Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Position, pain, and perserverence

This took awhile to get up the nerve to write, since its one of those subjects where my opinion isn't exactly popular.  But hey, my blog, life is short, etc.

I've been reading several posts lately about how important position is.  Opinions run the gamut between 'position is all' and 'hey, whatever works for you and your horse'.  I find that many riders lean toward the what works for you camp.  Me?  I'm solidly in the position is all camp. 

Which is a funny view for someone with pictures like these.

Good gravy, what am I doing in those?  Though to be fair to myself, I was out of shape in both of those pictures.  I picked these examples because I was on mi papi and had no excuses.  I tend to forgive myself of bad pics with Fi because I was frequently just trying to stay on as she did her impression of a barrel of TNT.  Hard to have a solid position when the horse under you is trying to go in multiple directions at the same time. 

But I hate my position in those pictures.  I will turn myself inside out to avoid more pictures like those.  I work hard at my position, I'm just not perfect.  But I've got solid fundamentals and I'll probably work to build on them until the day I hang up my spurs for good.  I do have a position over fences that I can be proud of even if I think it needs work.

 I've been a position nut over fences since I was a kid.  I competed in equitation, after all.  It served me well as an eventer after some tweaks to get me solidly over the center when jumping outside of the ring.  This didn't translate into my flat work.  My position on the flat was basically one of waiting for the jumping to start.  But that's finally getting fixed.

These are better.  I'm not sticking my elbows or butt out as much.  My toes are pointing mostly forward.  I'm actually sitting on my horse.  A long way to go, but it's progress!  Painful, slow progress.  And the pain isn't just mental.  When I got off my horse yesterday, I had to have someone take Theo for a moment while I held very still.  A nerve in my bad hip twinged hard and I wanted to make sure I didn't set something off that would lay me up with a show this weekend.  Advil, muscle patches, extra pillows, heating pads.  Reshaping my middle aged body is not an easy task.  So why would I do all of this to make my toes face forward?  What does it matter?  I can move up the levels with toes that point out, right?  It's just part of one collective mark.  It works for us, so why change it?

I used to think that.  I used to think things like toes forward and a pretty hand position were just the icing on the cake.  I've been firmly, harshly shown that it doesn't work that way.  Toes, for example.  I've always had a toe out type of position.  Common enough in the h/j circuit but not acceptable in the dressage ring.  I groaned and half hearted my way through the comments about my toes.  It bothered my knees and hips, I didn't want to do it.  But with steady nagging and adjustments, my hip rotated, my knee settled in near the saddle, and my toes moved forward.

You know what?  That completely changes your leg position.  I have a whole new set of leg muscles to use now.  It also changed the opening on my hip, making it possible for me to actually sit down.  I clamp with my calves less and can use my thigh far more effectively.  It wasn't about making my toes face forward to look pretty.  It was about moving my entire leg to make it hang down from my hip in the correct way.

My hands are another example.  Dropping them down or opening up the rein seemed like a no brainer.  It works, you do it.  I used to tell Dorkzilla's owner that she could wear white gloves because her horse was so steady that she could have pretty hands.  I'm learning it goes the other way around.  Her horse was so steady in the bridle because of those pretty hands.  It's been well over a year now of having Trainer A crack down on my hands.  Spending all of July with no hands made a fundamental change.  My hands are so much more still now because I don't feel like I need to muck around.  And guess what?  Theo's steadier in the bridle and more accepting of the contact.  I get a true connection with my pretty, steady hands.  I don't get the false frame I got with my hands constantly picking and setting.

I don't have the strict, vertical head at all times, but I do have a new 1/2" of muscle in front of the withers.  I gave him his head and he's learned to carry it for himself.  I'm not quite white gloves ready, but it's a whole new, very quiet world. 

There's a reason professionals tend to have beautiful positions.  Because those beautiful positions work.

That's Katie Robicheaux, Charlotte Dujardin, and Shelly Francis.  They're all Grand Prix level riders I enjoy watching.  And guess what, every one of them has beautiful hands and a rock solid position, regardless of who they're riding or who's watching.  You don't make it to that level by being a noisy, ineffective rider.  And having watched Katie training at the Wanless clinic, she busts her butt every day to maintain that position.

So how important is position?  It's everything.  If we can do it with me in an incorrect position, imagine how much better it will be if I'm in the correct position and making it even easier for us. 


  1. I'm with you, totally agree that position means a lot in riding correctly.

  2. I fall in between. I think that position is important and you should strive to have correct position. But on green horses I am willing to acknowledge that you can't always maintain that perfect position. I'm not saying that you shouldn't work to get there I'm just saying that when I feel like I'm sitting on a stick of dynamite I'm not going to worry if my leg should be back another three inches if that is where the fuse is.

  3. It always suprises me just how correct position can affect my horse. I will be going along in a lesson, off a bit and struggling for a movement and coach will as me to correct something--an inch here with a hand or a toe and suddenly my horse is easily doing the thing. wtf. Position is everything.

  4. If my horse is actively trying to kill me, I don't worry about position other than staying on. Otherwise, I'm finding more and more that having all your body parts in the right places (and not blocking the horse with those body parts) makes a huge difference in the horse's way of going. So yeah, position matters when your life isn't on the line... although having a strong position can also prevent your life from being on the line quite as often! ;)

  5. I find my opinions varies greatly by the day and depending on the horse/situation. Basically I agree that to get to the highest levels, we have but one choice: be effective in every single dimension. This includes, by necessity, an effective solid position. Sometimes tho.... My goals are less lofty haha. In which case mediocre (or less so) will get the job done lol

  6. I 100% agree. I grew up with a really nitpicky George Morris era trainer who instilled the idea that good riding IS a correct position. And like you, I find myself in the minority. While I'll admit that it's soooo much harder on a green horse or a reactive horse to be correct all of the time, being correct anyway will teach a green horse much faster than letting them dictate how you ride, and a reactive horse will become so much less reactive with really correct riding rather than really defensive riding. So if your horse is trying to buck you off or bolt, yeah, ok, let it slip for a moment. But otherwise, it's worth it to do the hard thing and do things right in the first place.