Beverly has put together easy to understand methods which WORK when riding Gaited Horses! Beverly has owned and trained Gaited Horses for over 30 years. Her No-nonsense approach to training and riding is explained in easy terms with illustrations to clarify the methods for the reader.

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How To Ride Your Gaited Horse
Part III
© Beverly Whittington 2003

Rider "Base Position"

The Torso

The stability of a rider begins in the torso as discussed in the previous portions of this article. Lack of balance and stability in the rider's center forces them to compensate by gripping with hands and legs. The more stiffness, lack of balance and muscle tone deficiency a rider has in their midsection, the greater the problems will be in the extremities.

The Shoulders

Many times the off balanced rider can be seen most easily by viewing the shoulders. Riders who have their shoulders hunched forward or tipped to one side cannot be maintaining the Neutral pelvic alignment of the ideal pelvic position for riding most gaited breeds. Indeed they would be lopsided and a negative influence on the Dorsiflexed, Neutral or level as well as the Ventroflexed back of a horse. 

The shoulders should be level with each other, and in alignment with the hip of the rider. To keep from tensing the shoulders to maintain this position it is often easier if you think of opening the ribcage from the front rather than pushing your shoulders back, as this allows the support muscles of the shoulder to remain soft and supple.

The Forearms and Elbows

The forearms and elbows of the rider should remain close to the hips, allowing them to be synchronized with the seat. By keeping the elbows or forearms in close contact with the hips, the upper arms lend additional stability to the torso, and the hands automatically assume a subordinate role to the seat and become extensions of the seat bones. The hands become mirrors of the seat bones in affecting the horse's movements. If the seat bones are following the horse's back, the rider's hands will automatically follow the horse's mouth without visible movement. You do not want to clamp your arms to your side; rather the arm should hang relaxed from the shoulder, but remain close to your hip. The lower arm, the elbow and rein form a straight line to the bit. 

Wrists and Fingers

The reins come into the hands from the bottom up, with the thumbs on top. The hands should not move visibly with the wrists and fingers elastic and mobile enough to prevent the rein contact from becoming dead. The fingers form a soft fist with the fingertips lightly touching the thumb cushion. You do not want to "grip" the reins, but hold them as if you held a small bird that you did not wish to crush or allow to escape. The length of your lower arm determines where you hold your reins in front of you, for most people it will be just over or in front of the horse's withers.
Correct positioning of the upper extremities allows the completion of a "circuit" of communication with the horse. The breaks in the red lines shows where displacement, lack of flexibility or tension of the elbows or wrists can cause a "break" in this communication flow.
Thighs and Knees

The bend in the legs should only be as enough to allow the the knee to track directly over the ankle and center of the foot. The ability to open the hip joint will determine the correct alignment of the knee, ankle and foot. The thigh should be firm against the saddle with the knee rotated SLIGHTLY inwards, to encourage the hip joint to open.

Lower Legs, Ankles and Feet

The lower legs should be close to but not ON the horses sides, unless implementing an aid. Aids are given with the side of the leg, seldom the heel. With the the heel lowered you have a firm calf muscle with which to direct the horse.  Your ankles should be flexible and in alignment with the hip and shoulder. To place the foot in the proper position it can help if you visualize a hinge in the middle of the foot. This hinge allows you to lower the heel and at the same time raise the toe. This will result in a more balanced approach, keeping tension out of the ankles. Make sure of your stirrup length. You can not achieve a balanced seat if your stirrups are too long or too short. A quick check is to allow your feet to hang out of the stirrups, then pretend you are Fred Flintstone. Yep you heard me right, remember Fred? The only way he could stop his speeding car was to push his heels down and straight below him.  That is what you need to do, push your legs straight down, heel pushing to the grown as if to touch the ground below the horse. The stirrup should hit you in the ankle bone, if they don't adjust then so they do. Now you should have to raise the toe slightly to be able to place your foot in the stirrup. Places the foot in the stirrup with the ball of the foot in the center of the stirrup this will allow proper heel position without placing too much weight in the stirrup.

When you have achieved the correct lower leg position, you may feel a stretching through the front of your hip and down your thigh. This is because your legs are stretching out and around your horse. The tendency will be to allow your toes to point out, you must correct this as it causes the effective muscles in the thigh and seat to assume an incorrect placement in the saddle. Reset your seat. Your toes should be pointing the direction your horse is going, as a unit, not out in opposite directions. This means that your legs are also twisting inwards a little, as if pigeon toed but the turn starts at the hip (by opening the hip joint). 

I told you we would get to the arms here, legs there drill eventually!

To Be Continued in Part IV...

Other Articles of interest.
The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Achieving Response, Gait and Confidence through Relaxation

Rider Affect on the Horses Movement

MAKING CONTACT How to use a bit 


Exercises at the Walk

Conditioning a Horse to Gait

Equitation for Gaited Horses

Exercises for Increased Flexibility in Gaited Horses

The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Part I Part II Part III
Part IV Part V Part VI The Flat Walk
Part VII The Fox Trot Part VIII The Rack


To Be Continued...

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