12 Saddle Seat Equitation Mistakes to Avoid

#1. Having a form that is overly stiff.
Riders always need to be mindful of their form, but having too much mindfulness often causes a rider to fall out of form. When you're focused on the posture of your back, keeping your eyes up, the end result is a rider that looks robotic and uncomfortable. Try to relax when you're riding and try to match up what you're doing with the canter of the horse. Otherwise you might be so stiff that you could get pushed off the mount during a simple correction.

#2. Assuming stirrup work doesn't need to be done.
Without stirrup work, your pattern can be broken almost immediately. This is because when there is riding without stirrups, the natural inclination of a rider is to bring the legs back and stick the ankles out, which is most definitely not what you want to do. Keep your shoulders over your hips, remember how you felt with the stirrups in place, and then replicate that experience.

#3. Know your simple patterns.
When a group pattern is called out, it is often the more complicated patterns that get all of the attention. The simple patterns go in one ear and out the other because the rider is feeling extra confident. The only problem is that the simple patterns are judged harshly because there is an expectation that you can accomplish them with perfection. Simple patterns deserve all of your concentration and respect. Without that respect, you'll have sloppy transitions, uneven circles, and uneven spacing.

#4. Those sloppy transitions and diagonals.
You'll find that poor diagonals come in two basic ways: sloppy changes or picking up the wrong diagonals at the beginning of your trot. It's important to remember that you need to change your diagonal to correct it instead of changing something with your body. Sometimes a sloppy change comes because of how the horse is working, but practice will eventually solve this issue. Maintain your carriage throughout each transition, do your best not to brace with your hips or in your stirrups, and you'll avoid this mistake.

#5. Uneven circles.
Horses that are accustomed to equitation are very responsive to the movements of your body. If you're struggling with an uneven circle, then the problem is likely how your body is responding to the center point you're attempting to focus upon. When you turn your head, your body naturally shifts in the same way. The horse will then respond as well. If you're leaning a lot, the horse will lean into the circle and make it uneven. Encourage the horse with your inside hand and leg to move away from the center point so your circle can round out naturally.


#6. Attire and the issue of neatness.
In equitation, judges and exhibitors are supposed to be judged on their ability. Unfortunately the neatness of one's attire will influence the perception of ability when it is seen. It is not unheard of for penalties or eliminations to occur if attire does not meet neatness standards. This means following all informal or formal attire requirements, including traditional requirements, as mandated.

#7. Forgetting to turn off the smartphone.
All electronic devices that can be used for communication are prohibited. This reduces the opportunity for coaches to work with riders while they are in the middle of an equitation. Presidential modifications are allowed that can permit electronic devices, but a good rule of thumb here is to leave the phone or any other mobile device outside the ring.

#8. Clinging to the front of the horse.
When the horse takes a first step, many riders have a natural reaction to move forward with the horse. You see this all the time in equitation and, quite frankly, all horse riding opportunities that exist. Leaning forward, even slightly, increases the chances of a fall happening and you don't want that. To correct this issue, concentrate on maintaining a relaxed form. This will also prevent the horse from deciding that you leaning forward means that you want them to go faster.

#9. Getting the tack all wrong.
According to the USEF, “entries shall be shown in full bridles (curb and snaffle). Pelham bits are permitted in Pleasure Equitation Classes. Martingales or similar tie-downs are prohibited. Flat English-type, Forward seat, Western and side saddles are prohibited.” Although this seems like a pretty basic thing to get right, it is a common mistake that happens for new riders and competitors. Make sure you get the tack right so that you will be allowed to enter the ring.


#10. Underestimating the importance of hand position.
The USEF dictates that the height of a rider's hands are to be held above the withers based on how the horse carries its head. Many riders get into a comfort zone when it comes to their hand position and fail to see a horse that decides to hold their head higher in the carriage one day. Should this happen, the hands will be too low, and this will cause a judging issue for the rider. The same is true for riders used to a horse with a long neck and a high head, then getting onto a horse that has a lower head position. Try to keep the hands level to the mouth of the horse to avoid this issue.

#11. You're going too fast.
Equitation is a discipline which requires precision, elegance, and control. If you're going too fast, then the results are going to be sloppy. You've got to be able to look at the finest details of the horse's performance so that you can get the patterns right. It's all right to be confident in your abilities and the abilities of the horse, but making assumptions about what is going to happen will cause you to go through a practiced pattern too rapidly.

#12. You're not dedicating enough time to equitation.
Not everyone can dedicate the time it takes to get the precision and control right in this practice. It's a division that requires regular practice that is often 6 days per week. You must be willing to challenge yourself on a regular basis, challenge your horse, and find excitement in the precision you can achieve. Only being able to dedicate a day or two per week isn't going to provide you with the results that you may want.

These saddle seat equitation mistakes to avoid are just one part of the equation. You must also examine your personal habits and watch the habits of your horse so that you can correct situations which occur right there in the moment. When you can avoid these mistakes and make instant corrections, then you'll find equitation could be the perfect division for you.

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