Ask the Experts: Rider Who Pumps with the
A trainer, teacher and accomplished
dressage competitor advises how to correct pumping with the
upper body at the canter.
By Leigh Cochran
Question: In my dressage lessons, I've been told that I pump
with my upper body at the canter. What am I doing wrong, and
what can I do to improve?
Answer: Pumping occurs when your upper body rocks forward and
backward in an exaggerated way as you follow your horse's
movements. It's a fault I often see in riders. Pumping with the
upper body also can come from an insecure seat.
Some think that pumping with the upper body will achieve a
stronger driving aid and a better seat, but just the opposite is
true. A pumping upper body will actually place the rider
consistently behind the movement of the horse, disturbing his
balance. Pumping makes your back tense, causing a loss of the
ability to follow your horse's movements in a supple manner. The
result is that your aids become delayed and are delivered in a
tense or ineffective manner to the horse. The harmony between
horse and rider is disturbed and the overall picture of you and
your horse is not pleasing.
A rider who pumps may find herself compensating for being behind
the movement by pulling backward with her hands, impairing the
forward flow and quality of the horse's gait. In response to the
delivery of your tense aids, your horse will not be relaxed, and
he will stiffen his back and his gaits. In contrast, a correct
seat is balanced and allows the rider to give efficient aids
without disturbing her horse.
To correct a pumping upper body, revisit the development of a
correct seat and leg position at the halt. Look in a mirror or
ask a person on the ground to check to see that when you sit in
the saddle, you are able to draw a line from your shoulder to
your hip and straight down to the back of your heel. Your leg
needs to hang long and relaxed. Your seat must rest in the
saddle in a relaxed manner, and you should feel both seat bones
in the saddle.
When the horse moves at the walk, trot or canter, your pelvis
follows the movements smoothly while your upper body stays
quiet, upright and balanced. To maintain this, your abdominal
muscles and deep muscles of the lower back have to contract and
relax rhythmically. This work only if your back is supple, not
tense. Do not grip with your thigh muscles because this lifts
you out of the saddle. Relax your leg muscles so that you can
sit as deeply as possible in the saddle and follow your horse's
When your horse canters, allow his canter to "roll under" you.
Think of how a merry-go-round horse at a fair rises up and down
under your seat. If your back stays relaxed and your seat stays
deep, you can feel similar movement in your own horse's back.
Try to feel it at the walk first, then at the canter. If you
find yourself losing your correct position at the canter, return
to the walk, reestablish it and try again.
Consider taking some longe lessons from your instructor. I
recommend working without stirrups, too. This helps you develop
your balance and feel for your horse's movements and allows you
to focus on your seat and leg position without worrying about
controlling the horse. Once you find and establish the correct
balance and seat at the canter, you should not have a pumping
problem, and you should see an overall improvement in your
horse's gaits, too.