byNina Fedrizzi| Dec 1, 2017
Height is often considered an advantage in equestrian sport, where long legs can provide balance, stability, and purchase over a course of jumps, and help to maintain a strong connection in the dressage ring and all facets of training. The sad reality is that many of us (**slowly raises hand**) are not born with that coveted, textbook equitation frame and must therefore make do with whatever we’ve got.
The good news? We’re in good company. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum isn’t just one of the best riders in the biz, she’s also pretty petite (5’2″ to be exact!) and has learned to make the most of her height with a couple of simple yet effective strategies that you can use in your own riding.
Strategy #1: Your Horse Needs to Be Attuned—if Not Overly Attuned—to the Aids
“The basic concept is that the horse has to be on the leg. I’ve realized that my horses have to be really good on the flat because I don’t have the strength of [Daniel] Deusser or [Christian] Ahlmann or [a Ludger or Marcus] Beerbaum. My horses have to react very quickly and perfectly to my aids on course,” Michaels-Beerbaum says. “I don’t have the strength like those other guys in the upper body, or in the legs, to get a horse back [in my hand], so I try to get a horse working well in the flat so that they react.”
And that all starts with going forward…
“I’ve realized over years of riding horses that the bottom line is, the horse has to be on the leg and go immediately, without thinking about it. When I pull, the horse has to come back immediately [too], otherwise [I’ll find I’m] in trouble in the ring,” explains Michaels Beerbaum. “I think the bottom line is that they are going forward, and then I try to get them to slow down.”
The horse should maintain its speed until you tell it to slow down. That’s a really important point.
And staying forward.
“One of my colleagues commented, ‘I like how you always ride the horses so forward on the flat.’ I didn’t know that I did that, because they need to go forward by themselves. If they don’t react immediately, I have to train them, and that’s really a key to my riding. The horse should maintain its speed until you tell it to slow down. That’s a really important point.”
Strategy #2: Use Frequent Changes in Stirrup Length to Maximize Your Balance
“Because I’m so small—5-foot-2-inches—I ride with very long stirrups on the flat so I have as much leg as possible. I used to be afraid to shorten [my] stirrups for the ring because I was afraid to not have enough leg,” Meredith explains. “I realized [I could make a change] when Herbert Meyer, my first chef d’equipe for Germany, suggested that I actually shorten my stirrups a considerable length when I go in the ring. I do that more than probably any other rider at the horse show. I ride very long on the flat beforehand, and now my balance is so much better, [but I also] need some sort of balance when they make such a big [jumping effort] in the ring.
Depending on your comfort and the height of the jumps, that can sometimes mean a lot of adjusting…
“I shorten to school over jumps, and then one more time just before I [compete]. So usually, I go four to five holes up, and then one more before I go in the ring. I don’t think that it is so important when you’re tall, because you have a lot more balance. But for a small person, it is, and they need to ride with short stirrups because they realize that their balance is crucial. But, that said, I don’t think [short riders] ride long enough [in their stirrups] on the flat, and then in the ring, they end up losing their balance and their style over some fences,” Michaels-Beerbaum says.”This is something I’ve developed over the years, and I wish I had those longer legs, but I just don’t!”
-Photos by Erin Gilmore.
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