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?