Equine Ballerina

I started riding Western & barrel racing out in Colorado when I was still in the single-digits [in terms of my age]. Since my family lived in Connecticut, I soon started riding English and by middle school I was showing in the hunter/equitation ring. About halfway through high school, I got burnt out between the politics and the money involved in equitation so I flat out quit riding. I had to sell my horse in order to pay for college anyways so I figured, what the heck…no horse, no money for the show, and, if I quit, no more politics or stress.

So what did I do with my time?

I went back to dance class and picked up ballet..yes..ballet. I promise, there was no tutu involved but nevertheless…I was a ballerina for my senior year of high school. At about that same time, there was a 27-year-old riding trainer at my school/barn (they were one in the same), who saw the real me better than I could at the time. She convinced me to start riding again; training with her and her students for IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association) horse shows. Stay tuned for another post on IEA but, for the sake of this story, I’ll summarize by saying that IEA shows are horse shows for students in middle and high school to compete in one of four divisions. At these shows, you leave your own horses at home and instead, you ride one of the hosting farm’s horses that is selected by pulling a [horse’s] name out of a hat.

Anyways, I started riding and showing again solely to fill the “Open” division for our IEA Team. Though I had always placed well at shows, this became the first time that I was consistently placing in the top three at every show. Fast forward  to the Spring of my senior year of high school and I ended up winning the 2010 IEA National Finals for my division.

So what does this have to do with ballet?

Answer: Everything!

EWS IEA 2010

In equitation, position is over 50% of the deal. Next to modeling, equitation may be one of the most judgmental competition forms that exists. However, ballet can improve your position (and your scores) more than you could ever imagine (at least it was a surprise for me). While I strongly suggest taking a Barre class or two (it’s seriously a great workout & will improve your position just like ballet class), I will give you the key tips that will really help (though a formal instructor is probably better).

Tip 1: Engage your core!

How?

Stand with your back against the wall. Engage your core and tilt your pelvis forward so there is no room between your back and the wall (thus removing the arch in your back). Now, remember how this feels and try to do it without the wall as your guide.

Tip 2: Keep your shoulders back AND down.

How?

You can practice this against the wall as well for a guide but be sure check yourself every now and then by rolling your shoulders up, back, and then down. Don’t forget to keep engaging your core!

Posture

Final Step?

Do this on your horse.

It will take time to build the muscle memory but I PROMISE you, it will be worth it and help your position and connection with your horse on both the flat and over fences.

Questions? Please post them!!!!

Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Linda’s Position Remedies

Every equestrian knows that position is everything and as a young rider, I learned this lesson quickly through a number of training techniques that I will never forget.

#1: How to keep your legs steady and core strong

Try removing the stirrups from your saddle. If this is a new thing for you, do “No stirrup Tuesdays” and every Tuesday remove your stirrups completely (simply dropping them while on leads to cheating so remember to remove them). If you really want to master this, join me in “No stirrups November” where you remove your stirrups from your saddle for the entirety of November. You could always do this any other month but I thought it went along nicely with “No shave November”.

#2: How to keep your shoulders back

a) Using either a crop or a think wooden stick (like a broomstick but shorter) place it behind your back, holding it in place with your elbows so that the crop/stick rests in the crease of your elbows. I had complete lessons like this including W/T/C and small fences but it you choose to do that make sure there is some sort of supervision and if you feel yourself falling backwards or if anything goes wrong, drop one hand immediately to let go of the stick. That said, this is an excellent way to improve your posture and position.

b) If you’re lucky enough to find one of these, get on a horse that stops at every fence if you lean at it. Just a warning, you will fall off (I did about 3 times in one lesson at a trot fence) BUT once you learn not to lean, you’ll clean up at every show.

c) Take a ballet class. If that’s not available, try a barre class. The posture and positions in ballet force you to engage your core and strengthen your back which will aid in maintaining your position while riding.

#3: How to keep your leg in the proper position

Using bailing twin, tie the inside metal piece of your stirrup to the girth. It will be uncomfortable but you will learn where your leg should be. I had to do this for about a month before I learned and every now and then I remind myself by reattaching the twin and riding with it again.

Hope this was helpful!