The importance of good equitation?
Since I can remember, my riding position has been fairly appalling, probably due to picking up bad habits very young and not being able to shake them. I've no doubt that it's gotten worse in the last five or six years as I have not had any lessons.
A friend took some pictures of me riding on Monday and as per usual, I thought my position was cringeworthy. "Jesus, I look like that?" :? The thing is that it all still works. The horse does what I want her to do when I want her to do it, we can work at the level we want, I haven't any trouble with unwanted or resistant behaviour but if she does get hot or spooky (rare, but it happens now and again), I have no problems with riding it out. As long as no photos are involved, I think everything is fine!
A couple years ago I got into reading Mark Rashid's stuff and thinking about energy and softness and all these kinds of things and that made a HUGE difference in how my horse went. He talks a great deal about becoming mindful of where you are braced in your body and mind and instead create softness. The horse will follow softness and be soft in kind (well, mine did what it said on the tin anyway). It made more of a difference than my ten years of dressage lessons with trainers shouting "heels down!" every five minutes. My lower leg positioned remained crap but my horse, like good whisky, has only ever improved with age. I'm not sure how. I must be doing something right.
So I suppose I'm toying with the question of, do I worry about this? Do I spend yet more effort in fixing it or really, who cares? Is good equitation all it's made out to be? Can you get away with not having any of it?
Or is it like fiddle technique? I also play Irish traditional music and know lots of fiddle players whose technique would make a classical violinist wince, but they can nonetheless play Irish dance tunes beautifully. The requirements of that sort of music are quite different and while you may need classical technique to get through Paganini's Etudes, you don't need it to get through some Irish reels. Trad players who have classical training say it helps, but you can happily get away with not having it so long as you have the sound and control you want over the instrument.
I have no ambition to ride Grand Prix or any kind of FEI level dressage and I'm unlikely to ever show again, as I don't like it and can't be bothered.
I'm just rambling, putting thoughts out there rather than looking for advice on solving a problem. As I said, I don't think my horse (surely the only one who's opinion actually matters!) sees a problem. Yesterday, as she was cruising through her dressage gears around the arena, I was thinking how smooth and soft everything was going in spite of my horrible position. The only time I felt communication got sticky was when I tried to jam my heels down. :D
And many that show....can not train.
Don't lose any sleep over this one!!!
Yes and no.
Without knowing how you ride, no one can say if your riding style inhibits you.
Heels down, all other things being equal, is good. But "I tried to jam my heels down" is bad, because jamming your heels down creates tension, while the whole point of heels down is to reduce tension and create an extra way to absorb shock.
Without specifics, there is no way of knowing if you are right or wrong. Maybe you have a very forgiving horse. Maybe you are better than you think. How are we to know?
There is a reason that there are 'ideal' positions in disciplines, because they are the most effective when you need to apply aids. In dressage, we ride very upright, with long stirrups, ear-shoulder-hip-heel in line and so on.
This is because this position is the most effective for the discipline. If you're leaning forward, your pelvis will be blocked and cannot follow softly with the horse's movement. If you grip with your knees and draw your heel up, you block the horse's shoulder, lift your seat out of the saddle and are not able to apply such suble and effective leg and seat aids. Look down and you immediately place significantly more weight on the horse's forehand, making it harder to bring them off the forehand. Ride with straight elbows and you lose the connection to the bit and cannot feel the mouth or apply light and subtle aids.
Certainly, you can get the horse working well, to an extent, with a terrible position, but eventually it catches up with you and limits how well you can train and ride.
there is a purpose for equitation other than to look good. for example, it looks better to have your leg just behind the girth with your heel down and all over a jump but it also keeps you in place and helps keep you out of your horses way. same goes for a lot of other elements of good position. i know a lot of people who don't care about equitation but good equitation makes you a more effective and elegant rider and its definitely worth the time and effort to work on.
not all professionals have perfect form but most of the very successful ones have many good attributes and have the talent and training and years of expertise to make up for their shortcomings.
Thank you for posting this. I have the trainer slump, from paying too much attention on the horse instead of my posture. My leg is appropriate but extremely useful and quiet for cues, as are my hands. I am ready for a spook to the right, a screetching halt, quite possibly a buck, or maybe a refusal, but I am not ready for eq!! I was trained english h/j and HATED my eq classes when I showed. When you ride crazies and bad horses, you learn to be extremely quiet and connected. Personally, I am anti-half chap. I think they are just in style and make people too loud with their calves that should be utilized for soft cues, instead people are using them for sticking to the saddle. I hope I don't start a realm of half chap lovers disagreeing, because that's just my opinion.
When a dedicated rider has years of solid lessons from a great trainer, and they go off on their own tangent, its amazing what you can discover, that you will may never learn from another person. So I have a horse that will ride and jump without a bridle in the ring, goes just as well in a halter as a snaffle, and I must only use my ring fingers to communicate with his mouth, sometimes even on the trail. There are plenty of us out there, that will never go back to eq, and that is okay. We know what it should look like, but there are more important priorities! Good for you!!
I don't think you should worry about it at all. If or when you fail to get our horse to perform as you wish, then you might have another lesson - with a trainer you like. And then, the trainer might correct the one thing in your riding style that is inhibiting doing what you want to achieve. But until then, you're happy, the horse is happy, why worry?
On this board there is demonstrated a massive range of different riding styles; barrel racing, reining, trail riding, English Hunter jumper in North America, English saddle seat (whatever that is), English as ridden by the English, and so on. 8 years ago on holiday in Argentina I saw an old gaucho ride - I suspect he'd never had a lesson in his life, he was more at one with his horse than anyone I've ever met. And he wasn't worrying what he looked like in photos.
Well, you can count me in as one who appreciates the extra stick of half chaps. And they make me look cool, if such a thing is possible. However, I can see your point. They could be a crutch for us half crippled riders.
OP, if I could ride with as much softness as you describe, I would not care a whit for EQ. Unless you must come under the eye of the judge, if it works, then why worry.
the thing is, that one can always learn more. I though that I had pretty soft hands, but I recently had a lesson where I was made aware of how very far I can improve, still.
I agree that there's a point at which lousy equitation will hold you back. That was the idea underlying my violin playing metaphor. If you want to play Paganini or Mozart well, you need solid classical technique. But if folky fiddle is your aim, you need far less of it.
My horse is going to be 19 in May (yikes!) and I've had her for over twelve years. I like to think that if she were going to develop any dodgy bad habits, she would have done so by now. She at any rate always seems to be improving in her self-carriage and flexibility, while I muddle along and try to keep up. Horsey also tells me when I'm bracing or doing something which blocks the energy or weighing down her forehand so those sorts of things are improving under her expert tuition. These days, in the absence of instruction or even a mirror, I'm always working towards what feels good but may or may not be "correct."
I rode in paddock boots and half chaps for years. Then my lovely Ariat half-chaps literally fell apart and I decided I was too cheap to replace them, so I rode in paddock boots alone until my Mountain Horse paddock boots that had only cost me $30 in the States gave up the ghost. At which point I bought a pair of £10 wellies. They're actually really horrible and at some point I'm going to get these wellies that are designed specifically for riders.
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