Updated: Apr 12, 2021
In the second of our series "Position from Head to Toe", I move onto the shoulders.
Probably the most common mistake I see in riders when it comes to position is hunching. Hunching the shoulders can cause problems due to the tension that it causes in the upper and lower back. That tension means that your lower back can’t move and absorb the horse’s movement fully. Hunching also shifts your weight forwards, which can put your horse on his forehand.
The good news is that hunching is quite straightforward to fix as it’s generally a bad habit due to spending too long sitting at a desk. Try rolling the shoulders, first backwards and then forwards to loosen the tension. Then pull the shoulder blades back and together. Imagine you're pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades to help you get the positioning.
If you drop a shoulder (take a look in the mirror or in a video to check if you do), the best way to fix it is to lift up all the way through your rib cage on that side rather than just “shrugging” your dropped shoulder up - that will just cause more tension. Think of extending the distance between the bottom of your rib cage and the top of your hip.
Finally, there’s the positioning of the shoulders - which is commonly a source of confusion with riders, but it’s really quite simple. A rider’s shoulders should follow the positioning of their horse’s shoulders. On a straight line, the shoulders should be level and straight. Around a bend or curve, the outside shoulder should be slightly in front of the inside shoulder, matching the horse. This positioning is especially important if your horse falls out. Quite often, riders inadvertently give their horses a way out of the “side door” by twisting to the outside. Turning the shoulders to the inside of the turn subtly changes your weight aid and the position of your seatbones, encouraging your horse around the turn too.
Hopefully these tips and tricks are helpful. Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions!