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Welcome to the Saddle Seat Equitation Information Source!

Riding Position

What is Saddle Seat Equitation?
Riding Position
Riding and Showing
Pattern Practice
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Higher Headset Hand Position

Lower Headset Hand Position

Ideal Saddle Seat Equitation Riding Position Overview

Maintaining center of balance: Rider's back should be straight, with shoulders directly over hips and spine in line with that of horse. Leaning down over horse to check leads and/or diagonals should be severely penalized. Ideally, a rider should be able to feel the correct lead and diagonals, but if they must be checked, only a glance downward with the eyes is appropriate. However, a rider who leans over and obtains a correct lead or diagonal should be scored above a rider who glances down but obtains and maintains an incorrect lead or diagonal.

Arms: Elbows should be no further from the body than the point at which the chest begins to look concave. This is called "pumpkin arms" or cave-chested because improper roundness of the arms forces the chest to cave inward and the shoulders to come forward out of position. The upper body, including the arms and hands, should give the appearance of elegant style and complete control but without the impression of stiffness, posing or exaggeration.

Hands: Hands should be quiet and light, with flexible (not locked) wrists and should show sympathy, adaptability and control. Horses with high-set necks allow the rider's hands to be held higher than do horses with low-set necks; therefore, the placement of the horse's neck dictates the proper elevation of the rider's hands. Hands should be tipped in 30-45 degrees from vertical and should not be excessively far apart (not more than 8 inches in most cases). Bight of reins is on off (right) side. Constant bumping of the horse's mouth or excessive shortening of the reins is distracting and should be avoided.

Legs and Feet: The old days of the flared lower leg and cocked ankle are long gone. It is easy to see why, as this unnatural leg and foot position did not allow the rider to properly guide the horse using calf pressure. With feet in stirrups, the stirrup leathers should hang straight down, should never be twisted and should be even on both sides.

The whole body is important while riding.  Correct equitation allows the horse to move unhindered by the rider, makes it easy for him to understand cues, and creates a beautiful picture.

Colleen Kelly Rider Biomechanics

Upper Body Articles

Is Your Upper Body in the Proper Position? by Julie Goodnight

Develop Model Hands - Ideal equitation varies among disciplines but good hand position is critical to effective communication between rider and horse.

Proper Riding Posture from the Rider's Training Scale (scroll down to Body Awareness)

Developing a Following Seat Sally Swift explains how "riding with your bones" releases tensions, corrects imbalance, and permits harmonious, precise movement on horseback.

Rider's Posture

The Pointe of Good Posture (ballet posture)

Lower Body Articles

Your Seat and the Saddle (go to paragraph starting with "The thigh bone")

Correct Stirrup Length by Julie Goodnight

Strong Leg, Safe Seat. A picture perfect position with a solid foundation is required to be in the ribbons in western horsemanship classes. Subtle improvements that create a balanced seat might make the difference in your performance.

The Balanced Position De-Mystified

Improving Lower Body Position by Julie Goodnight


Remember to keep your whip on your horse's shoulder.  This will also help keep hands in the correct position.

I used to have trouble with my back and shoulders. I would practice my overall posture everyday. Sometimes sitting with a broom handle slid along my waist between my elbows reaching behind my back, with my arms and hands like I was riding...sounds like torture, but over-emphasizing it helped me feel what I was trying do when I was riding.
- Erin

Practice Ideal Position off the Horse for Better Muscle Memory

Sit in front of a mirror and practice your upper body.  Its best if you sit on a tall stool or if you have a saddle that has a stand you can sit on, that works the best.  Face to where you are looking at the side of your body.  Try to place your ears over your shoulder then balance your shoulders over your hips then bring your legs into position so that your heels are under your hips.  Now you should have a straight line from your shoulders, to your hips, to your heels.  Next work on the look and placement of your hands and arms, I can't really explain your hands without showing you but look at some magazines of top equitation riders and study not just their hands, but every detail of them, then compare the riders.  Next work on your posture but don't try to break your back!  Many people think you must have a prominent arch in your back.  You want to slightly suck in your stomach to engage your abs.  Now pull your shoulders back.  Bring your shoulders up and roll them back, then set them down.  This gives you proper placement.  Now your chest should appear wider.  Then you want to bring your ribcage up and out of your belt.  This next part is a little difficult but can be helpful: holding your position, take a deep breath and relax to where you feel your weight sink into the chair (you want to set your feet on something for this but don’t set them straight ahead, keep them underneath you) you may have to do this a few times before you actually feel it.  Now take another deep breath, and as you inhale, lift your neck like a string is connected to the top of your head as your whole body lifts.  Now as you exhale leave your neck stretched up as if the string is tightened and let your shoulders and body sink back into position.  Do not strain your neck!  This exercise is supposed to help you relax and elongate your neck when you lift and open up your chest.

The one part of equitation that is the hardest is to stay RELAXED.  You want to hold your position but in a relaxed and calm way. One of my friends Casie Morgan Tibolet (who has won Louisville and Morgan Nationals in SS Equitation) taught me this stretching exercise to help stretch your shoulders. Take one arm and make the biggest circles you can going backwards, then switch arms. You may feel your shoulders pop, but as long as there isn't any pain, it's good.
Now after you have studied the side of your body, turn to where you are facing to front of your body (you may want a mirror on the side so you can still see the side of your body).  Get back into proper position and then look at yourself.  Study every part making sure your legs are out, heels down, etc.  Now you want to make everything even.  I have a tendency to ride with my right shoulder slightly lower than my left but now it's not noticeable.  If you’re on a saddle, make sure your legs are at an even length and that one is not away from the saddle more than another and the same with your elbows.  I also have a tendency to put more weight in my right stirrup than my left (this is why you should make sure your trainer will stand behind/in front of you while your doing trotting exercises down the middle) having uneven legs can also make your back curve.
- Hilary Keller