Upper Body Movement While Flatting

Hello everyone and Happy New Year!

I have a problem that’s been plaguing me on the flat for a while now and I’m looking for some solutions or exercises to fix it. Whenever I flat I get really stiff in my upper body and end up having a lot of movement front-to-back with my shoulders and I lock my arms (my elbows don’t move enough).

Part of this is potentially conformational… I have a very long upper body and short arms. But I’ve recently gotten feedback from judges (after flat classes at IHSA shows, recently) that I am too stiff in my upper body throughout my flat work in flat classes. Any exercises I can do (on or off the horse) to improve this and start moving more through my arms? I also have problems with hunching my shoulders (thinking these issues might be connected… when I try to extend my arms I end up hunching my shoulders). Really willing to take any advice at this point!

Thank you so much for any and all help!

Here is the article on the Driving Rein. https://murdochmethod.com/no-56-holding-reins-like-driving-lines/

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I wonder if it couldn’t be your hips that are stuck and your upper body is compensating.


I always forget about the driving rein and how magical it is!

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doublesstable Thank you so much for your plethora of knowledge! You are so helpful and knowledgable. I will be trying it all very soon.

Definitely could be. I have a fair amount of lower back pain and tightness (as we all do, I believe) and also tight IT bands. My hips are frequently “off” when I visit the chiropractor. Any suggestions?

Something silly but effective that I was told when I needed to relax my upper body was to swallow. It releases a bunch of muscles and tendons in your neck, shoulders and chest.

In the show ring especially, I tend to hold me breath and retract into my body like a turtle. Reminding myself to swallow released a lot of tension and required I take a breath.

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Could be that your saddle has you sitting incorrectly/uncomfortably on the horse. It seems to me that a lot of attention these days is paid to the saddle fitting the horse, and not enough “Is it the correct saddle for the rider”. We’re all put together differently, and a saddle that works for one person can be disastrous for another. You might try riding in some different saddles or just go to a good consignment shop and sit in a variety of saddles - then take one or two on try-out and see if that makes a difference. Try different twists (narrow-wide), different configuration of knee rolls/thigh blocks, even different types of stirrup irons (after all, balance starts at the balls of your feet, and a change in angle can make all the difference). And as we get older, a saddle that once was fine, may not be a few years later as our body changes.

A saddle shouldn’t just be comfortable, but put you in the correct position so you aren’t fighting to stay where you need to be. It’s not a cure-all, but it can definitely make a huge difference.

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The lower back and hips must follow . or control each stride. If they don’t “give” they have the upper body above them , moving to compensate.

If you use your elbows properly , you can lengthen the rein, without losing contact. The feel in the rein transmits no matter what the length. Witness the stretch on contact in dressage. The neck is long, the rein is long, but not loose or free.

I have all sorts of aches and pains, but NOT lower back pain.

I have short arms too and the struggle is real!!! My trainer one time told me to shorten my reins but keep my elbows at my sides and i’m like look dude it’s one or the other because I have T Rex arms. I’ve been riding with slightly longer reins in order to keep my shoulders back and elbows at my sides…there’s still a connection with my horses mouth and weight in the reins, but they are just a tad longer so that I can have my body in the right place. I am so envious of people with normally size limbs! On a side note, I once had a guy on a dating app message me and ask me if I was a midget or a dwarf because my arms and legs were so small … needless to say I didn’t message him back!!


I have similar issues, except for the short arms!
I do a lot of cantering with the driving rein, especially if I’m cold or getting tired.

I know for me a lot of it stems from my hips and lower back. A saddle switch has made it much easier to sit up and keep my leg on, which in turn has made it easier to focus on relaxing and moving with his back. I consciously have to think “tuck your tail bone under, pretend a string it pulling you straight up, now allow your lower back to MOVE”. I also drop my stirrups a little bit each ride to stop myself from taking the easy way out and standing in my stirrups all the time. At least once a month I’ll do a bareback ride, even if you just walk around you can use the movement of the horses back to independently move your seat bones, and lower back.

The interesting thing is that I know there are a lot of other people who have the same issue they just don’t know they do. Either they spend all their canter work in two point or a half seat, or they have a horse doesn’t move them around at all. My mom’s horse is built very uphill, has tons of step, but doesn’t move the rider at all. He’s been lent out to several juniors over the years for eqs and medals because anyone can just “sit pretty” on him. He makes me look like an equitation queen, and then I get on my horse who is a big moving hunter and the rounder he gets the more he moves the rider around.

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Of course…

It makes sense as others have chimed in too. I have found massage, stretches and Physical Therapy/strength work has really helped. I am still tight and stiff with my shoulders and hips… but it’s improving.

I agree with Good Times about so many people have the same issue. Two point is much easier for me as well. Good we are aware so we can work to make it better.

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Yoga and pilates!! And you need a foam roller. It hurts - but is really effective, I’ve found!

FWIW - After reading this thread, I tried the “driving rein.” My arms are notoriously ugly and my elbows unbendy, particularly at the trot. Today I used the driving rein and my friend - who uses to be my trainer until she went back to army status - commented immediately on the improvement! Definitely added to my training repertoire! Thanks for the tip!!

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