The importance of a safe and balanced position in all three phases of competition

November 28, 2022

The importance of a safe and balanced position in all three phases of competition

USEA photo/ Meagan DeLisle

“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, efficient and independent seat for dressage and jumping.” – “Principles of teaching” in the new ECP Manual of competition by levels

What is a safe and balanced position? Why is it important? How do you manage? Instructors and riders don’t always pay enough attention to the balance, safety, efficiency and independence of the riders’ position, which is their “seat”. Achieving these qualities, so necessary to safely and successfully master each level of riding, takes time, high quality practice and knowledgeable instruction at each level. It takes a lot of time and effort to correct ingrained faults in the rider’s position and in the application of aids that cause confusion in our horses. It is much better to instill in the rider from the beginning this fundamental knowledge which makes possible the successful progressive training of the horse. It is very difficult to correct the horse’s mistakes when the basic foundation of the horse’s training is missing. When both problems are present at the same time, it is sometimes impossible to achieve a good partnership between horse and rider, especially given the often unrealistic expectations of riders when it comes to a time frame for improvement.

It can be difficult to balance one’s desire to compete with the ability to do so safely and well at one’s chosen level. Each rider’s circumstances influence or dictate the best possible paths for them. Adult amateurs make up a large proportion of our pleasure and competition riders. Sometimes they juggle the competition alongside a career and/or family. Their time may be limited, but their enthusiasm and commitment is undeniable. They have time in their riding to work towards their goals. For children, it is essential that they begin this exciting and wonderful journey with solid instruction and on safe and appropriate supports. When they are older, our young riders trying to achieve their goal of competing in the Young Rider Championship are almost always on a time crunch.

This is where the balance of wanting to compete can come into conflict with their current ability. If I reach this level with a strong headquarters and foundation, I can be successful. The time available to submit the necessary work at this level is not sufficient unless there is a solid foundation present. There is a misconception that a top level experienced horse will take the rider where he wants to go. That horse will only go as far as the rider’s ability allows. How many times do we hear the comment after a poor dressage or jumping test “he didn’t want to listen” or “he did this or that!”? The informed observer can see that the rider’s skills were deficient in one or more areas. The rider must learn walk.

Developing an independent seat requires consistent and quality training, especially in the early stages of riding. The Competition Coaching Program (ECP) is integral to the future of our sport. It helps to provide the highest quality foundation, using recognized best practice, to encourage and support our coaches and trainers in their pursuit of further education by providing ECP resources and ECP qualifications. There is an excellent description of the freestanding chair in Manual. It describes a rider who is lithe, with good posture, who sits balanced over the horse’s center of gravity, in the middle of the horse, in all gaits and all positions, whether dressage or jumping. The independent seat ensures that the rider does not balance or (hang) on ​​the horse’s mouth by the reins to maintain balance and security. They have good posture, a soft, flexible seat and leg position, balanced over the legs and an even elastic contact with the horse’s mouth. They have a secure lower leg for galloping and jumping in all situations. They have the ability to slide the reins when necessary, such as at a fall or down fence.

A balanced, safe and secure position is needed for Safety. Many falls are caused by the rider’s lack of balance and safety, whether on the flat with a fresh or fearful horse, or over jumping. A safe stance is required to control the horse’s speed, straightness and balance in all phases. There is an inability to apply correct and effective aids without a secure and balanced stance. Similarly, there is an inability to recognize or correct mistakes in the horse’s gait if the rider sits to one side and drops the hip, has poor posture, or rides with an uneven or intermittent contact. These are common mistakes that often go unrecognized and uncorrected.

Riders at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna begin their career with six months exclusively on the step to develop a correct and balanced seat. This is followed by riding for one to two years without stirrups. In an ideal world, this is how that safe and balanced position develops. If available, lunge lessons are a great way to improve and develop a deep and supple seat. It takes a highly competent instructor who knows what they’re doing and a safe, “bombproof” school horse to sit comfortably on. The other option, walking without stirrups, is available to everyone. Other than “no stirrup November”, few riders regularly ride without stirrups. You cannot develop a seat without riding stirrups regularly, provided the horse is safe, fit, quiet and worked. A small amount, a few times a week – even while walking, will prove beneficial. It must be undertaken with caution: it must be done in an enclosed arena. Don’t try it on a windy 30 degree day with your thoroughbred off the track!

We also have to consider the fitness of the rider. Fitness is essential to safety and success. It takes basic fitness and strength to sing around a cross-country course in the canter position (two points) for five or six minutes. We see many riders who fail to maintain an effective position for even a minute or two. The ultimate goal is the ability to balance a thousand pound animal and safely jump over 20 or more solid obstacles in a balanced and secure position. What is required is the intelligent application of hard work. It is worth the effort to produce a competent and safe result and a happy partnership.

The rider is responsible, depending on his skill level, for training the horse. You always train your horse: you either train the horse or you don’t! It goes without saying that a horse suitable for the rider’s level is highly desirable, but not always available. If the horse has a good temperament and is safe, with constant attention to developing a seat that helps the horse and improves your safety and confidence, every horse will teach you something. The rider’s position is developed over many hours and years of study, correct and effective practice with scientific instruction. Consistency and discipline on the part of the rider are essential to keep the horse at least in its current state of training. A personal commitment to consciously develop a place of safety, efficiency and trust in all that you do is, paradoxically, the best way to ultimately reach the ultimate goal of unconscious, ‘instinctive’ performance and high at any level.

USEA members can download Tiered USEA Events Manual free in the File Library for USEA members by logging into their online services account. Non-members will be able to purchase Tiered USEA Events Manual through ShopUSEA.

About the USEA Eventing Coaches Program

Trainers are essential to preparing riders and horses for safe and educated participation in eventing. The USEA Eventing Coach Program (ECP), formerly known as the Instructor Certification Program (ICP), was initiated in 2002 to educate all levels of eventing coaches with crucial training principles upon which these instructors can continue to rely on during their teaching career. ECP offers educational workshops and assessments through which both regular Level I to Level V trainers, Young Event Horse (YEH) instructors and professional Young Event Horse horse trainers can become ECP certified. Additional information about ECP goals, benefits, workshops, and assessments, as well as the names and contact information of current ECP Certified Trainers, YEH Trainers, and YEH Professional Horse Trainers are available on the USEA website. Click here to learn more about the Event Coaches Program.

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