Defending Correct Dressage Leg Position as Demonstrated By Steffen Peters

Apr 04, 2011 5 Comments by

I read some interesting articles last week regarding dressage saddle fit and rider position. The discussion brought into question the accuracy of the ear-shoulder-hip-heel line in proper dressage leg position.

It all started with an article that international dressage rider Catherine Haddad posted on Chronicle of the Horse called Supersize It Syndrome. She writes about some common mistakes dressage riders make in their saddle fit. One of her observations is that:

6. & 7. The ear, shoulder, hip, heel line that has been touted as an equitation ideal is useful in saddleseat riding, but not in dressage. Sitting on a “three point” seat—pubic bone and two seat bones—is painful and wrong.

In dressage, you must sit with your knee far enough forward to avoid tilting onto your pubic bone. If the knees are forced backward, 99 percent of the riders in the world are tilted onto the front of their pelvis.

You should sit relaxed on your two seat bones with your thigh and knee extended comfortably in front of you. If you pull your knee backward, you will tip onto the front of your seatbones toward the pubic bone. Your hips will lock. When you restrict the motion of your own pelvis, you also restrict the motion of your horse’s back. To avoid a chair seat and get closer to the touted line, simply bend your knee, placing your foot on the horse’s barrel. Do not pull the knee backward!

Now Rita, study the reality. How many top dressage riders present an ear, shoulder, hip, heel line in real life? The best ones almost always have their heel slightly ahead of this line. In classical Greek and Roman sculpture, you will find riders sitting in natural balance on the horse—with the knee placed well forward and the lower leg falling comfortably out the knee toward the ground. Why? Because these sculptures were created by artists who studied anatomy, and this is how a human skeleton best fits an equine skeleton. It’s natural interspecies physiology.

Kitt, a professional saddle fitter and blogger responded nicely to all of Catherine’s observations, so I won’t rehash it here. But I agree with Kitt that while Catherine makes some interesting observations, she’s completely overlooking the critical component here: good saddle fit.

I will however argue that Catherine needs a lot more evidence if she’s going to convince me that the ear-shoulder-hip-heel line actually isn’t ideal. I would say that if you have a saddle that truly fits you and your horse correctly, it will put you into the correct alignment and seat and you will be a better, more effective rider.

And I will argue vehemently that the best dressage riders do in fact ride with their heels on the line. While Catherine may not, I don’t see her beating out Edward Gal or Steffen Peters too often. I think that Steffen Peters is one of the most beautiful – and as his winning record attests most successful – dressage riders today. And he does ride in the classically aligned dressage leg position.

Watch this video of Steffen Peters winning the World Dressage Masters 2011 and tell me if you could argue that the best riders have their heels ahead of that line:

What do you think?

Dressage, Riding and showing

5 Responses to “Defending Correct Dressage Leg Position as Demonstrated By Steffen Peters”

  1. Barbara says:

    I’m on your side. Riding in alignment is effective and should not be uncomfortable. Riding in a chair seat puts you behind the motion. Dressage riders ride with a longer leg than jump riders and so their KNEE is farther back. The knee is not part of the alignment. Shoulder, hip, heel is where the riders weight and balance are. The knee is not part of that. Good riders work to stay aligned no matter how long or short the irons are.

  2. Nina Akerley says:

    The most fascinating perspective from Catherine is not, in my opinion, the issue about the knee, but rather the “three points” of the seat. It’s physiologically paradoxical to extend the joints of your pelvis (essentially “opening your seat”) and maintain contact with the saddle on both your pelvis bones and the pubic bone. Moreover, the points of the pelvic bones are below the pubic bone so you have to tilt forward to maintain contact with all three, thus throwing yourself and your horse out of balance. For dressage, an open and allowing seat that promotes freedom of movement plus balance, trumps a textbook seat. In that respect, I think Catherine is spot. on.

  3. Gabrielle Dareau says:

    I think the point that is being missed here is that developing the correct position is, for the rider, as much of a gymnastic process of suppling joints and developing the correct muscles as it is for the horse.
    Achieving the correct seat, with the pelvis tucked onto the back of the seat-bones and the pubic bone lifted, at the same time as having a correct leg position, stretched back around the barrel of the horse, requires significant suppling of the hip joint from years of determination and physical effort. It is not something that humans can just do naturally. Without this suppleness of the joints (with the back up of the rear thigh muscle to hold the leg back, and the core muscles to keep the pelvis tucked) the rider is indeed forced to chose between a ‘correct’ leg position with an incorrect fork seat, or a correct seat with a forwards and therefore ineffective leg position.
    This is actually one of the toughest obstacles to overcome in achieving the correct position, hence the fact that so many dressage riders ride with either a fork seat/hollow back, or no leg position. This web page on rider biomechanics gives some good explanations:
    It is great that Catherine Haddad is speaking out against the far-too-common misconception that the correct seat involves sitting on the pubic bone, but riders need to know that this does not mean you have to sacrifice the correct leg position – it just takes a lot of hard work and patience, and in the end you can have both!

  4. Name says:

    It is interesting that not one person here has considered the riders’ physical attributes. Just like horses we have “conformation” and maybe if we learn to work within and for a “balance that take into account bothe the horses and the riders “balance” poiints then we might truly understand,

  5. Michelle says:

    I agree with the previous post – a lot of it is about your own body type.

    But also – if you watch him, yes his leg is in the correct position, but much of the time, his heels are up…I find it difficult to keep my heel down with weight in it, and also have my leg back in the ‘correct’ spot. Just saying – we’re all built differently. I think that as long as you have balance, stability, softness, and the horse is moving correctly, you are ok.

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