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NOTES ON THE RIDERS POSITION FOR STUDENT COACHES

The job of the coach in teaching position to new riders is one that has to be taken very seriously.
What is taught in the beginning will produce "muscle memory in the new rider and will effectively set up the basis of how they ride for the rest of their time with horses.
It is extremely difficult for riders to "relearn" once the wrong habits are learned.

WHY IS POSITION SO IMPORTANT?

Riders often struggle to develop a good position at the beginning of their riding career, and are inclined to adopt a "survival" or "comfortable" position as it is an easier option. It is important that the coach can explain the reasons for working to develop a correct position.

In a classically correct position the rider can stay secure and balanced with the least physical effort, and will be the least possible hinderance to the horse as it moves. A rider who learns a position that is dependent on their muscles to maintain it will only be able to ride as long as they have energy. A rider in a balanced position only needs muscles to give aids, and to react in adverse situations. This option then is clearly the most economical and the safest.

The correct position is, in the long term, the one that is least damaging to the horse and rider physically but is the one that takes the longest to establish.

The position of a rider has to "evolve" as they develop the suppleness, the balance and the confidence to go with the horses natural movement. The development of the riders position can be likened to the development of a baby:

 

1st stage of learning

2nd stage of learning

3rd stage of learnng

4th stage of learning

BABY

finds the desire to move and gets into a "crawl" position

learns to stand upright and find balance, assisted at first

leans to walk in an upright position unaided

leans to bend the limbs and run

RIDER

finds the desire to ride, gets on horse and sits up the neck in a "crouch"

learns to become upright but is dependent on hands etc. at first

learns to sit upright in movement, independent of the hand

learns to shorten the stirrups and be balanced in a jump seat

In the development of the rider the first stage of learning is often very brief unless they are very worried, and the 2nd and 3rd stages are often felt unnecessary and so the rider progresses too quickly to the 4th stage. This is a little like expecting a baby to run as soon as it can stand! The 2nd and 3rd stages are critical if the rider is to develp to their best potential.
It is very difficult for a rider to develop an upright position in balance if the "seat" is not established and that has to be the primary aim of the initial learning process. Most new riders feel that "control" should be the primary aim, and it is therefore the coaches job to explain in the beginning that they will aid the control, and that the rider will ultimately gain far greater control from having an established seat and position.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE SEAT

There are two fundamental things that need to happen when someone gets on a horse, they need to "sit" and take their weight on their seat rather than on their feet, and they need to make room for a horse between their legs. It is important that they appear to have made room for the horse before sitting down, or they will be sitting on the back of the thigh, rather than on the seat, which will prevent then from gaining sufficient "depth" and "suppleness". It is the depth and suppleness of the seat in the centre of the saddle, and the suppleness of the lower backthat enables the rider to develop "posture" and "balance", and then control. The degree to which the seat can be developed is governed by the age and fitness of the rider. Coaches must take care when working with the very young or the less athletic that they allow time to develop the seat, and do not allow "compromises" to become too established in an effort to progress too quickly towards control and greater excitement.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE POSITION

As the seat begins to progress in the right way so attention can be paid to developing the position. The rider has to learn to stay upright without stiffening the back, to keep the head up, with the shoulders positioned vertically above the hips. The legs should "hang" around the horse, again without stiffening, with the heels staying in the same vertical line under the hips. This will allow the weight of the rider to drop in to the heels, rather than being "forced" down. The stirrup should be on the balls of the feet, supporting the foot. In trying to establish this "position" many learner riders will tend to balance themselves with their arms and elbows. The elbows should hand by the riders side, with the hands in a line between the elbow and the horses mouth. When riders appear to be unable to maintain a good arm position it is usually because they are still using the arm for balance, or the hand for security. Poor arm position should indicate to the coach that ther is work to do on the seat and balance, rather than to address the issues of the arm.
Whenever there appears to be positional faults in the limbs and posture of the novice rider, the coach must be careful not to try to fix the "Symptoms" rather than cure the "disease" Coaches must learn to see the angle of a riders pelvis, to see muscle tension, and to be able to explain how and why we develop a "riding position"