Seven Drills for Correct Riding Position

Perfect your alignment in the saddle with these equitation and horsemanship exercises.

For The American Quarter Horse Journal

Simple exercises can help correct your riding position. Journal photo.

Before we get into drills for correct riding position, let’s talk about what correct position looks like for horseback riders, whether they’re competing in horsemanship or equitation, or recreationally riding the trails.

When we discuss correct riding position, we’re talking about the alignment of the rider’s ear, shoulder, hip and heel. As AQHA Professional Horsewoman Julie Goodnight notes in the article “Horseback Riding Basics: Position,” when you’re sitting on the horse, someone looking at you from the side should be able to draw a vertical line through the middle of your ear, shoulder and hip, going down behind the back of your heel.

To help get you into show shape, we put together a three-part blog series for equestrians. (Check out “Six Horseback Exercises to Improve Strength, Rhythm and Balance” and “12 Yoga Tips for Equestrians,” too.) Here, we focus on drills that help perfect a rider’s equitation. Be sure to click each link for more information on how to succeed at that exercise. 

  1. Stand up in the stirrups. Standing up in your stirrups automatically sets your leg in the proper position because now all of your weight is in your heels. It also allows you to stretch up out of your calf and elongates your leg.
  1. Ride without stirrups.  While this riding exercise is dreaded by many equestrians, the benefits are worth it. Without stirrups, you’ll deeper in the saddle, encouraging you to stay centered on the horse’s back.
  1. Do this five-step leg drill. First, get into a two-point position. Next, stand straight up, driving your heel down. Drop the stirrups and point your toes down. Bring your toes back up and drive your heels down. Keeping the position, pick your stirrups. 
  1. Try “scissors.” In this exercise, you ride without stirrups and put one leg forward and one leg back. This is a fantastic move to strengthen your thighs and automatically sets you further back in the saddle while preventing leaning to one side. 
  1. Improve your upper body position with arm circles. This stretches and opens up the rider’s shoulders while reducing tension in this area, thus allowing the rider to square her shoulders back without tensing up.
  1. Find your ideal seat position. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm suggests this technique: Sit on a hard-bottomed chair, with your feet in front of you. If you tilt forward with the upper body (with an arched back), you’ll feel yourself sit on your crotch. If you sit (correctly) straight up and down, you should feel the points of your two seat bones, the bottom of your pelvis. If you lean back (with a rounded back), then you’re sitting on your tailbone.
  1. Now that you’ve found your ideal seat position, work to maintain it. There are several stretches you can try horseback (first at a standstill, then at a walk and a trot). The stretches will increase the flexibility of your hips.

seven drills for correct riding position