The Five Most Common Equitation Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) March 29 2015 7 Comments

Tips for winning your saddle seat equitation class

With show season underway, this year’s equitation finals will be STACKED with talent and athleticism. While you are preparing for your age group classes and your qualifying finals classes, keep in mind the most common equitation mistakes that junior exhibitors will make. Avoiding these mistakes won't guarantee you a win, but they'll be sure to set you up for success.

1. Stiffness

Any rider should always be mindful of their form. But when you’re thinking really hard about keeping your legs in position, your eyes up, and a gentle arch in your lower back, you can end up looking like Franken-Rider. Don’t send the villagers scrambling for their torches because you’re riding chin-first with your neck and shoulders so tight that you could be pushed off your mount with one finger.  RELAX GUYS!

Being stiff will not help your form, in fact, locking your body into position will make it nearly impossible to keep your form during a fluid canter, or if your horse miss-steps or sees something on the rail that spooks them. Breathe, relax your shoulders down and please do not stick your face out to compensate for keeping your eyes up.

2. No Stirrups = No Form

The number one problem for Senior Equitation competitors is no stirrup work. This will make or break your pattern.  Firstly, you have to put in the leg work (harhar) at home.  There’s no way you can accomplish a good stretch of no-stirrups in a pattern if you aren’t legged up.  Secondly you have to keep your balance in your butt.  Often when we are unsure of our ability to ride without stirrups, we tend to get stiff and lean forward, but that will throw you right off the sweet spot of balance on a saddlebred.  Keep your shoulders over your hips and think about keeping that post nice and low.  Finally, don’t contort your legs super far behind you.  As we discussed above, when we ride without stirrups, we tend to get so worried about how our legs look that we’ll contort them too far behind us and jack our ankles out, thinking that our legs look FAB!

They do not.

They look terrible.

Getting your legs too far behind you will also make it harder to for you sit back and down and jacking your ankles out ends up making it look like your toes are pointed down from the perspective of the judges, even if they aren’t.

3. Underestimating Simple Patterns

We’ve all heard an age group championship pattern called out like this: Trot down the rail showing two changes of diagonal, beginning on the right diagonal. Stop. Canter a circle to the left on the left lead. Stop. Reverse and trot down the rail on the left diagonal.

As they ask if anyone has any questions, you relax and think, “HA NO! We got this”, but then as you do your pattern, your diagonal changes are unevenly spaced, your circle is uneven and your transitions are sloppy. Never underestimate a simple pattern. In fact, often the stakes are higher when the pattern is simple because the expectation is that you should be able to accomplish this perfectly. The solution to this problem is to treat every pattern the same, with all your concentration and respect!

4. Sloppy Diagonals and Transitions

Sloppy diagonals come in two forms: picking up the wrong diagonals at the start of your trots and sloppy changes. Practice makes perfect for both, but to avoid picking up the wrong diagonals, be patient.  It will look far worse if you pick up the WRONG diagonal and change it than if you to sit two more steps of the trot and come up on the correct diagonal. Ideally the amount of time it would take for you to find that correct diagonal will become shorter and shorter over time.  Sloppy diagonal changes come from tucking your tailbone when you make the change.

The easiest thing to remember is to not change ANYTHING with your body, just change your diagonal!

Your diagonal change should occur on your seat bones, just like your post does.  If that doesn’t help, it may be stiffness that’s battling your smooth diagonal changes, so try exhaling when you have to make a change. Transitions are a far more complicated beast because part of a sloppy transition comes from how your horse makes transitions, but the fundamental keys to getting that smooth, seamless transition are to slow your body and post, maintain your horse’s carriage throughout the transition and to not brace in your stirrups or your hips!

5. Uneven Circles

We’ve all suffered from drastically uneven circle syndrome and it is a depressing problem that can be really difficult to fix. Though once again practice always helps, you can help yourself at the show by determining your center point for the circle and keeping your eyes on it.  Horses, especially equitation-whiz-horses, respond more to your body than you sometimes realize. When you have your head turned and your eyes on your center point, your hips will naturally turn in that direction. Your horse will respond to this and round out the circle naturally. If you have a horse that likes to lean into the circle, be there with your inside leg and inside hand to help encourage your horse to move away from that pressure, thus rounding out the circle.

While all of these problems are ones we practice to fight against, there are many unique challenges that can cause us to fall down the rankings in the top notch finals of 2015.  Have any ideas of your own to improve these issues?  Let us know in the comments down below!