HomeExpert AdviceArticleLewis Carrier’s guide to rider straightness

Lewis Carrier’s guide to rider straightness

Posted in Flatwork

Polishing your position and improving your horse’s way of going are intrinsically linked – dressage star Lewis Carrier shares his tips in this new series

Lewis Carrier's rider position advice

Riding effectively, and supporting, rather than hindering, your horse, is crucial to achieving success in whatever discipline you prefer. But dressage is unique in that your riding is specifically marked as part of your test score. So, how can you tweak your riding for maximum marks and be the best rider you can be? Helping riders get the most from themselves and their horses is my passion, and I’m here to help.

One important point to remember is that a lot of being able to ride well comes down to your horse’s way of going. If your horse is working correctly for you, in a good rhythm, outline and balance, it’s much easier to adopt a better position and ride more effectively. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth assessing and improving your position, but just that it’s important to take a holistic view and work on your horse in tandem.

It’s also why the top riders make it look so easy. Because their horses are beautifully schooled and moving forward in front of them, they’re able to sit quietly and use subtle aids to perform the movements. Here’s what you can do to emulate the best riders in the sport.


If your horse tries to change your position, for example by pulling you forward, correct the horse and then you’ll be corrected, too.

Rider position in the saddle

The rider’s core is an essential part of being able to ride well and stay straight in the saddle. Think about your core strength all the time when you’re riding, until engaging it becomes something you don’t really have to think much about at all.

In terms of the ideal riding position, there are two straight lines you need to create and maintain. One runs from your ear to shoulder, elbow, hip and then heel and the other from your elbow to hand and then your horse’s mouth. However, while your position needs to be straight, it’s important that it doesn’t become fixed.

Basically, there’s a balance between sitting too still and moving too much – you need to be able to move with your horse. Check in from time to time – are you holding any part of your body stiffly or fixing a joint? If so, relax and shake out the tension.

Did you know?

Pilates is a great way to improve your core strength and, therefore, your position in the saddle.

How to keep your body in balance

Working on your core strength to help your body be in balance, as well as considering how symmetrical you are, will pay huge dividends in terms of improving your straightness. There are many tools that can do wonders for your riding, such as…

  • making use of the arena mirrors if you’re lucky enough to have some in your school
  • using a gym ball. Have a look on YouTube for exercises you can do to improve your core strength
  • booking some lessons on a mechanical horse
  • buying an elasticated training band that’s designed to help you stay straighter, improve your core strength and ride with a more consistent contact. You can find a variety of these online
  • bridging the reins (pictured above right). This will help you keep a consistent contact and will remind you that your hands should be one entity, not two separate things
  • placing a whip under your thumbs to keep your hands straighter and either side of the saddle (pictured below). We all have one naughty hand!

Lewis Carrier's hand position tips

Having the right mindset

Believe it or not, much of how you ride comes down to your own mentality. You need to feel proud and positive in the saddle, so sit up, look up and ride forward.

Slouching in the saddle not only affects your horse’s way of going, but it creates an unpleasant picture, too. Instead, imagine you’re being pulled up by a piece of string attached to your riding hat. This will help you sit taller and straighter, which is half the battle.

When it comes to riding a test, go down that centre line wanting to win a gold medal. If you don’t adopt the right mental attitude, you’ll ride as if you’re nervous, your shoulders will begin to creep forward and you’ll start to look down. This tips your weight onto your horse’s forehand, meaning he won’t be so well balanced and light in front, and from there it all – literally – goes downhill.

If, on the other hand, you’re struggling with your riding confidence in any way, it can be difficult to stay positive, in which case devise a plan to get you back on track. This could be anything from having some regular lessons with a coach who specialises in rider confidence, to booking onto a confidence course or, sometimes, simply finding a more suitable horse.


When you’re next in the saddle, have the feeling that your hands are holding a tray of teacups and you don’t want to spill any.

Get the right help

Even the best riders wouldn’t look so pretty on an unschooled horse, so paying attention to your horse’s way of going is probably the most valuable way of helping you to ride in a better position. If you’re really having to help the horse through schooling sessions, then you’ll definitely struggle to look tidy on board.

My advice would be to book some lessons to work on developing your horse’s flatwork as much as you can. You want your horse to carry you forward with a good posture and in front of your leg and seat, be equally supple on both sides and to feel light in the contact.

When training on your own, make sure your aids are clear and that your horse listens when you ask him to go or come back to you. Include plenty of circles, loops, transitions, lateral work and other shapes and exercises to ride your way to a better equine athlete.

Once you have your horse going much better underneath you, you’ll find yourself growing taller, riding in greater balance and soon all the hang-ups you had with your position will be something of the past.


If riding makes you feel crooked or sore, it might be a good idea to book a few sessions with a physiotherapist or chiropractor.

Take home tips

Here are the take home tips we think you can start using staraight away…

  • Set goals so you can make a plan. This might be position related but, remember, the better your horse is trained, the better you’ll ride
  • Ask someone to video you regularly, or invest in a Pivo to film yourself. That way, you can keep a check on your progress and look back at how much better your riding has become
  • Keep a diary of what you did and how things went to help your riding and confidence
  • Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with a good support team who genuinely wish you and your horse the utmost success
  • While you’re continuing to train your horse, it’s essential that you don’t forget about the most important thing of all – remembering to have fun 

Our expert: Lewis Carrier is an international Grand Prix dressage rider and coach based in Wiltshire. He’s ridden on the U25 and Young Rider European teams and trains with Carl Hester.

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