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Rider position importance

From: Margaret

Dear Jessica, this is just a quick question but I really need an answer. I learned to ride from a teacher who had learned from an old cavalry teacher, and maybe it was just the military influence?? but he was a real bear about POSITION POSITION POSITION, I always had to be in the right position before I asked the horse to do ANYTHING! I think this was a great way to teach riding, and I have always had good compliments on my riding from horse show judges and clinicians and so on. I didn't think there was any other way to teach riding, but I just came home from watching my friend's daughter ride in a show, and I was horrified. She was all over her horse, sliding this way and that, tipping to one side, you could tell she was pulling much harder on one rein than the other, and I cringed the whole time I was watching. I didn't even want to be there and I couldn't imagine what I would say to her or her mother after the class. Of course she didn't get placed! When we were talking afterwards, she (daughter) said that the judge told her she needed to work on her position, and I thought I was safe to agree with this. Both my friend and her daughter got very upset and told me that I was old-fashioned just like the judge, that I didn't understand about modern riding, and that what mattered was to learn to ride first and "connect with the horse" (I have no idea what this means) and that her instructor has told her that she can "pick up a position" later on but if she thinks about position now, it will interfere with her learning to ride.

Frankly I was floored by this. I can understand the daughter buying into this, she is only thirteen and her instructor is a good-looking young man in his twenties! But I do not understand how my friend could possibly buy into this. She isn't a rider herself, but wouldn't you think that she would know a little bit more about the sport her daughter is doing, and wouldn't you think that she could just LOOK and see what is going on? I am afraid that her daughter will get hurt if she continues to take lessons with this instructor, because it's clear to me that he has no idea what he is doing. I know that this isn't really my business, I met my friend a year ago after her husband began working with my husband, and I don't want to cause trouble between us, but I am worried about her daughter's safety. Also, I don't think there's any point in taking lessons like these, where the rider doesn't seem to be learning to ride. She may "connect" with the horse, whatever that means, but she obviously doesn't realize that she's riding badly and making it very uncomfortable. This just goes so completely against everything I was taught, and obviously I'm not the only one who thinks this since the judge made those comments to her. AM I just old-fashioned and wrong? Is this the new way of riding? I hope it isn't! Should I tell her what I think about this, or should I just hold my tongue and let my friend go on thinking that her daughter is learning to ride? Please answer me, this was two weeks ago and I have been avoiding my friend because I know she'll want to talk about her daughter's riding...


Hi Margaret! Lucky you, it sounds as though you had a real riding instructor, which is more than I can say for the poor young girl you've described.

You are right - these "lessons" are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless, they are downright dangerous. This poor girl is putting herself at risk every time she gets on a horse, because she is, clearly, NOT learning how to ride - and yet she thinks that she IS learning how to ride, because that's what her handsome young instructor is telling her. I think you can safely assume that he knows nothing about riding or about teaching riding. (What on earth was he thinking, to put her in a show?)

The truth is that form and function are inseparable. All good teachers and trainers understand this, and promote good position in their students from the very beginning. There's no such thing as learning to ride without learning about position, and there's no such thing as learning to ride and "picking up a position" later on. That's like saying "I want to learn ballet (or Argentine Tango) - but not all that position stuff, I'll just learn to dance first, and then if it turns out that I'm really interested, I'll come back and pick that up later." It just doesn't work like that.

First, you can't be an effective rider without a balanced seat - which means POSITION. Form is not artificial - we're not talking about posing, we're talking about (1) the rider's ability to move with the horse and not interfere with it, (2) the rider's ability to direct the horse's movements, and (3) the rider's ability to help and teach the horse. Without position, a person may sit on a horse, but will never actually become a rider, because that person will never make it to (1), much less (2) or (3). Form is not artificial - it's essential to the rider's education and the horse's performance. Good form - position - is the only way for a rider to attain even that first stage of learning to ride.

Second, form - position - is a safety issue. Rider position is like a horse's form over fences. We want horses to pick up their legs and look where they're going, NOT because it creates a pretty picture (although it does), but because sloppy, leg-hanging, inattentive jumping is physically dangerous to the horse and to its rider (also to jumps, spectators, and landscaping)

Without form, there is no function - or there is only crude, uncomfortable, dangerous function that will never bring out the best in the horse.

Third, it's infinitely easier to learn a skill or a sport correctly in the first place, than it is to learn it correctly after months or years of doing it WRONG. Some people never do manage to make all the necessary changes and corrections, no matter how hard they try in later years, and are therefore deprived of some of the enjoyment they could have had if they'd benefited from good instruction early on.

I appreciate that you're in an awkward situation since your husbands work together, but for the child's sake, you need to try to at least help her mother understand that this isn't a matter of "fashion" or "style" or "old-fashioned" vs "modern" - it's a question of skills acquisition, knowledge, competence, AND HER DAUGHTER'S SAFETY. It may help if you can direct the mother to some good sources of information. Your local library probably has some books on riding; look for ones by Alois Podhajsky, William Steinkraus, George Morris, and Susan Harris, although just about any book on basic horsemanship and riding technique will stress the importance of position, the importance of CORRECT position, and the importance of striving for a correct position from day one. If you can find it, Sylvia Loch's book "The Classical Seat" is wonderful - also very short, which might encourage them to read it. Sally Swift's books on Centered Riding will be useful once mother and daughter have accepted the idea that position actually matters. ;-) If you own any videotapes that show GOOD riding, you might invite the pair of them for an afternoon of tea and video-watching. Sometimes food can help to defuse a touchy situation - and if it doesn't do that, it might at least inspire your guests to stay in their seats long enough to watch a video. If you know of, or can locate, any COMPETENT instructors in the area, you might give the child a gift certificate for a lesson or a few lessons (for her birthday, perhaps?). You can visit the American Riding Instructors Association web site,, and look at the list of certified instructors (you'll find names, location, teaching specialties, certification levels, and contact information. CHA is another useful instructor-certifying organization.

This won't guarantee a perfect instructor/student match, and I certainly can't promise that you'll find a handsome twenty-something male instructor, but you can at least be assured that a certified instructor will have a basic level of knowledge and comptence... both of which which the child's current instructor obviously lacks. You'll have to figure out a good way to present the gift certificate! Whatever you do, don't say "I'm doing this because her instructor is an incompetent jerk" - that will put both mother and daughter on the defensive. Instead, try something like "Thanks so much for inviting me to the show, I enjoyed the outing, and it's lovely to know that your daughter is so interested in riding! I thought she might really enjoy taking a few lessons with Ms. Certified Instructor because she specializes in (whatever discipline is involved) and she's supposed to be wonderful with riders of your daughter's age." Or - say whatever sounds good to you, and won't offend your friend, and will encourage her daughter to try a real lesson with a real instructor. Bring out all of your diplomatic skills - because although it isn't technically your business, it's about a child's safety, and that matters more than anything.

Good luck!


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