One of the major things I’ve noticed when judging equitation classes around the country is that many riders lack an understanding of the use of two-point and three-point position. This is especially evident in equitation on the flat. For many years, the USEF Rule Book has stated, “At the walk, sitting trot, and canter, body should be a couple of degrees in front of the vertical…” (EQ 108, #4)
If you think about it, a couple of degrees in front of the vertical—that is, 2 degrees in front of the vertical—is nearly a vertical position, with only a small allowance for staying with the forward motion of the horse. If you were riding at the walk with your upper body 2 degrees in front of the vertical, then picked up the canter and tried to maintain this same inclination with your seat out of the saddle, you’d be standing erect in your stirrups—that is, until you lost your balance and fell backward into the saddle. It must be concluded, then, that the rider’s position at the walk, sitting trot, and canter are exactly the same, with the rider sitting at the canter.
There are benefits to remaining seated at the canter:
- You can feel the placement of the horse’s feet, so it’s easier to pick up the correct lead, to notice if the horse is about to strike out on the incorrect one at the canter depart, or to feel that the horse is unbalanced and about to switch leads.
- You can use your weight in a subtle way to help control the frame of the horse and the speed of the gait. This is especially helpful during difficult equitation tests, in which a shorter, more controlled step puts the rider at a great advantage over those whose horses are travelling in a long frame.
People who keep their seat out of the saddle at the canter often don’t know how to relax into the rhythm of the horse and are “saving themselves” from a rough ride. Work at the sitting trot without stirrups will help the rider find a place to comfortably sit. Once the sitting trot is comfortable, the canter should be a snap!
As for two-point position, it is used to free the horse’s back for greater speed and jumping. The greater the speed, the higher the rider’s stirrups should be. For this reason, the dressage rider has the longest stirrup; the equitation rider on the flat has a shorter one; the equitation rider over fences has a slightly shorter one (usually one or two holes difference on the stirrup leathers); the steeplechaser has a much shorter stirrrup; and the flat-racer has the shortest stirrrup of all. Speed, then, dictates the stirrup length.
As for jumping, the rider needs to maintain his own balance, with his weight lifted off the horse’s back and his body inclined forward to remain with the motion of the horse as it jumps. Oddly enough, one of the major faults I see in the United States is riders sitting on course. The weight of the seat hinders the flow of the horse’s stride and makes it difficult for the animal to jump smoothly as the rider hurls himself forward at take-off to catch up to the motion. Once a rider picks up the canter for a class over fences, he should rise into two-point position, with his body inclined forward about 30 degrees in front of the vertical. He should use the circle to increase the pace until the horse is on a twelve-foot stride, which is the national standard upon which courses are based. Being inclined forward with his seat raised above the saddle, he is poised to help the horse throughout the course by freeing its back and remaining with the animal’s motion between the fences and over them.
Nothing thrills me more than to look at a rider and see that he understands the theory of what he’s doing. The difference between “guessing” and “knowing” is education, so give yourself the best chance of pinning well by showing the judge that you know you’re supposed to be sitting at the canter and that you know you’re supposed to be in two-point throughout a course of fences.
Talk to you later! — AJ