Heel, hip, shoulder position - what happened to it?

I feel crazy for thinking I’m not seeing the straight line from the heel, hip, shoulder in more riders lately.

Is this starting to become more common? Any particular reason?

I’ve seen some conflicting information about how some people say that when you are riding bareback, your legs tend to go out in front of you naturally. But my pony club ways have been drilled into my head lol.

I’ve been out of the riding world for a bit so I could be out of touch. But I’m sometimes confused when I see upper level riders/trainers.

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There is indeed a tendency to lean back a bit when sitting in to ride the giant extended trot. Legs also move when using aids for lateral work or flying changes. I would look at the whole ride and see whether these are temporary moves for specific purposes.

It is true that riding bareback puts you in a bit of a chair seat. That doesn’t mean it’s the best position to ride in a saddle.

It’s also true that shorter stirrups for eventing that give you the right position for a forward seat or two point can make you look chair seat when you are just sitting in at the walk. Also jockeys.

The other thing to remember is that instruction aimed at children and beginners is always simplified. If the student can’t ride correctly they need to master that first.

Temporary alterations to perfect equitation by highly skilled riders in extreme situations are not the same thing as Suzy Beginner in a chair seat or tilting forward and leg flying back.

Riding is dynamic.


Jockeys don’t sit at all. They are literally standing in the irons.

Also, men and women sit differently due to the difference in pelvic shape. Women have pelvises intended for birthing babies.

I have noticed that some dressage saddles tend to have forward flaps. Some people sit quite well in those. I, for one, cannot. Puts me in a chair seat straight away. But it sounds like you are looking at photos of top trainers riding. Can you share some and point out where you see what appears to you to be incorrect position? Scribbler is 100% correct. Riding is dynamic. And while the goal is for the aids to be imperceptible to the casual observer, a split-second in time in a photo is going to show all sorts of changes in position of the rider.

FWIW, I have noticed a trend to lean too far back. As Scribbler said, that’s sometimes done to stay with a huge extended trot. But I’ve seen some people sitting that way in every gait. It is incorrect for sure.


I was thinking of when you see jockeys on the horse like for a winners circle picture. They are perched up there. Just as an extreme example of how functional short stirrups for speed can look like chair seat when not moving.

I saw OP had a post a few years back about correcting riding flaws with lots of good advice given.

I’d say that for most of us, it’s still the best thing to ride with correct equitation and then when we find ourselves needing to modify it to sit a giant trot or cue tempi changes or ride a bronco, correct is still our fall back.

If you want to see a different type of riding look at saddle seat. That’s functional for their goal of giant gaits. It’s possible dressage is trending that way due to the emphasis on crazy big trot as the epitome of dressage now.


After losing my jumpin’ fool of a TB mare :heart:, I rode a BO’s BTDT field hunter and took occasional lessons from her daughter. During one lesson the daughter made uncomplimentary comments about people who rode with their legs under them. She expressed surprise that I did so and didn’t fall forward.

It was drilled into me as a kid that head, hips and heels should be in a straight line, and I guess that stuck. :+1:

ETA: I was also taking Centered Riding dressage lessons at the time from a good instructor, and my leg position wasn’t a problem at all.


If the horse should magically disappear from under you, you should be able to land on your feet. That’s what Mary Wanless says, so if your feet are too far in front of you, you’ll land on your bum. I see more chair seat riding than the opposite, especially when the stirrups are too long. Legs will sometimes swing while posting if not in the shoulder/hip/heel alignment. When younger I rode with longer stirrups and a slight chair seat and being balanced when posting was difficult. Riding with shorter stirrups keeps my feet more correct, with an angle in my leg, and can now post much more easily.


There are lots of shades of gray. For one, jumping/forward seat and dressage have different demands. For jumping it’s imperative to have your center of gravity sinking down through your heels so you can get up in 2-point to gallop and jump staying balanced in the stirrups.

In dressage, the balance is in the “tripod” of the seat, and less weight goes into the stirrups. This frees the lower leg to be moved forward and back to some extent to apply more refined aids. It is very much possible to remain centered/upright on the middle of the saddle while putting the leg a bit forward, which I would not consider a chairseat. It requires a lot of core strength and hip flexibility. Yes, sometimes the foot also ends up a little forward to brace the rider in an extended gait, etc. Neutral is usually still in some semblance of shoulder/hip/heel alignment. It also depends on the rider’s conformation as well, we don’t all have the exact same proportions, so the best alignment and balance won’t look the same for everyone.


exactly! A persons conformation has to come in to play as does the horse of course!


Is this the kind of thing you mean OP?

That’s what I’d class as waterskiing off the back of the horse.
Not a chair seat, not a rider conformation issue and seen far, far more often than it should be.


Many people are leaning back to cope with the horse’s movement. And I believe…… I recall CDK instructing riders to lean very far back, then gradually come up to vertical, towards developing their sitting trot. In addition, the fact that not all human bodies are proportioned the same way is something that has finally dawned on the community as a whole. ‘T-Rex arms’ are an easy to see example of this. But proportions below the belt vary just as wildly. Not to mention placement of stirrup bars, thigh blocks, balance point of saddle, ‘mound’ or ‘hole’ in horse’s back, etc.

Long story short, OP, indeed there has been a lot of questioning about the old paradigms and instructions. And you can find folks advising pretty much everything, at this point.

I am a big Mary Wanless proponent. Her RWYM Essentials is a great place to start if you are curious about the newer schools of thought on these questions.

Yet I can’t ride the Wanless style. My back kills me riding her method. I did a few sessions with her and with one of her students who is certified. I just could not do it.

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Yes. This is what I teach as well. It relates to the biomechanics of two-legged balance vs. four legged balance. If your balance is compromised, it is two-legged reflex to curl into a fetal ball. You can’t help it. In the saddle, you have to retrain your reflexes to work with four-legged balance. This requires sitting upright in alignment (shoulder, hip, heel). Some riders struggle with sitting upright, especially in the trot, and I tell them to lean back. Generally speaking, you barely get them to sit up straight when you say that. I think riders (like the one in the picture above) feel how secure it makes their seat when they lean back (picture a saddle bronc rider - that’s the ultimate leaning back) and then tend to gravitate toward that position when they feel the slightest loss of balance in the saddle. IMO it’s a bad habit that should be corrected.


I see a whole lot of chair seat.
I’m wondering if that’s more commonly a saddle issue, as the few images I’m thinking of, it seemed the cantle was low.

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Sometimes I wonder if this is the Dressage equivalent of riders in Hunt seat who throw themselves up the neck and fling their lower leg back as if the jump was SO huge… Or Barrellracers starfishing.

The recent HJ issue of COTH was filled with pictures of riders draped all over their horse’s necks. I could not help thinking “I’d love to hear George Morris comment on these.”

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Where are you seeing this?

I will say that a lot more of us sit at a desk more than we probably used to and that will make us considerably less flexible in the hips which will cause more of a chair seat (which in my opinion can be a valid “stage” of riding as the rider tries to learn to use the seat but isn’t flexible enough yet for good shoulder hip ankle alignment) until the rider works that through.

If it’s more the upper body, then like some folks have explained it maybe to help sit the extravagant gaits.


I just noticed the last time I went to Harisburg for the indoor some junior jumper riders are in three point and have their shoulders way behind their seat and heel line going to the fence. I am not sure how effective it is but it does not look very good and (unlike dressage) the rider has the fence to negotiate with the horse. It definitely was not a classic forward seat (even a three point.) So it might be across disciplines at this point.

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The alignment is definitely a thing!

It’s not as important as the artificial emphasis on it was when I was competing in equitation. It came after the adhering seat and figuring out how to ride in balance for me.

I had stages getting toward pretty good alignment:

  1. Leaning back per the de Kunffy method. This took ensuring reins were long enough I was NOT hanging on my horse’s face. Because I had a horse who wanted to curl, and from there buck, it was easy for me to avoid water-skiing! I also learned this as the technique for staying on when he bucks!
  2. Using the front of my core above my seat to sit upright and get the shoulder-hip alignment. This allowed me to influence more with my seat, whereas leaning back was more of a passenger stage. This left my legs still too far forward, and it took a LOT of strengthening hamstrings to hold my legs back and correctly under me. This was easy on my smallest mare, but in the two 16.3-ers, it is hard because my body wants to compensate for their width with putting my legs forward. This still made it more challenging to lighten my seat if I wanted, or add swing to encourage stride length.
  3. Aligned body. The image my old trainer gave was sitting as if on the front of a cresting wave - a surfer is balanced, moving with the water, and can adjust any direction. The aligned and balanced body and seat means 1) it is WAY easier to sit big gaits, and 2) you can influence any direction you want. I get slightly shoulders in front of the vertical and more tall in the saddle to return to a collected gait vs deeper and allowing more movement through my body for a longer, more swinging gait. That type of adjustment was far harder at step 2.
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