If you’re like me, you look at your first-pony photos (it’s all about nostalgia these days) and cringe a bit at the position of your leg—no doubt, stuck a little (or a lot!) too far forward. I can even remember the sensation of posting early in my riding evolution, and the “plop, plop” of my bottom on the seat of my saddle as I thrust myself up and down off the stirrups. The short-strided Shetland I rode made the bum-to-leather a rapid-fire sort of sound.
Now I can say my leg and seat are secure and educated enough to keep my hind-end silenced—as it should be. But we can all benefit from cross-checking our Center of Gravity (COG) every once in a while, ensuring we are riding with the best alignment possible, from hip through the foot, to keep us secure and stable on our horses.
In her book 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes, bestselling author and popular clinician Wendy Murdoch explains that the classical riding alignment in a full seat is a straight (plumb) line that drops through your ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle or heel.
“This is a simple way to describe the physical principle of aligning the body in gravity to achieve a steady, balanced position,” she says. “This position minimizes the effects of gravity by keeping your center of gravity over your feet. Each location on the line represents a significant joint where critical movement needs to occur to keep you in balance.
“Between your ears is your atlanto-occipital joint, where your head meets the first cervical vertebra. The ball-and-socket joints of shoulders and hips provide the freedom for your arms and legs, and the ankle joint (where the lower leg meets the foot) is where your weight comes down into your foot. Fluid movement occurs in all of these locations when the body is balanced, allowing you to have an ‘independent seat, hands, and legs.’ This movement is impeded when you are out of balance or are restricting the joints by trying to attain a certain style of riding, which does not adhere to this line.”
Murdoch says that when jumping, the same principles apply. You want a balanced position with your center of gravity over your base of support, but in the two-point position, the vertical plumb line only passes through your COG and ankle.
“The weight of your upper body and pelvis must be equally balanced in front and behind this line for the body to remain stable over your feet,” she writes. “Your foot is the bottom of the base of support.”
Try this simple exercise to learn to sense when your COG is over your feet:
1. Stand up and lean forward as far as you can without moving your feet. If you go too far you will have to take a step to keep you from falling on your face. Go just up to that point. Feel what happens in your hips, shoulders, knees, and ankles. What happens to your breathing? Notice the amount of tension in your body required to keep you from falling.
2. Lean back as far as you can without taking a step and notice what happens. You cannot lean back as much as you can go forward due to the length of your foot in front vs. the heel behind your ankle. Remember your ankle is where your weight comes down into your foot.
3. Stand with your head over your feet. Notice how the areas of tension you observed in the other two positions have disappeared. When your COG is over your feet you don’t have to worry about falling. You can let go of the tension because you no longer need to employ more muscle to hold you up. Your head is balanced over your feet.
4. Repeat the exercise in your jumping position on the ground noticing where you hold tension. If you make slight changes in your lower back and hips you can find a place that doesn’t require extra tension to keep you from falling.
This excerpt from 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES by Wendy Murdoch is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.