Beverly has put together easy to understand methods which WORK when riding Gaited Horses! Beverly has owned and trained Gaited Horses for over 30 years. Her No-nonsense approach to training and riding is explained in easy terms with illustrations to clarify the methods for the reader.
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How To Ride Your Gaited Horse
Part II
© Beverly Whittington 2003


The Torso

All soft gaits have a signature movement that can be felt in the seat and pelvis of the rider. Just as you can feel the horse through your seat, the horse can feel the influences of your seat. The contact portion of the seat begins just below the knee, it encompasses the inner thigh and both seat bones. To achieve a good seat you need to be balanced, straight, and supple. It is important that you raise your body awareness so that you began to FEEL straight when you ARE straight. This will often take feedback from someone on the ground or the use of video cameras, as often what feels correct is way off, due to stiffness in the rider or poor balance. Pay attention to your horse, the feedback your horse will give you is actually much clearer than anything you can read or have someone tell you. As your horse softens and relaxes, your seat must be improving, becoming less unbalanced, no matter how uncomfortable and strange it may feel at the time. You will feel the horse unlock his back as you achieve a properly centered, balance, and independent seat. 

Stand on Your Horse

The correct placement of the rider on a horse is more like standing than sitting. Visualize yourself standing, with good posture and simply make room between your legs for the horse. A rider in a straddle like stance frees up the rib cage and back of the horse to work properly. Most people simply sit on a horse, with their weight on the seat bones and feet. This will often result in the thighs of the rider pulling away from the horse with the riders ankles and heels pressed into the horses’ rib cage, which blocks the swinging of the horses’ ribcage and back, hampering impulsion in the horse.

The major shock absorbing joints of the body is the hip joints. By unlocking your hip joints and bringing your seat bones forward underneath the hip joint you can absorb the horses movement without stiffness. To gain flexibility in the hip joint you must relax the muscles around the lower back and whole pelvic region. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this it to sit on your horse with your buttocks placed as far from the front of the saddle as you can sit comfortably. Now, with a helper holding your horse, raise your knees over the front of the saddle, scooping your seatbones underneath you. Keep your pelvis stable as you lower your legs, using your hand to pull the back of your inner thigh away from the saddle. 
Be sure to raise and lower your legs slowly, with even pressure on your seat bones throughout the movement. This will not only align your seatbones and hip joint, it will bring your heel back underneath your hip. You should also notice that it has "lengthened" your leg. Lower your stirrup so that you have to slightly raise your toe to place it in the stirrup. Many riders have the tendency to ride with too much weight in their stirrups. This will help to lessen that tendency and allow your "center" to become the point at which you carry your weight.
This exercise will place your pelvis in a position of stability without tension and allow the lower back to be in the least stressful alignment to prevent injury or strain of the intervertebral disks.

Using Your Pelvis

Correctly aligned posture 
male pelvis.
Figures 1
The male sacrum is attached more vertically than that of the woman's. This makes the lumbar region of a man's back less curving when at rest than a woman's. This causes the pelvis to be "tucked" further under. In both the male and female the seatbones should be below the level of your pubic bone.
Any horse when in motion will have a degree of movement in their back. Regardless of the gait your horse is performing, it is important that you can move with the horses back to allow the horse to work properly. By aligning your pelvis properly, you can relax your hip joint and use your center to stay in balance while moving with the horse.

The Neutral pelvic alignment in Figures 1 would be correct for all the Dorsiflexed ( Fox Trot) or Neutral, level back (Running Walk) gaits. These gaits require that the horse be ridden in a balanced and centered seat to enable the rider to apply the physical aids needed to support the gaits. The seat of the rider will always either help or interfere with the ability of a horse to carry itself rider's weight while maintaining gait.
 

Neutral or Level Back

Ventroflexed Back

The above illustrations show the changes that occur in the horse's spinal column when moving from the level to ventroflexed back. If you correspond these changes to the placement of the rider with saddle, you can see how the way you use your pelvis and center can affect the horse to achieve a degree of ventroflextion required in some gaits. 

Female pelvis tipped

Male pelvis tipped

Common Gaits of Ventroflextion

Pace
Stepping Pace
Rack
Stepped Rack
Corto
Largo
Sobreandando
Tolt

The flexed spinal posture that can be used for encouraging a Ventroflexed gait is the same as that for executing a halt, half-halt or sliding stop. By contracting the muscles of the lower abdomen and bracing the lower back you tip the pelvis backward, raising the pubis and lowering the sacrum. Placing the hip socket in front of the lumbar curve.
Many commonly seen poor riding techniques used to achieve the ventroflexed gaits include:

  • Riding with hands held high
  • Rider carrying their weight on the tail bone
  • Riders feet placed way forward "on the dashboard"
  • Slumping in the saddle.
Often these riding styles cause the horse to be more ventroflexed than necessary to achieve the gait. This can result in damage to the horse's spinal column, often resulting in the horse developing a "hunters bump" at the sacro lumbar junction, hock stress and the vertebrae of the spine at the withers impinging on one another. It can also cause the horse to become pacey, as the stiffness of a hollow neck and back lends itself to a pace.

Learning to use your pelvis correctly to encourage a slight degree of ventroflextion, along with a good maintenance program for your ventroflexed horse's spine can help avoid these problems. 

It is important to note that the use of the pelvis and your center should not lead to "stiffness" in your body. You should think of synchronizing the movement of your pelvis with the movement of the horse. Let the horse move you, but no more or less than is necessary. You should not be slopping around in the saddle, but neither should you be tense and unyielding in your seat. 

A horse will mirror his rider. The too tense rider will have a horse that has tensed muscles in his back, neck, jaw, loins and through out his body as a defensive response. A sloppy rider will often have a horse who appears to become lazy and unresponsive due to the horse's "shutting down" from all the conflicting aids he is receiving. 

The only true means to achieve a relaxed yet responsive horse is through becoming that type of rider.

Other Articles of interest.
The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

Achieving Response, Gait and Confidence through Relaxation

Rider Affect on the Horses Movement

MAKING CONTACT How to use a bit 

WORKING The WALK

Exercises at the Walk

Conditioning a Horse to Gait

Equitation for Gaited Horses

Exercises for Increased Flexibility in Gaited Horses

The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.
 

Part I Part II Part III
Part IV Part V Part VI The Flat Walk
Part VII The Fox Trot Part VIII The Rack

To Be Continued...
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