What's your Position?

Whilst training in Portugal recently, I received a real wake up call about my riding position!  Like most of us, I thought I sat on a horse fairly well (more or less) but by working through a few minor adjustments it became obvious how subtle changes can make a profound difference to the horse!

Horses are generally very sensitive animals - to the balance of our weight and to pressure.  As riders we can use this to our advantage to instruct our horse in order to get predetermined results.  You can imagine (and probably have experienced!) the problems encountered when we unintentionally influence the horse through an incorrect position; e.g. by tipping to one side, bumping with a leg, jerking with a hand, etc.  Unconscious movements on our part lead to miscommunication as the horse reacts to these unintentional aids and does things we don’t think we’ve asked for!


 So, what is the ideal position?  Most of you will have a pretty good idea of this through reading, diagrams & working with a good instructor!

*           Seat first.  Our centre of gravity should be deep into the base of our seat, with weight balanced over our tripod of bones - pubic bone at the front, then each seat bone on either side of the saddle

*          Legs.  Our legs should hang down from our hips with equal weight in both sides and even contact applied to the saddle/horse through our thigh, knee and calf.  Show a slight bend through the knee with the calf/ heel on a perpendicular line from the ear, shoulder & hip.  Finally, feet should be parallel to the sides of the horse with heel slightly lower than the toe.

*         Arms/Hands.  With shoulders to parallel to the ground, our upper arms should hang with their weight dropping into the elbows.  Our forearms should describe a straight line from relaxed elbows down the rein to the horse’s mouth.  Fingers should be closed in a fist with thumbs uppermost, remaining in a straight line through the wrist.

*        Upper body/eyes.  Focusing on a perpendicular line from between the centre of our sternum to our navel, stretch that line to produce an upright torso. Facing towards the horse’s poll, ensure your eyes look towards the direction of travel.

I’m sure this sounds familiar and is easy to understand.  The challenging part is to maintain all of the above on a moving horse - ESPECIALLY when things aren’t going well!  Keep in mind that we all come in different sizes and proportions (our horses too!). For example, riders may carry their hands differently depending on the length of their limbs.

What can we do to ensure a correct position?

  • Practice without your horse!

Try sitting on a FITBALL (somewhere with a decent floor area & NOT near stairs!).  The size of the fitball should be large enough so just the balls of your feet rest lightly on the floor.

  • Experiment with your seat - practice feeling the weight shift from one seat bone to the other then back to balance, whilst your shoulders stay above your hips & parallel to the ground.
  • Practice your ‘sitting trot’, bouncing gently up & down, feeling the rhythm.
  • Rotate your pelvis one way & the other, limbering up your hip joints, hip flexors & lower back.

Using the fitball in this way to challenge your balance will activate & strengthen your core muscles - yay!  To be effective riders we need to be fit, flexible & have good muscular endurance, so make sure you take care to physically improve yourself in these areas.

  • VIDEO!

Either set up a video camera on a tripod or ask someone to film you.  Seeing yourself ride (from all angles) is THE BEST WAY to identify any positional issues you may have - more effective than hearing it from your instructor a thousand times!  Knowing you have problems is the first step to fixing them.  Watch it on a big screen where you can see your riding clearly & use the pause/play buttons to great effect.

  • Lessons

Find an experienced, qualified instructor who has a good eye and focuses on a correct, effective position (there are those that don’t!).  Work with them regularly to establish and maintain good positional habits.  We all need someone on the ground who we trust and respect to help us find ways to turn those little adjustments into new habits.

With all this in mind, ultimately it is UP TO OURSELVES to be disciplined riders!  Ride consciously.  Break it down step by step and allow yourself (and your horse) time to make the corrections for a more harmonious partnership.

Next time we will look at how we can take our correct (and effective!) position to correspond to the training scale in a meaningful way.

Trish Braithwaite is a qualified EA/NCAS Level 1 coach, assisting riders of all ages & abilities and their horses in dressage, showjumping & crosscountry training.  Trish coaches full time & can come to you at your place or to another suitable venue.  Contact Trish at shutupandride@trishbraithwaite.com.au or 0427 134 033.

Photographs from Quinta do Archino, Portugal.

Compliments of Jason Malouin Photography



It's a Small World...

I was amazed - after training with the master, Rodrigo Matos at Morgado Lusitano in Portugal only 3 months ago, here he was in Queensland!

Rodrigo held a 3-day classical dressage clinic in the huge indoor arena at Antrim Stud in Allora, approximately 2 hours west of Brisbane.  You need to be "in the know" to get a place in the clinic & all the days were full!  He runs a crazy clinic schedule, taking himself all around the world  - in Australia for a week or so, then to New Zealand, Europe & back to us early next year.  Although I was without a horse this time, when he returns in MARCH 2013, I'll be ready to join in!

Training Classical Dressage in Portugal!

Being self-employed, professional development is my own responsibility and I spend time each year taking advantage of opportunities to work with visiting coaches and trainers to improve my riding and teaching.

This year, I traveled to Portugal to train classical dressage on Lusitanos at a couple of centres there.  The Lusitano is a special breed of horse where self-carriage, suppleness, trainability and charitable nature are fundamental traits. I wrote a couple of articles describing my experiences.  Here’s the first one:

Yes, it really was the trip of a lifetime!  The original idea had surfaced more than a year previously.  As my partner is fluent in Spanish, it had been a dream of his to spend a few months living in Spain, improving his grasp of the language.  Of course I thought - well, that’s just next door to Portugal!  I had been hearing wonderful things about their national breed, the Lusitano, for many years.  People in SE Asia had begun importing the breed for dressage and general riding, plus famous dressage trainer Kyra Kirkland is in love with Iberian horses and had been expounding their superior qualities for some years.  What an opportunity to find out what it’s all about!

A couple of equestrian friends were instrumental in my decision of where to train.  They had both been to different places in Portugal and had great experiences.  I had the time, so I thought “why not go to both?!”.



Quinto do Archino, near Ota (1hr nth of Lisbon)


Owner and trainer Don Francisco de Braganca is a descendant of the the now-defunct royal family and long-time student of the renowned Nuno Oliveira.  His stable is full of impeccably presented, breath-takingly beautiful and solidly trained Lusitanos.

The indoor arena and viewing area is incorporated into the stable barn with a large outdoor flanked by fields of lavender and rosemary.  Francisco’s focus and absolute priority in training is the correct position of the rider and the correct application of the aids.  My first lessons there involved remaining in walk until a true and effective position was achieved.  His horses are extremely sensitive and it was always apparent when you hadn’t communicated correctly with your seat, legs, voice...!  Spurs were absolutely forbidden and riders were only allowed to carry a stick if it became obvious the horse was unable to decipher their forward aids any other way.  Riders learn to take responsibility for any mistakes or unintended/incorrect responses from the horse.

As a coach, Francisco is quick thinking, responsive, with an excellent sense of humour - even when yelling at you!  Lessons were what we would consider short (25 - 30 min on the horse).  All riders spend the entire morning and afternoon sessions together (there can be around 6 guests at one time).  As each person rode, everyone stood in the arena with Francisco - observing, discussing and learning.

Just a short walk from the barn, the accommodation was just lovely: comfortable bedrooms, plenty of space inside to relax in the cool and an outside pool area.  The food was always outstanding - a simple continental breakfast including the requisite meat, cheese, bread and strong coffee, 3-course meals for both lunch and dinner including ample quantities of delicious local table wine.  The staff were friendly and helpful; always able to cope with guests not having any grasp of Portuguese!  Francisco’s lovely wife Maria appeared over the weekend and we had the special treat of sharing Francisco’s birthday celebration with his family and friends.

Morgado Lusitano, near Alverca (45min nth west of Lisbon)


Morgado is a family-owned organisation operating an equestrian vacation and professional training centre.  Many of the horses used in the school are bred by the family, who have a long equestrian history in Portugal.  Morgado is well set up to accommodate up to eight or so riders of every level wishing to ride horses fully established in grand prix movements.  Lesson are usually in a group (2-3 riders) in their large covered arena, unless a private lesson has been specifically requested and can be catered for.  Their resident instructors (whilst I was there) Rodrigo Matos and Paulo Sergio Perdigao are top graduates of the prestigious Portuguese Riding School in Lisbon and very experienced trainers of both horses and riders.  Both Rodgrio and Paulo travel extensively around the world conducting dressage clinics with riders on every kind of horse, as well as being Iberian horse specialists.

Having been well-prepared by Francisco at Archino in terms of my position, I was ready to move on to tackling the more technical aspects of higher level movements.  At Morgado,  the horses have their specialities - on “Trinco” I was able to experience two-times changes on a circle; on another horse, it was pirouette training or passage/piaffe.  All horses were supremely supple and responsive, easily performing shoulder-in, travers, flying changes and criss-crossing the arena in half pass zigzags.  Spurs were fairly mandatory and a stick was carried for certain horses known to be a bit lazy!  As at Archino, there were morning and afternoon sessions, but it was up to you if you wanted to view other riders’ lessons or slope off for a dip in the pool, a nap or a trip to the local tack shop!  The guest dining rooms are located in historic buildings, with the incredible library room as the hub for evening drinkies and internet connection.

In comparing the two centres - I'm glad I went to Archino first and worked on my position as I found that it wasn’t focused on at Morgado (maybe because I looked so good?!).  What I loved about Morgado was the opportunity to really practice the higher level movements on horses that just did them, no fuss.  Without that experience, I would have felt that I was missing moving on to the next step after working so hard on my own riding.  But without having first trained at Archino, I would have felt I had skipped a step in practicing and fully establishing my riding technique.  There I got more of a sense of the training behind both horse & rider, whereas at Morgado I got to ride the tricks on very rideable horses.

Training in Portugal this year has been an immense boost.  I mentioned at the beginning that this has been the trip of a lifetime - but taking the opportunities to train at special places such as these is now a priority for me, and I will be heading off again on a regular basis to keep improving my relationship with these fascinating creatures.