RATE MY RIDE
by Julie Christie and Jonathon Holland
Our first picture submission arrived and it is a great one to evaluate!
Background: the horse and rider are working towards western dressage and have been in training for approximately three and a half years.
Overall Impressions: The pair appear to be working on a collected jog and seem to be soft, confident, and polished. The horse does not appear worried, forced, or tense. In addition, the rider has her hands nicely in front of the saddle, allowing a soft rein.
Rider position: The rider is clearly a capable and experienced horse woman. She is sitting in the middle of the saddle and her back is in neutral spine (not hollow or round). I would, however, like to improve her front-to-back balance. My favorite way to assess rider balance is to imagine that if the horse was to disappear from underneath the rider and ask myself ‘where would the rider land?’. It should be on the feet, but sometimes riders would land on their bum or face instead. In the picture we are examining, the rider would land on her bum. This is because her feet are too far forward. I suspect that this happened in an effort to push her heels down. She has very flexible ankles and can get her heels down quite low, but I would rather see her foot more underneath her pelvis than her heel so low. The rider’s hands are at an appropriate position but I notice that her right hand is further forward than the left hand. I would prefer to see the inside rein (the left one, in this instance) be the giving/more forward rein. Dressage trainers often tell their students about the importance of riding from the ‘inside leg to the outside rein’ and to give with the inside rein. This means that the inside leg and seat are responsible for creating the bend, not the inside rein.
Horse: The horse is well-groomed and presented quite nicely. The horse has accepted the riders hand and is moving in a lovely frame. However, I would caution that the horse is on the verge of being behind the vertical in the face. An easy cure to this would be to ask for more forward propulsion and engagement of the hind quarters, without more restriction from the hand. One must always remember that we do NOT ask the horse to be ‘on the bit’ with our hands, but rather with our lower aids. The impulsion and engagement should be created with the leg and seat while the hands are responsible for harnessing that energy. I would also like to see the horse stepping through more fully with its hind leg. Even at the jog, we mustn’t allow the horse to shorten its step and drop its back (note- this is a general comment and the pictured horse is not dropping its back). It is even more important in the slower, more collected gates to be sure that the back is lifted and hindquarters are properly engaged.
Tack/Equipment: The overall appearance of the rider is fairly neat and workmanlike. I would point out that the smooth, shiny chaps bring attention to the riders legs, in this case highlighting the forward leg position. I would also like to see the heel of the chaps trimmed closer to the length of the actual heel of the boot. Years ago, it was very vogue for western riders to have heel drops on their chaps quite long in order to help give the appearance of low heel. However, it can create a swinging distraction that is unnecessary and usually unflattering. An inch or two of heel drop on the chap is plenty. When not wearing a helmet or a hat, both of which help to contain the riders hair, (although I still ALWAYS recommend a good bun and hair net regardless) attention to the riders hair is necessary. It looks as if a portion of this rider’s hair is in a high set bun and the rest is loose and unkempt. One must always be aware that loose swinging or flopping ANYTHING is always an unflattering distraction, and that includes hair. This same principal would apply to the saddle pad and tassels on the rear corners, which I would prefer were not there. While her tack appears VERY clean, I wonder if she might benefit from trying a saddle that is a ½-1 inch larger in the seat. She is up against the cantle of the saddle with her bum, and it does not appear that there is much room between the swell and her thigh. A general rule of thumb should be 3-4 inches between the swell of the saddle and the rider’s thigh. You might be surprised at how much more freedom you have in your legs and seat with a larger saddle. It might even help get those legs more underneath you.
About the Authors: Julie and Jonathon are both faculty in the equine science program at Rochester Community and Technical College. RCTC offers one and two year degrees in Riding & Training, Horse Husbandry, and Equine Studies. Julie is an FEI dressage rider and trainer and Jonathon has been a competitive western rider and trainer for many years.