Follow this guide to perfect your equitation – No excuses
Few top riders in the world have poor or even just average equitation. The best in our sport, nearly always look absolutely perfect in the saddle. This is because:
a) riding with good equitation yields better results
b) they don’t want to look like a joke.
I was cursed with awful equitation from the start of my career. Whether it was because I learned on nearly unbroken horses or I lacked a certain natural athleticism, who knows. It was probably a combination of factors. But I decided at a young age that I did not want to spend my riding career looking laughable.
It has been a long, slow and painful journey but now that I’ve been riding for 12 years, I’m finally starting to look respectable in photographs. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some distance to go but the progress has been steady.
You can make thousands of excuses for your equitation flaws but that won’t fix them. If you are content looking like a floppy slob and hindering your horse’s performance with your lack of balance, quietness, etc. than you are a lost cause. However, if you want to look as good (if not better) than Astier Nicolas does on a horse, the good news is that you can.
It won’t happen overnight but it’s doable. All it will take is an immense amount of dedication, creativity, consistency and self-awareness. Sound easy? Well, probably not… But don’t let the work requirements discourage you. Improving your equitation will help your riding immensely and your peers will be impressed by your poise in the saddle.
How do you begin your quest for perfect equitation?
Assess which aspects of your riding you need to work on and prioritize. One way to figure out what needs work is by listening to your coach. He/she is likely constantly harping on you to fix some part of your position. Sometimes, it is difficult to grasp what areas of your equitation are flawed unless you see it with your own two eyes on video. Set a video camera up on a tripod and film yourself riding or enlist a friend to video with a phone. Afterwards, take the time to watch the video and analyze how you could up your equitation game. If you need a benchmark, watch Michael Jung winning a four-star. You might as well aim to mimic the world number one’s equitation.
Write down a physical list of all the areas that need improvement. This list will keep you on track and gradually you’ll be crossing off things that you’ve fixed, which will feel rewarding. Prioritize this list because it is impossible to work on correcting every detail at once. First, work on the things that you can fix the quickest and are having the highest negative impact on your riding. You’ll have to use your own judgment for prioritizing but as long as you are working on something you will make progress.
I know what I am doing wrong, how do I start doing it right?
You need to implement strict self-discipline. Never swing your leg over your horse without committing to yourself that you are going to work on improving your equitation. After you have submitted to the fact that you are going to have to put in a great deal of physical effort to train yourself to ride better, it’s time to get creative with how exactly to make progress. This takes some thinking.
For example, my legs bounced around a lot in dressage. Once, I actually received a comment on a dressage test under the rider coefficient that read, “Disturbing legs.” This was serious motivation to fix my problem ASAP. So I tied my stirrups to my girth. It was torture. I rode nearly an entire summer with my legs tied down every time I schooled dressage and it helped. Problem solved. Every now and then I still tie my legs down if I feel that they are getting a bit overzealous.
Equitation habits that you’ve had for years are tough to fix permanently so remember to keep doing touch-ups.
I’ve also had unsteady hands. One of the ways I worked on correcting this problem was with a whip between my thumbs during warm-up. It is hard to ride your horse for an entire ride with a whip between your thumbs but if you warm-up this way, it will carry over into the rest of your ride.
My lower leg used to chronically swing back like a pendulum over jumps. I set up a variety of grids during my jump schools, so I could focus solely on my position. Grids help take care of distances so you can focus more on yourself. I would often jump with no hands through these grids, focusing on jamming my lower leg forward so it wouldn’t fly back.
No matter what your problem is, you CAN fix it. You just need that ‘Bob the Builder’ mentality.
Don’t waste another ride. Start working towards attaining the perfect position in all three phases. It’ll pay off big time.