Monday, August 20, 2012

Proper Position

"Sit up straight!"

"Toes forward!"

"Elbows at your sides!"

If you've spent any time taking riding lessons, you've heard these phrases before.  I've been hearing them for years.  Particularly "elbows at your sides".  I'm short, my arms are short.  It's very hard to keep your elbows at your sides when you have stubby Tyrannosaurus Rex arms!  I've been told to "pretend that my elbows were glued to my waist".  I've even had instructors who had me hold my whip looped through my elbows behind my back to keep my elbows in position.

My current trainer always tells me I need to put my hands more forward.  This is rather at odds with the "elbows at your sides" dogma for those of us with T-Rex arms.   For years we've been going around and around with this.  He would say "Hands forward!' and I would inch them out a little bit, then realize my elbows were no longer at my sides and snatch them back.

One day he finally got annoyed with me and said, "Put your hands in front of the saddle pad and keep them there!  You cannot have a giving, soft hand with your hands in your lap!  Go watch any of the top riders, and you will see that they all ride with their hands in front of the saddle pad."

"But", I protested, "I can't do that!  My arms are too short!  If I put my hands in front of the saddle pad, my elbows will be completely straight.  That's not correct, they're supposed to be at my sides!"

"Go watch Debbie McDonald ride," he said "and see where her elbows are."

Debbie McDonald is a former Olympian, and a very talented rider, who is about my height.  (Actually, I just looked it up, and she's three inches shorter than I am.)

Since I obviously couldn't just leap off my horse mid-lesson and look up videos of Debbie McDonald riding, I decided to just stick my hands out in front of the saddle pad and go with it.  And my horse went better.  So I stuck with it, even though it meant that my elbows weren't in "perfect position".  I never did bother to look up a video of Debbie McDonald riding, because it was working for me and that's what really mattered.

But, in light of my recent "If you want to be the best, watch the best" epiphany, I've actually spent quite a bit of time watching the riders instead of the horses.  And I've noticed that there are many riders who do not have their elbows at their sides, but all the good rides have a rider with his or her hands in front of the saddle pad.

Intrigued, I looked up some videos of Debbie McDonald.  Her elbows are quite straight, her hands are in front of the saddle pad, her horse goes beautifully.

We are always careful to take the conformation of the horse into consideration when training.  Perhaps we also need to take the conformation of the rider into consideration.  






Elbows right where they belong, for a short person. 

16 comments:

  1. Right on the money, as usual. Your hands need to be where you can use them effectively to give and take on the reins. The elbow can be a joint of flexibility, however. Often trainers have people lock their elbows at the waist to steady the contact and the hand and to keep them from using the full arm to pull against the horse.

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    1. That's a very interesting observation. My hands are actually less steady when I have my elbows back. I lock the elbow in place and then my hands bounce around and jar my horse's mouth. More proof that one size does not fit all in training!

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    1. Somebody has to represent the shorties! I can't tell you how many times I've been given riding advice by a 6 ft tall Amazon that I just couldn't apply! It's physically impossible for me to ride like a tall person, just like it's physically impossible for my horse to move like Totilas.

      One of the (many) reasons I love my trainer is that he's short like me. I can actually use his training advice!

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  3. ^_^ I know same problem here with short chubby arms and thighs.. Hahaha. Jane Savoie says " long arms with short reind" and that your hands should be in front of the withers otherwise you take power away from the hinds. She also insists a LOT about following hands!!!
    Good luck and post more pics of you and cheeky Spider, please!

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    1. "Long arms with short reins", I like that! It fits with everything I've been told about the arms being an extension of the reins, and feeling like your hands are directly grasping the bit.

      Hopefully we'll be having cheeky Spider show pictures soon!

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  4. Very interesting, I do not have the short arm issue but I have been told by many different trainers where to have my hands. None of them seem to agree. There are the get your hands out of your lap folks and put your hands in your lap folks. Though my focus is not primarily dressage and think sometimes that makes a big difference when you are with an eventing trainer. I could majorly benefit from dressage lessons but if only there were a decent trainer within an hour of my home. I wanted to say you are too sweet with your babysitting offer. I would love to live closer to you, I think we could have many great chats over a cup of coffee or glass of wine while the kids play.

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    1. I've heard different things even amongst dressage trainers, so I'm not sure if it's a discipline thing. I think people tend to get caught up in dogma, rather than taking the individual rider and horse into consideration.

      I'll keep a bottle of wine around with your name on it, just in case you're ever in NJ!

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  5. I believe that there is no one place to "put" your hands, or "keep" your elbows.

    For the contact to be a living / breathing connection with the horse, the hands can't be a "place" that interrupts the connection, and the elbows provide the elasticity between my back and the horses mouth that keeps the connection fluid and flowing.

    Don't mean to sound lecture-y... and I only wish I could maintain this kind of contact 10% as well as I can describe it. ;D

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    1. You are correct, the hand should never be static. There are still times when I bring my hand back behind the saddle pad, sometimes even behind the pommel of the saddle. But, these are fleeting moments, used for correction, and not where my hands "live". And I always give the hand back immediately.

      The idea of keeping the hand in front of the saddle pad has more to do with keeping a short rein, because a short rein doesn't have as much play. A long rein dulls the connection from the hand and ends up being harsher than we intended. When the reins are short, the hand is directly connected to the bit.

      But, I think many instructors don't take into account the rider's conformation when teaching proper position, and so students get dogmatic instructions on "proper position", rather than being educated about "feel".

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  6. You know what I think this will help me, I have always got my reins too long but if I remember to keep my hands in front of the saddle then I might have a chance, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Off to practice tomorrow!

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    1. Let me know how it works for you! It was definitely a "lightbulb" moment for me!

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  7. I used to have the same problem with my elbows. Great post.

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  8. I truly love your posts. Even though I ride western, form is still important, and reading your blog helps me remember all the things I tend to forget. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks! I was raised riding western. My whole family actually rides western, I'm the only Dressage Queen weirdo!

      Western and dressage actually have more in common than dressage and all the other english disciplines. I had a much easier time transitioning from western to dressage than some of my friends who went from hunter/jumper to dressage, because the ideals and form are so similar. (Although, most DQs would have a heart attack if you told them that!)

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