Base of support contains the first building blocks of good riding, but the components of base of support changes according to what type of riding you are doing.

The Definition of Base of Support

NeuroLab 360 defines Base of support as the area beneath a person that includes every point of contact that person makes with the supporting surface. Read Base of Support and How it Impacts Balance

Although NeuroLab 360 is for human rehabilitation rather than defining riding terminology, I think theirs is a good definition of the base of support in general. The article explains how things change when the base of support changes.

It Changes

Base of Support in riding is a moving target, and it has several parts. If you cannot see where the changes are, you miss an opportunity to help your students.

For instance, when you use stirrups, they and your foot are part of the base of support. When you ride without stirrups, they are not. When you ride in a full seat, your seat is part of the base of support, but when you ride in galloping position, it is not.

A rider jumping a brown horse over a jump showing base of support

Base of Support Influences Everything

Being the “base”, we can say that all the other parts of riding; hands, the ability to use the core, effectiveness of aides, and safety, depend on the strength and stability of the base. It is the foundation of the rider’s entire performance and effectiveness from a good seat, to good hands, to effective use of aides, to staying on the horse when he bucks, shies, or bolts. It is also crucial to developing a rider’s “style” which I’ll cover in another post. For more on foundation, read: Base of Support is the First Layer of Foundation.

Full Seat

Let’s consider the rider’s position, fully seated, at a halt, and with stirrups for a full base of support.

A rider on a gray horse

Starting from the seat down, we have the rider sitting in the deepest part of the saddle on the three-point triangle of two seat bones and the crotch. Technically, we could say that flexible hips play a huge role in the effectiveness and stability of the seat, but hips and hip flexors deserve their own blog post. For more on the three-point seat and balance, read Shannon Peters' article Dressage Position 101 in Dressage Today.

Next, we move to thighs properly positioned against the saddle. And the knees, again properly positioned. Then the calf, the ankle, and the foot. All joints must be as flexible as possible, but this doesn’t change the components of base of support, only their effectiveness. For more on the rider’s knees read Rider’s Knees–the Forgotten Joint

You Build From the Bottom Up

When you build a structure, you start from the bottom. You cannot build your house until you’ve built the foundation. Perhaps you can prefab parts, but they still need a foundation before you can assemble them. You can’t build a jump without standards, or something that will hold the height up, be it logs or anything else for cross country. Neither can you drive a car without wheels.

Logically, the bottom of the base of our rider’s foundation (standing still, seated, and with stirrups) is the foot, where it is placed in the stirrup and how it is aligned with the other body parts. It doesn’t matter what discipline you teach. If your rider doesn’t get the foot right, it compromises the other parts of the base of support. And because the position of the foot influences everything else, it’s also important when riding without stirrups.

If the Foot is Wrong

Alignment and weight distribution pull all the components of base of support together, but if your rider’s foot is wrong, the alignment and weight distribution are wrong. A foot too far forward will cause the rider to compensate with their seat and upper body, often sacrificing the horse’s mouth. A rider in this position may be unbalanced backward and compensate by leaning forward.

A foot too far back will also effect the rider’s balance, creating a too forward upper body balance, a raised center of gravity, and a dangerous situation if the horse stops suddenly or shies.

A foot crammed too far into the stirrup limits a flexible ankle and leaves the rider at risk of having a foot caught in an emergency. But a foot that keeps the stirrups on the toes risks the foot popping off the stirrup. Inside edge, outside edge, ball of foot, or if you’re into reflexology the “bubbling spring”, find what is right for your discipline and teach it consistently. Make a point to get your students’ feet right. For more on the foot in the stirrup and alignment read Get Those Heels Down, part 2

Align the Parts

I can’t think of a balanced riding discipline that doesn’t teach aligning the heel and hip because it’s nearly impossible to be correctly balanced any other way. Having students force their buttocks into the back of the saddle is not balanced, although there are times when it’s necessary to “sit on your pockets.” At a standstill, fully seated in the saddle, with feet in the stirrups the rider should sit over their feet with the heel and hip aligned no matter how long the stirrups (providing of course they can reach them.)

What is Old is Good

Some things never change, or at least in the face of good horsemanship they shouldn’t change. Here is the description of base of support from the U.S Cavalry The Manual of Horsemanship and Horsemastership, vol. 1. "The base of support is formed by those parts of the rider's body in contact with the saddle and horse, from the points of the pelvic bones down along the inside of the thighs, to and including the knees, legs, and stirrups."

There's Always More

Developing a good base of support includes not only aligning the heel, leg, and hip, it includes how the rider uses her ankle, how she drops weight into the heel, how the calves are or are not in contact with the horse, the flexibility of the joints, the lay of the thigh, and the position of the seat. All other things build on this correct base, including the effective use of the rider’s core.

It takes time and lots of work to develop a strong, correct base of support. This is where the hours put into riding under a good instructor pay off. As a good instructor, you can help your riders establish security and the foundation to build on for as long as they ride.

A Question for Those Who Teach Jumping

Not intending to distract you from my main topic, which is the rider’s base of support, I have an observation/question that bugs me. It’s for instructors who teach any sort of jumping. In view of the definition of base of support at the beginning of this post, from NeuroLabs 360, “… every point of contact that person makes with the supporting surface” when you teach your students the crest release for support of the upper body, are you adding another component to the rider’s base of support?

A rider on a white horse jumping a fence

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Thank you for reading my post.

Barbara Ellin Fox

Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • With the correct base of support that you describe so perfectly I personally feel that one can imagine the rider who is using a proper crest release with their arms stretched out airplane style in the same balance. With the correct base the arms could be in crest release, jumping with following contact or held out for balance.
    Students who rely on the crest release for security tend to get their base to far out of the saddle because they are leaning on the neck and chasing their hands. We need to teach balance FIRST. I agree with the observation of the crest release being used as a tool to get average riders jumping ahead of their ability to get them to the show pen more quickly.

    • Hi Joyce, You’re right. With a good base of support the rider should be able to bend and flex most any direction and still be secure. The unfortunate side of the crest release is that it was originally taught as support for the upper body which allows for over compensation and exactly what you mentioned. It’s hard enough to teach novices not to “jump ahead” of the horse without giving them a tool that encourages weight forward. I agree. Balance first! I appreciate your comment. Thanks. Barbara

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