Tips for correcting crookedness in the rider
As humans we are mostly one side dominant, and very few are ambidextrous, however when we ride we need to be as equal to both sides as possible.
Due to this one side dominance we often see riders who constantly lose their stirrups, often only one side, horses becoming one sided, riders leaning, collapsing a hip, etc.
This illustration is what I often come across with new clients and often see when out and about :
As you can see in this illustration the riders left hip has collapsed, although the rider possibly feels straight as her head is in line with her horses spine, pushing the weight into the right hip and leg, pressing the heel down, while the left leg simply hangs. This is going to create a crooked horse as the horse will try to compensate for the weight balance.
As every rider has individual problems, it would be unwise to say that the following tips will cure every single rider's crookedness, however these are where I would begin with most riders to align them.
The following tips are only a guide, and please make sure your horse is sensible enough to allow you to ride without stirrups in a safe area. Also only attempt these exercises if you are physically well enough to do them, if your recovering from injury, it is unwise to attempt them. Ask your doctor if in doubt.
Firstly, with someone to hold your horse, take your feet out of the stirrups, let go of the reins and slowly bring your knees up in front of the pommel until they meet, your feet should be on the saddle flaps not the horses shoulder, now gently shuffle your seat into the deepest part of the saddle, most riders need to go towards the pommel, then without moving your seat, lower your legs until they hang down by the horses sides again. This now has you sitting in the deepest and correct part of the saddle.
Secondly, still with help holding the horse, and your feet out of the stirrups, maintaining your seat position, stretch both legs away (outwards not forwards) from the saddle from the hip joint, only as much as you feel a little strain, you shouldn't stretch too far, just enough so your thigh comes away from the saddle, hold the leg out for a count of about 3, then allow the leg to gently relax and hang, be careful that when your leg comes away that your seat doesn't rise, repeat this exercise about 3 - 5 times, it will feel stretched, but you shouldn't feel pain. When you have completed this exercise, you can take your stirrups back, they may well feel short now, as after riding without stirrups, however tempting it is to stand up and shuffle around, don't! All your good work will be ruined! Lengthen your stirrups if necessary, and allow your feet to rest on the stirrup.
Thirdly, now you are sitting deep and the leg has stretched the hips, you need to make sure your core/pelvis is holding you in the correct position, the following illustration gives you an idea of what to look for:
This illustration provides you with an image to take to the saddle with you, as you can see the core/pelvis of this rider is a bucket of water, when she is sat in balance with a correct hip and seat (as we should have now achieved) you can carry your bucket without spillage, however leaning or collapsing will spill the contents.
Now we are ready to look at the top of you, if you have mirrors or a video camera it will be beneficial, but failing that, a friend with an eye for horses and straightness is what you need.
So we started at the hip and leg, moving onto the core/pelvis, those 3 things when aligned correctly should have you sat upright without tension while the leg is allowed to relax and hang from the hip.
Head and shoulders next, shoulder roles, without lifting your seat, are great for removing tension along with positioning your shoulders, slowly lift both shoulders up to your ears, bringing the shoulder blades back as if to meet, then letting them drop down but not forwards, with the weight being allowed to fall into the elbow which should be soft and bent. Your chin lifted and neck in line with your spine, if your head is down or leaning, it will eventually travel down your body and create the collapse at your hip again.
So, the friend now needs to view you from all angles, from the back, draw an imaginary line from the centre of the hat, down the spine, to the cantle and the horses spine/tail, if you are sat centrally all those lines should line up, if your "spilling your water" the line will deviate, your eyes on the ground needs to inform you of any deviation as you may not feel it yourself if you have been riding the same way for a long time, wrong to us will feel right to you! However if you have followed these tips and made adjustments as necessary, it may well feel very strange and out of line for you, then your eyes on the ground will tell you that you are straight!
When you have achieved this in the halt, you then need to try walk, which is the easiest as not much changes apart from the following of the movement of the horse, then the trot, in practice, it is the trot that creates the tightening of the hips again, as during the rise or "post" part of the rising trot, your hips will narrow on lifting and the trick is, is to open them again on the sit, to begin with it will seem difficult, however, when you have had a trot, once you walk again, review your position and see where you have changed, usually the central balance has slipped along with the stirrups suddenly feeling short again, if this happens, go through your check list as done earlier, stretch out the leg (you can do this with stirrups) and check your core.
It is only with practice and constant corrections to begin with that your body will learn to use this new position and not revert to how you have been sitting, as muscle memory is a strong thing and you will have to retrain your muscles by repetition to confirm this is now correct. You may also want to have a look at your daily work to see if there is anything there that maybe adding to the crookedness, for example, if you sit at a desk all day as a lot of people do, do you sit equally or lean on an arm of the chair, do you cross your legs in only one direction, do you carry things in only one hand, etc etc.
As mentioned at the beginning, every rider is unique and the corrections needed for each individual vary, however most people may feel a difference after trying these exercises. There are of course many other exercises available to use, this is a small selection of what I use in my training.