Despite the fact that this rider is reaching for her stirrups, her base of support is excellent and she is demonstrating a beautiful automatic release.
I can tell her stirrups are too long because there is little angle behind her knee, which needs to be about 110 degrees—she should shorten her leathers about two holes. The iron needs to be twisted so its outside branch is ahead of the inside. This rider’s heel is down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are turned out 45 degrees.
Usually riders who have to reach for their stirrups compensate by throwing their seats out of the saddle and jumping ahead, but there is no sign of that here. This rider’s back is natural and relaxed and she is very focused. This is where I want the hands in an automatic release: alongside the middle of the neck, creating a straight line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s elbow, which requires balance and stability. As a minor point, I would have more of the end of the whip above her hand so the whip is better balanced.
Though this workmanlike horse has a big head and looks a little plain, I like the concentrated expression of his ears and in eyes. He has a good front end—his knees are even, but below them, the left is a little loose. He’s round from poll to tail, showing that he’s using his back. This type of fence, with the pole set across the top rails, is not allowed in the show ring, but I take no offense to it. It requires a gutsier ride. However, I usually do this only with a square oxer.
The horse is in good weight and well cared for, demonstrated by a clean coat. I believe they are schooling, but even so, the overall turnout is a bit musty—the horse’s mane is too long, the bell boots and hooves are dull and the busy saddle pad and sheepskin girth detract from the horse’s beauty. These are small details, but they count a lot toward overall appearance.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.