11 Equitation Tips ~ 9 Things to Avoid

Let's talk about equitation tips! Proper equitation is simply our good posture on the back of a  horse. The fundamental elements of this body position is to mirror a horse, stay out of the way, in balance as each stride changes. Easy right?. . .

Baseline Equitation on the FLAT - A rider checklist bottom to top:

  • Check your hinges! Ankle is positioned so that the foot is in stirrup with pads of your feet in the stirrups, knees are slightly bent, hips are mobile.
  • Your legs are underneath you; shoulder, hips and heals aligned 
  • Back is supple but not soft or slouched.
  • Get up in your seat to the middle or even slightly forward in your saddle. 
  • Chest/sternum is UP. Imagine a string from your chest straight up that picks you up allowing your shoulder blades to extend, supple and relax.
  • Elbows are hanging at your sides, right below your shoulders. 
  • Look where you are going; a spot just ahead of the horse.
  • Hands are about the same width as the horse's mouth; hands in front of pommel, elbows slightly bent.
  • Breathe! Breathe life in and then let it out. Allow yourself to meld deep in your horse's rib cage, NOT the top of the saddle. 
  • Find & Feel the balance in you. Reset often. 
  • You are in self-carriage - not sitting on your bones.  


Avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Elbows straight = loss of mobility in the back and shoulders.
  • Sitting far back in the saddle with feet forward (chair position) may look fluid but leads to pain in the horse and rider's back and terrible rider athleticism. 
  • Bracing your body by pushing into stirrups = hard on the loins of the horse.
  • Heels raising up = leaning too far forward and looks like “survive the day!”.
  • Riding too far ahead = horse can never get with you or “get there’ to find a Sweet Spot.
  • Hands too wide, too high or twisted = changes your position and creates tension in shoulders.
  • Asking for too much contact on the bit if a horse is not supple longitudinally to flex. This will in fact, teach brace. 
  • Thinking too hard about equitation = tension in you and tension in the horse. 
  • Hands don't move towards you past the saddle horn or pommel causing a hollowing of your back and shrugging your shoulders. 

Become conscious of your equation and learn to develop free movement in your body. A good riding coach can help but they are, unfortunately, rare. I don't like when I see riders getting so stuck mentally that they lose feel for the horse with rigidity and too much thinking. 

I was so lucky as a kid! I had the fun of trail riding, egg and spoon races with friends, dressage lessons with a great coach, jumping lessons and then, by 14 years old, I was riding seasonally six days a week on a working ranch, 8 to 12 hrs a day. I believe I greatly benefited from the technical knowledge early on but before I could take it too seriously, I was on a horse from 4:00am until late in the afternoon on all kinds of ground, including when it was frozen solid. By the time I was 19, I had accumulated thousands of hours in the saddle.  

I vividly remember my first week cowboying.  I was 14 years old and we had gone out for at least 10 hours. I was posting on the correct diagonal and making sure I was on the correct lead with each canter departure. That evening another young cowboy brought me to Davis Lake to cool off and take a bath. When I stripped down I had the fun of peeling my blood soaked, but dried on, jeans off my inner legs. That was bad enough, but then I had to get back on another horse the next morning at 3:30am, it felt like torture. Those first 2 weeks nearly killed me. However, over the next 4 years I learned how to ride with a horse. 

This experience rode the horse into me. Not just the top of the saddle but the tissue of the horse. Then I started my next invaluable journey in the focused study of horsemanship and feel.

I remember years later, I was doing more training and colt starting at home. I really noticed that when I would go back to ride out with the cowboys, it would take about 3 days before my body turned loose to the movements. That showed me how arena tight I would get. Looking back, I realize all those miles and hours turning loose to a horse is what makes riders. 

Some of the VERY BEST riders I have ridden with didn't know what lead they were on or even how to post a trot let alone on the correct diagonal. They could rope and doctor a cow on an icey side-hill in the spring, they could ride horses and never sore a back, manage ten things in a tight small gate and do it on all breeds, all sizes and all weather. 

I recognize many people will never get this background or have the time to pursue it in life, but the lesson here is a balanced example. I hope for people that are in the arena and under tutelage every stride that they get some free fun and many long hours in the saddle at points in their riding life. And I hope for the purely recreational riders that they take a look at some finer points of riding. It will not only help their backs and bodies but even more importantly, they won't break down a horse's back. Many saddles or bad genetics are incorrectly blamed for back and joint pain in horses when in most cases it is the rider. 

There is good news here! As you are learning all this, it will really change the experience for you and your horse. Start with quiet, relaxed moments. Turn off all distractions outside and inside your head. Slow your horse to a quiet rhythmic trot. Alternate between sitting and rising trot. Do a bottom up check equitationally and then relax again. Go for at least 25 minutes. Do all of this, at least once per week, for a year. Soak in the experience of that.

Lastly, have someone take a few videos for you along the way to see changes on you and your horse. Evaluate, reflect and remember to celebrate. 

Then share with me…I’d love to see and hear about your story! 

* You can see this article in action! Click the link here: Open Field  to the Open Field, information page, scroll down and look for the video, "Riding For Every Discipline:
Equitation Situation - Lessons For ALL Riders." and enjoy some quality horsemanship. 

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