In partnership with Wintec Saddles

How often do you think about your posture and the way you are sitting while hacking a horse? It’s easy to underestimate how important rider position is outside of an arena. However, when you’re riding for many miles and in the saddle for long periods of time, your position is intrinsically linked to both your long-term comfort and your horse’s.

“Sometimes we use an opportunity for a hack just to relax, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but equally, if we’re hacking out a lot, it’s easy to get into bad habits,” says biomechanics coach Hannah Irons. “Say your horse suddenly spooks and shoots sideways — if you’re sat like a sack of potatoes, you’re probably not going to be able to move with your horse as effectively as you would if you’d been sat correctly.”

Staying on board during tricky moments isn’t the only benefit of good posture out hacking. It will also protect you from body aches and pains.

“The horse moves a lot underneath a rider, and if we’re not tuned in with them then we’re not absorbing that movement and force, so it can cause us to tense and strain,” explains Hannah.

Correct posture for hacking

So, how should we be sitting on a hack?

“Firstly, the most important and often misconstrued thing is being relaxed,” says Hannah. “We know we should sit up tall and have our shoulders back and down, but if you do that you may feel very tense or hollow your back. So when you sit up it should feel like a natural posture and not forced.”

If you’re holding yourself bolt upright then you’ll be too tense and unable to absorb the motion of the horse beneath you.

“The ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment is important,” adds Hannah. “It’s a good guide for all riders, no matter their discipline.”

Whole horse effect

Riding with the reins in one hand is a beneficial skill for horses and riders, but over time it can change your posture and the way you sit in the saddle, as well as how your horse moves beneath you.

“It’s really important to have those moments to allow your horse to have a long rein and relax, but sometimes it becomes a habit,” says Hannah.

“You see a lot of riders hacking out with the reins in one hand, and typically it’ll result in both rider and horse twisting to one side. When you’re doing it consistently you’ll almost always have a slight flexion one way, and it will have a whole horse effect because they won’t track up correctly and have stronger muscles on one side.”

There’s no need to completely stop riding this way, confirms Hannah, but do consider carefully how often you do it.

“Riding one-handed is expected from the BHS for when you’re using hand signals or leading another horse, so it’s a very beneficial skill,” she adds. “Just remember to have some awareness so that you don’t end up having that knock-on effect through the body.”

How to improve your posture

You don’t need to be in the arena or mirrors to improve your posture. Hannah explains that there are small exercises you can do before you leave the yard or on your hack to help you feel more secure in the saddle.

1. Check in

“A really good thing for riders to do is check in with themselves,” says Hannah. “If you’ve ever done mindfulness, meditation or yoga, then you’ll have an idea of what to do. Do a ‘body scan’ and run down from head to toe to see how you feel.”

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How does my head feel?
  • Am I tilting to one side?
  • Do my shoulders feel level?
  • Am I equal through my seat bones?
  • Have I got the same weight through each stirrup?

“It’s really useful to do the with your eyes closed, but it’s hard to do while riding a horse for safety reasons,” adds Hannah. Practise this on the ground with your eyes closed, and it’ll help you get better at doing it with your eyes open once you’ve mounted up.

2. Loosen your shoulders

If your day job involves working behind a desk, chances are you’ll be sitting still for a long time and this can make us feel stiff.

“There’s a saying ‘movement is medicine’ and it’s true,” says Hannah. “Simple things like shoulder rolls get everything moving. You can do this on a long rein.”

Roll your shoulders forward and then backward a few times. Next, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, hold for a few seconds, and then let them drop back down. Repeat this a few times.

3. Mobilise your ankles

Stretching your legs and ankles can also make you feel more comfortable. For this exercise, you’ll need to take your feet out of the stirrups. Practise this before you leave the yard or in the confines of an arena — somewhere you feel safe and in control — and just do one foot at a time, if you feel safe to do so.

“Take your foot out of the stirrup and do some gentle stretches. Flex your foot up and down, do some circles in each direction. Repeat on the other side, and you’ll be good to go,” says Hannah, who is also a riding instructor, confidence coach, and a Franklin Method Equestrian Level 1 Educator and BHS Stage 2 Foundation Coach.

This content is brought to you in partnership with Wintec Saddles, durable, comfortable, easy-care, weather-proof saddles for everyone and proud support of #Hack1000Miles.

Related content