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Friday, 28 October 2011

Pull Up to Ride Forward

How often are you told to sit up, look up or get your shoulders back? Aren’t you just a bit fed up with constantly having to readjust your position? Imagine how your horse feels! Your position affects everything he does. The more balanced you are the better.

When you’re told to sit up what do you actually do? Lean back a bit? In doing so your back probably rounds leaving your shoulders forward. Then you’re told to stick your shoulders back. You do but your head stays where it is.  Your chin sticks out and you end up looking at the ground a few strides ahead of your horse. Sound familiar?

Instead of thinking ‘lean back’ think ‘pull up’. Pull up through your whole body. Imagine you’re trying to pull your vertebrae away from each other. Pull the bottom of your rib cage out and forward and take a deep breath in. Now feel where your shoulders and head are in relation to your hips. They should be directly above them. For your horse this is perfect. He can carry you easily because you’re in balance.

But you’re not done yet! Now you have to lean back to the point when you feel your weight at the back of your head. Try it while you’re sitting reading this. Allow your arms to drop down by your sides. Where do your elbows go? Down next to your sides. In the shoulders forward position your arms stiffen and your elbows tighten. If your reins get too long you end up sticking your elbows out and rounding your wrists.

There’s another wonderful thing about the ‘pull up’ method. You look up! As you lean back your head and shoulders go with you. Instead of leaving your head where it was and ending up looking at the floor your head tips back and you’ll find yourself looking down the track about 20m further ahead. It’s a feeling you’ll quickly get used to as you realise when you’re looking ahead you can plan ahead.

When you next ride your horse pull up through your body before you even move off into walk. He won’t recognise you. Don’t forget to lean backwards. The chances are you’ll feel as if you’re leaning too far back but you won’t be. Get a friend to take a picture of you or put your phone on video mode and prop it up on a fence post so you can see yourself. You’ll be surprised to find that you’re only sitting up straight.

Try walking round the school. Pull up through your body and feel what happens in your seat. Firstly your hips will swing with your horse without you having to make them. Secondly – and more importantly - they’ll push forward ahead of your shoulders when your horse pushes his hind legs under his body.  

Practice trotting circles and serpentines while you’re in this position. Before you ask your horse to turn pull up through your body first, let your hips move in front of your shoulders. Think of it as an aid which is guaranteed to sit him back on his hocks.

Canter large round the school and focus on leaning as far back as you can. Feel the difference in your lower back and seat when your hips move ahead of your shoulders. Don’t allow your body to collapse. Pull up and look up and your horse’s back will come up under the saddle which in turn brings his hocks further under his body.

Play with some transitions on the centre line. Ask for trot to walk transitions as you go through X. Pull up through your body as you ask and concentrate on allowing your hips to move in front of your shoulders as your horse walks.

It may seem strange asking for an upwards transition just before a turn but your horse knows the turn is coming. It won’t come as a surprise to him! From an active walk ask for trot at D/G. Pull up, ride forward and don’t pull back. The tight turn will increase the energy in your trot.

With the change of the clocks and winter really on its way now is the perfect time to make some positive changes to your position. If it takes a few sessions it doesn’t matter. Before you ask your horse to do anything remember to pull up through your body. Get a feel for it and you’ll never look back.

Your position will affect your horse whatever you do. Lean forward and he’ll fall onto his forehand. Slip to the side and he’ll fall in or out. But lean back and the worst thing that can happen is you put his weight back on his hocks. Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to do all this time?

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. I'm going to read this again in the morning before heading off to my lesson! It sounds like it was written for me!
    Thank you!!
    Eleni (@elvonee) (I think I have too many names!)

  2. I'm glad you like it Eleni ... @elvonee ...etc!

    Seriously I hope it works for you and you get a better lesson because of it. Fingers crossed your horse agrees with me too:)

  3. Very useful advice and really well explained. I will be trying to put this into practice next time I ride.

  4. Thanks Jooles :) I hope it helps.

  5. I cannot begin to thank you for this post. I've always tried sitting up straight but the explanation you give here just connects with the dancer in me. As a result, I felt more balanced and got much better results from the horse during my lesson today. Even got him to canter which was fantastic.
    Thanks again for the wisdom :)

  6. I'm really glad this helped, Marie :) Hope it helps your riding and your dancing too :)

  7. Thanks for the advice i will give that a try this weekend, im doing lots of long cross country rides and my back really keeps hurting. I will update on monday

  8. Thanks William, this seems to have struck a chord with loads of riders. You could check out my jumping blog at the equestrian store (link above) for similar ideas on jumping.

    Thanks. Lorraine