      • #12
                        stiff in my shoulders and arms, particularly being heavy in the left rein
                        Hey, me too!
                        Click here before you buy.


                        • Original Poster

                          In that case, I consider myself in good company.

                          Originally posted by deltawave View Post
                          Hey, me too!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by 2ndyrgal View Post
                            Yes, you have a tall upper body. But it's a slender, elegant upper body. Those of us built like Sponge Bob, with boobs, do not have anything elegant.
                            OK, when people say "you owe me a keyboard" I admit I just kind of roll my eyes and think, yeah, yeah, exageration. But you know what? You owe me a keyboard! LOL I literally put chocolate milk all over my keyboard.

                            Spongebob with boobs. LOL

                            OP, try being 5'9" with the long torso, short leg, particularly from the knee down, and having big boobs. Makes it even tougher. But keeping that heel down and keeping a touch closer to the saddle with the hiney is what helped me the most. And learning to wait for my horses to jump to me. Actually, no, learning to gallop racehorses helped me the most, but that is what caused me to learn to really keep my weight in my heel.


                            You look like a lovely, fit rider.


                            • #15
                              We should all look so good!
                              You are being way too hard on yourself! I think you look pretty darn nice!


                              • #16
                                OP, try being 5'9" with the long torso, short leg, particularly from the knee down, and having big boobs. Makes it even tougher. But keeping that heel down and keeping a touch closer to the saddle with the hiney is what helped me the most. And learning to wait for my horses to jump to me. Actually, no, learning to gallop racehorses helped me the most, but that is what caused me to learn to really keep my weight in my heel.
                                I don't have the big boobs, but I have the extra tummy from having kids, plus 5'9" height which is all in my back. I have the hands, arms, legs and feet of someone under 5', and though my legs are short for my height (4" shorter inseam than my husband who is the same height) it's worse still because my length of leg is all hip to knee.

                                I am a tyrannosaur without a tail.

                                To have bend in my elbow my arms are much higher than the average bear. I too used to get the "lower your hands" "now bend your elbows" "now lower your hands" shpiel. One instructor finally came and tried to move my arms around and said "oh my god, you really can't do it."

                                People keep trying to shorten my stirrups, which I totally get, but that *totally* unbalances me further.

                                After years of struggling...I'm now mainly riding western...where none of that matters!! Lol!!!

                                Sorry that's not more helpful, but you are in very good company!!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by ake987 View Post
                                  YES, YES, YESSSSSSSS!

                                  One minute: Shorten your reins!
                                  Next minute: Bend your elbows!
                                  Me: PICK ONE!
                                  Ha I always am this one! I always get be elastic and relaxed but shorten your reins! Then I feel like I'm totally straight armed!

                                  My worst is the head tilt I can't seem to feel! Tongue comes out when I concentrate, head tilts, shoulder drops, etc. But I have NO IDEA I'm doing it.


                                  • #18
                                    OP, have you tried a smaller jump saddle? Your saddle looks lovely, but is very large for you. Perhaps something a little better contoured to you would lend some more security. In the last pic it looks like your irons are touching the bottom of the flap, so you're kind of swimming in leather. I'll gladly trade you; I've got my knee going over the front and my boot catching on the bottom of the flap. Grr!
                                    Just a thought.
                                    As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.


                                    • #19
                                      Ok, I'll confess to having long legs and a short torso. However, that torso is about 95% boob. I've been compared to Dolly Parton morer times than I'd like to admit. Plus, I'm 6', on the fat side of chubby, unathletic, and supremely uncoordinated with ZERO natural eye for a distance. Trust me, we've all got issues!

                                      It's extra important for me to keep my core strong and maintain good posture. Boy do I feel it if Iget in front of my horse. I'm also not overly concerned with one stirrup or rein length, because that all depends on the horse's conformation and how my gorilla arms mesh with that.

                                      And a little advice from someone who is her own harshest critic.....sometimes it's best not to read too much. It'll give you too many things to obsess about. I tend to get very upset about the small things. Instead try very hard to let that part of your brain go (easier said than done, I know!). Things will eventually fall into place and make sense, I promise.

                                      You and your horse make a lovely pair!
                                      I love my Econo-Nag!


                                      • #20

                                        I know you might laugh at me for comparing you and your trainer as similar body types, but she does have a long torso compared to her legs! She does have the advantage of having some semblance of legs, but I remember hearing Lucinda instructing your trainer about "being careful of your long torso." So maybe ask your trainer what helps her?

                                        Like others have said, lots of no stirrup work will help your leg no matter how long or short it is. Just last night, I realized I've been slacking and need to kick them off more often!

                                        I think your position looks lovely, but I know how it goes. It looks nice to all of us, but you feel awkward/crooked/frumpy and can pick out all the tiny mistakes. I do it all.the.time. Especially in OF photos!

                                        Me, I can't help you with your particular problem as I'm built the exact opposite! But I assure you I struggle in my own ways, like finding an event saddle for my freakishly long thigh on my 5'6" frame (though at my barn we seem to all have that genetic mutation going on....hmmm, something in the water?). And finding a vest that fits over my Dolly Parton boobs. And my massive overarch in my back, both on the flat and jumping. Or sitting too far back in my saddle when I get tense. Or always having my reins too dang long... see we all have our faults, it's good to take notice of them to improve them, but not to dwell on them!