I can appreciate the way the cowboys rode eons ago, it worked for them and what they do. However, I''m not a cowboy and horses have become SO TECHNICAL over that past decades, that training them to use their bodies and carry themselves effectively with balance from tail to nose....the rider needs a balanced and centered seat. There is NO way I can use my leg effectually with it shot out in front of me because ALL of my cues come from my lower leg and balanced/centered seat bones. For cowboys, who are chasing cows and want to use a "driving seat", it would be right...It's not about "sitting pretty" at all....as someone else said earlier. It's about being an effective rider.
Actually, I agree with you. For certain demanding sorts of riding, such as dressage and WP and probably a number of other horse sports, you are right. One half of my signature is "b) does your seat enable you to control your horse efficiently?"
So if you need your heel under your hip to give effective control of your horse for your riding, then that IS the right place for your heel!
And if someone can drape a relaxed leg around their horse in such a manner that their heel is under their hip, and if their spine can absorb the motion of the horse while their body is in a straight line shoulder - hip - heel, that is fine too.
From my perspective as a somewhat beginning rider (5 years), watching the others in my family learn to ride, I consider that position an advanced refinement in riding. I do not doubt it is right for dressage, WP, or that some find it a more comfortable way to ride and control their horse. I'm glad
they are making saddles that work with that position.
I have a shelf full of books saying it is the ONLY right riding position. I have books for beginners that say that is how everyone needs to ride. Yet with time, I've noticed that almost no one rode that way prior to 1960. I've probably seen over a thousand historical pictures of riding, and no more than 5% of them involve riders with a vertical alignment.
That motivated me to experiment, and I've found good reasons why many men at least might want to avoid that position when learning to ride. In fact, the number of posts on HF about how difficult it is to sit the trot or canter indicates to me that maybe a lot of women should avoid it as well, at least until they have a LOT of experience and are starting to ride well-trained horses in demanding situations.
Here are some advantages of that position, from the perspective of someone who is not highly experienced and does not ride ten hours a day.
Notice this Internet picture of a bareback rider:
Look at the leg position. That is pretty common with bareback riders, although some learn to ride bareback with heels back. Why is it common?
My guess is that it is an easy way to drape your leg around the shape of the horse. When I try it, it puts my knee in the right spot so that my knee bends a little and my legs follow the barrel of the horse easily. In experimenting this last week, I've realized WHY I like my stirrup leathers a certain length. In that saddle, on Mia, that length puts my knee where it can follow the curve of her sides. Raise it, and it pulls my thigh slightly away from her. Lower it, and I have to straighten my leg to keep contact with the stirrup, and it drives my lower leg away from her. I don't ride around squeezing Mia, but she has spooked a lot (but is getting MUCH better) and I don't like having my lower leg too far from her body.
If I were bowlegged, it might be different. If I had more flexible hips, it might be different. But most beginning riders are not bowlegged, and many have to struggle with tension in their hips causing them to pinch with their knee. At least in my experience, it is very hard to grip with the knee in this position. It is very easy to keep a relaxed leg draped around the body of my horse, heels down, not gripping anywhere. And from my experience and reading HF, I think that is a common problem with inexperienced riders. BTW - I will probably always be an inexperienced rider
. One of the points Littauer makes is that for a non-genius, it may take 4-6 hours a day of riding to become truly good, and many people do not have the desire or time to invest. Therefor, he argued that some simplification of good riding was needed for those who liked riding, but liked riding 3-4 hours/week - and that describes me. He believed a more dedicated rider could learn greater refinement and thus get better results, but only if they had the time and inclination to spend lots of hours in the saddle.
Another advantage for the less experienced/dedicated rider is one I've tried to illustrate in the photo below:
I hurt my back riding Mia shortly after I got her, and had to give up jogging for 4 years because it hurt my back too much. I finally have succeeded in jogging again last March...up to about 20-22 minutes 4 times a week now! Well below 40 minutes/day, but I'm improving.
However, there are a lot of posts on HF about how sitting the trot or canter requires a strong core. Folks recommend Pilates. Some say it may take months or years for you to get strong enough and flexible enough to do so. And if you are trying to absorb or move with the horse's vertical motion using a vertical position with a spine that does not compress vertically, that may well be true.
However, what I've discovered is that I can also follow my horse's motion by using the flexibiity God has given almost everyone who gets on a horse - the ability to bend at the waist. With your legs as above, your body is bent slightly at the waist. As the horse's back moves up and forward, you can straighten at the waist and follow the horse's back. And then follow it down again. Once again, this position allows someone who lacks a very flexible back or a very strong core to go with their horse's motion in the trot and canter.
I rode Mia in my Bates Caprilli CC saddle yesterday for the first time in over a year. I mostly rode it with a forward seat, which is how the saddle was designed to be used. But when we cantered, I thought I'd try feet forward, rump in the saddle, moving with her by straightening and bending at my hip. I expected her to flick her ears back in annoyance because I assumed the smaller and narrower support at the rear of the English saddle would dig into her loins.
I was wrong. Her ears stayed full forward. She cantered eagerly, although not as forward in her balance as she sometimes is. She is an expressive mare, but she seemed totally content. And my seat stayed in my saddle, although one of my complaints about Bates & CAIR has been how bouncy the saddle can be.
There is a LOT
of advice in books, the Internet and given by experienced trainers saying bsms is bs
ms. I haven't seen a single book explaining the results I get when I ride like this. I am totally in the minority in the modern world of riding, although almost everyone used this approach 50 years ago. However, I think a lot of riders and a lot of horses are ill-served by the emphasis on a vertical line from shoulder to hip to heel.
I am not in any way questioning how an experienced rider competing in a sport or simply riding in the way easiest for her might want to ride. I do object to the assumption that the Great Vertical Line is the best way for everyone to ride, or a more effective approach for all riders. Many experienced riders ignore that rule (jumpers, polo, cutters, etc). But many inexperienced riders - and I think anyone who doesn't ride more than 3-4 hours/week in some ways qualifies, as I always will - might want to think about using the joints of their body in a way that makes it easy to drape around their horse and move with their horse.
The riders who spend 6+ hours/day can ride any way they want. I'm not qualified to tell them anything about how they ride. But as a beginner, and as someone who doesn't ride more than 4 hours/week, I am
in a position to tell them their students may need a different approach than what works for someone who was born on a horse or who makes a living with horses.
Sorry for the long post. Given how many new riders have problems with sitting a trot or canter, I think what I've learned the hard way is worth thinking about. And just because I like her, here is a picture of Mia at the end of yesterday's ride