Gaited Dressage: Rider’s seat and direction

Gaited Dressage: A Rider's Seat

By Jennifer Klitzke

As I explore this rider’s seat concept of “knee to knee and everything in between,” I’m discovering the effectiveness my thighs play in directing the horse through circles, lateral movements, canter, forwardness in flat walk, and straightening the horse when popping the outside shoulder.

In regards to rider’s position, what do you think of when you hear the dressage term “inside leg to outside rein”? For decades I had applied this term by using my inside calf as my leg; my thigh had never played a part of this equation. Consequently, I had developed a bad habit of riding with my thighs and knees off contact with the saddle and my calves on contact with the horse’s sides.

This bad habit of “calves on” and “knees and thighs off” has several consequences. First of all, it places the brunt of my weight poking into my horse’s back with my seat bones as three pressure points. To remedy this discomfort, I had added back pads. It had never occurred to me until now (thanks to Mary Wanless and Larry Whitesell) that my thighs and knees play a huge supportive role in distributing my weight along my horse’s back. This repositioning of my seat as “knee to knee and everything in between” has made my horse more comfortable, rounder through the back, and naturally more forward.

Secondly, riding “calves on” and “knees and thighs off” has desensitized my horse from responding to my calves in lateral work and as a gas pedal because I had always ridden with it pushed to the floor!

Thirdly, riding “calves on” and “knees and thighs off” has made me rely too much on my reins for steering my horse. I’m now discovering the effectiveness my thighs play in directing the horse through circles, lateral movements, canter, and forwardness in flat walk (thanks to Jennifer Bauer). My reins play a supportive role instead of being the only means of directing my horse.

The thigh connection to the saddle is also helping in the instances where my horse pops the outside shoulder. How many times have I tried to correct this crookedness by pulling on the inside rein? Too many to count. And it never worked! My horse only became more jack knifed. Now when I apply inside leg to outside rein in efforts to bend my horse and the horse evades by popping the outside shoulder, I apply more outside thigh to straighten my horse along with turning my shoulders into the direction I want the horse to travel and a slight lifting of the outside rein. At the same time, I slightly open my contact of my inside thigh and inside rein to give my horse a place to go.

Next time you ride, think of steering your horse from the withers instead of the mouth and apply the thighs as part of the bending and directing equation.

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