Our first rider needs to go back to the basics, relearning why her form is important to help her horse use his jumping mechanism. In this photo, almost everything she is doing puts her in opposition to what she has asked her horse to do. She is riding against his movements rather than staying with him. It is her instructor’s responsibility to teach her the form and function of her horse’s movements as well as her own.
Her leg is well placed near the girth, but it is not tight and secure. She is holding on to her horse with the back of her calf rather than distributing the contact through her inner thigh, knee and calf. A good recipe for independence of legs and seat is to alternate between riding without stirrups to get down around her horse and, in cooperative opposition, riding with stirrups with her weight in her heels and her seat suspended in two-point position to get off her horse’s back.
At first glance, her base of support looks fine, but when you really look, you can see that her hip angle is too open and she is on the verge of dropping back into the saddle. When she does, her too-long rein (which is planted at her horse’s withers, putting tension on his head and neck) will cause her to flop down and hit his mouth even harder. These are the cardinal sins of riding, and when I see a horse being ridden this way, it really upsets me because it is punishing him for doing what she has asked. On the positive side, her posture is very good with her back flat and shoulders relaxed. She is using her head and eye well.
This horse has a terrific expression and is tolerating his rider’s intrusions well. While he is being prevented from using his head, neck and back, he has a good front end with his knees up and even. He is a powerful animal, and I think he could easily jump much higher and wider, given a professional ride.
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Practical Horseman.