Insiders Guide: Rider Position
Pro and Non-Pro articles written by Jen Jonas of Jonas Performance Horses (Pro) and Sharon Jones of Be A Better You (Non-Pro).
Together, they are J&J Reining Inc. Both Jen and Sharon are believers in continual learning – if you’re not learning you’re not growing.
Sharon: One of the reasons I appreciate Jen’s coaching style is that she does not focus just on what the horse is doing, she looks at the whole picture – what is the rider doing to either help, or hinder the horse? I learned to ride in England at age 7, and sitting English is quite different to sitting Western. When I started riding Western in 2004 I looked like an English rider in a Western saddle… not very comfortable! I’ve been working on my rider position ever since and the faster I go, the harder it gets! I wanted to get Jen’s view on correct rider position and I must admit, when I read what she’d written, I laughed out loud because yes… I am always hearing ‘lean back’ and ‘look where you’re going’ especially when practicing the faster reining maneuvers.
Jen: We often talk a lot about the horse’s body position, yet we don’t address our own position as a rider enough. Many riders focus so much on the horse and what the horse is doing or not doing, trying desperately to fix the horse. Often times, from what I observe, if the rider could reposition themselves on top of the horse to make sure they are giving the horse the best chance of success, that would either fix the problem they are having or enable the horse to do a better job in their work. Here are a few body position problems that I encounter with students:
1) Not sitting back. When riders lean forward, they don’t have the right seat connection that enables them to communicate effectively with their horse. I know my students hear a lot of “Sit back” during our lessons! Sitting back in the rundowns especially makes a huge difference.
2) Looking up. I think most of us are all guilty of this one at some point, but if we can make a conscious effort to ride looking up, to see where we are going or even better where we want to go -we will end up there. Such a small thing to change yet has big rewards in the end!
3) Leaning. I believe that a lot of riders tend to do this thinking that they are in some way helping the horse. The problem is, when you lean to one side of the horse, you are off balance and therefore, so is the horse. Then your horse tries to compensate for you by shifting his weight to keep you under him. When your position is centered in the middle of the horse, and you are not tense – you’re sitting quiet, the horse can do his job more effectively.
4) Leg position. A rider should have their legs underneath them, not stuck out forward or even to the sides, with no contact on the horse. When your legs are underneath you, this creates more balance for you and your horse. Your reaction time will be quicker and much more effective!
5) Hollow lower back. When a rider has a hollow back, they are not effective with their hips or their seat which makes it challenging to engage any core muscles. Core muscles are essential to good rider position. The hollow-back position doesn’t create flowing movement in a horse, in fact the horse who can feel a fly land on his back so certainly can feel whether you are sitting centred or engaging your core or not, could be stiff and resistant.
When you better yourself as a rider, you better your horse! Pictures
Here are 3 pictures of Sharon riding, the first ‘Incorrect Rider Position’ shows she still has some of the English rider in her posture, she’s not looking where she is going and she has not mastered the art of lengthening the calf muscles to allow the heels to drop – even at a walk.
The other 2 pictures ‘Correct Rider Position 1 & 2’ show the benefits in fluid movement of putting it all together – so she can do it, it’s all about making it consistent! And yes, I often have to say ‘sit back and look where you’re going’!