The strongest point on the horse's back is right behind her withers (that little bump at the bottom of the mane). In the horse's skeleton, the front legs of the horse are not attached by any joints. Instead, muscles and ligaments join the shoulder to the rest of the horse's body. Partially because of this, the horse is more efficient to push himself along with her hind end, rather than pull himself along with his front end (which puts unnecessary strain on the muscles attaching his front legs as well as the muscles under his neck). A horse who carries herself properly will have more muscling in her hind end and along the top (crest) of her neck.
The rider sits on the strongest part of the horse's back. However, the added weight throws the horse off balance, especially if the rider is not sitting balanced (think about how you feel when you wear a backpack, especially if it is heavier on one side than the other). The rider's base of support comes from the lowered heel and lower leg. Putting weight in the heels by dropping the heel lower than the toe drops the rider's center of gravity down closer to the ground and, more importantly, closer to the horse's center of gravity. The toe should point forward, not out to the side. A forward-pointing toe is best accomplished by turning the leg by rotating the hip joint. The lower leg should "hug" the horse slightly, so that it neither slides around (too loose) nor pinches the horse's sides (too hard). The knees should be bent slightly, allowing the heel to rest under the rider's hip. The rider should sit up tall in the saddle, keeping your shoulders back but relaxed. The head should be carried over the body, not jutting forward and putting excess strain on the neck and shoulders. Good riding has a lot to do with correct posture! The upper arm should lie vertical next to the torso, and the lower arm should be angled so that there is a straight line from the horse's bit to the rider's elbow. The fingers should be closed with the English rein coming from the bit, between the pinky and ring finger, between the pointer and thumb, and held secure by the thumb.
by Heidi Hesterman
former Certified CHA Instructor
Minor in Equestrian Studies, Houghton College, NY
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