A Tall Girl's Guide to Dressage
Depending on your point of view, being tall in the mystifying world of dressage can equally be a blessing and a curse. Take it from someone who knows. Standing at 5 feet 11 inches, I find myself in this debacle on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong; I do love my height and have learned to solidly appreciate it throughout my years. However. Just like anything in life, being a glorified Amazon Woman can be… challenging at times.
Like, for example, when the total stranger standing behind you in the grocery line mildly suggests that you should consider playing professional basketball for the WBNA. Sigh.
Stereotypical sports aside, I am bringing the conversation back to our sport, divulging my survival guide for the taller dressage aficionado. Fear not, because our height really does come in handy – and goes much further than being able to reach the top shelf in the pantry. So, without further ado, I present to you my tips for tallness.
Find Your Breech Tribe and Love It Hard There’s no doubt about it: finding the right pair of breeches that fit properly can be a task in its own. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that the ideal choices for breeches are those that fit nicely around the waist, aren’t cut too short in the rise, and appropriately hit right above the ankle. Keen into brands that offer breeches in a “long” option, especially if you have longer legs and a shorter torso, like myself. My favorites? I opt for Romfh Equestrian Apparel or Goode Rider. These two brands are my go-to pick for everyday training. Basically, they fit perfectly, and nothing is more thrilling than wearing a pair of breeches that boost your confidence. My biggest difficulty in searching for riding pants is the length in the leg – both Romfh and Goode Rider pay special attention to mastering the particular measurement. No uncomfortable gapping underneath my boot, no irritating Velcro maneuvering up my calf. While these pairs can be pricey, Devon-Aire is another brand I fancy at a lower dollar point. You’ve all seen the grey-pink breeches via my Instagram! Even though Devon-Aire does not manufacture a “long” size variation, I find that they are still comfortable to wear for us tall folk. So, I repeat, Romfh, Goode Rider, and Devon-Aire – if you’re tall, I recommend you try these brands. I have definitely found my breech tribe, and you can bet I am lovin’ them everyday!
Tall Boots For Tall Riders
Ah, the inevitable question – are my boots tall enough? Boots that aren’t appropriately cut for us taller dressage riders literally haunt me in my sleep. Yes, this does matter! When you’re in the saddle, you create an image, ideally streamline and seamless. Boots that are not high enough interrupt the eye and can be glaringly distracting. I hate to admit that I used to be a victim of short boots – the thought makes me grit my teeth. Emotions aside, I have finally found my beautiful boots that fit properly… at age 23. Better late than never. I, myself, wear an “extra tall” in calf height and a “large” in calf width. If you follow my Instagram, you all know how much I love my chocolate brown dressage boots by DeNiro Boot Co. My competition boots are also DeNiro, and unless a supernatural event occurs and I magically find another brand that works with my body type, I’m stickin’ to what I know. Yes, DeNiro is not cheap. Yes, they are expensive. Yes, they are pricey. However, I would rather spend the money on a high quality, perfectly fitting, comfortable pair of boots that I know are going to last me a long time with appropriate care. Plus, you’re paying for a semi-custom fit, which at the going price is actually quite reasonable. I totally understand, though, that dropping a DeNiro amount of cash on a pair of boots isn’t in everyone’s realm, and for that, I highly suggest Ariat International. Ariat offers so many beautiful pairs at various price ranges – and the majority of them fit taller riders. When purchasing any pair of boots, take your measurements at least three times, just to be on the safe side. Call the company you are interested in buying from and ask for their opinions on certain fits. Boot buying is a science, and even more so if you are tall!
An example of a plank. PC: Google Images
Core Strength Is Everything This rule applies to every single dressage rider; regardless of body type, but more so if you are tall. Our core strength stabilizes the entire body, from the legs to the elbows – we ride from our core. For us taller riders, our bodily movements are more noticeable in the saddle. Thus, we have to make sure our core strength can appropriately support us and quiet everything. In addition to time in the saddle on a daily basis, we as riders have to take other measures to stregenth our core muscles. One of the most beneficial exercises for our core? Planks. Cue the sound of pure horror. But in all seriousness, planks are a top way for getting our bodies in gear. Now, don’t assume you can hold a perfect 2-minute plank from the beginning. Introduce your body to the exercise by starting slow – build off of a 15 or 30 second plank. Hold the pose for 15 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then hold another 15- second repetition. You’ll be a professional plank-er in no time. In addition to this beneficial exercise, tighten your core muscles throughout the day while carrying out your chores. Lifting a gallon of milk or a container full of polo wraps? This the perfect opportunity to keep those muscles engaged. Learn when and how to engage and gently release, like riding the perfect half-halt through your body and not just your hands. Being able to independtly control each part of our body while in the saddle is a sign of a true dressage rider.
Stretch Your Height Even Higher
I touched on this subject in my previous blog post, but stretching your body high in the saddle goes hand-in-hand with having the proper core strength. I’m not sure about any of you other tall riders, but I have the tendency to collapse in my core to mask the fact that I am quite blessed in the height department. As I have mentioned before, Chloe harps on me religiously to stretch my torso up and my legs down. Plain and simple, you have to sit tall in the saddle. Be proud – this goes to anyone of any height. The more stretched up you sit, the lighter you are, which makes it easier for your horse to move and express themselves through an engaged back and free shoulder. Imagine that you are a puppet on the end of the string and someone above you is pulling you up. The puppeteer is always holding you there, encouraging you to sit tall with your shoulders back and core engaged. Don’t sink into your abdominals – accept your height and love it! By golly, you are a tall, elegant, equestrian. Own it… so stretch up, people.
Chloe stays on me about stretching up, so sometimes I have to joke and exaggerate the exercise. Leah is so unamused.
It’s A Balancing Act
Us dressage riders pride ourselves on our impeccable balance and (not-so-always) gracefulness. With an engaged core and continuous stretching up, we have to remember to stay centered in the saddle, not allowing ourselves to fall forward nor backwards. The moment our upper body decides to shift forward; it is an open invitation for our horse to fall on the forehand. If we sit too far back in the saddle, the center of gravity is off, resulting in just an awkward ride. I’m speaking from experience here. I often find myself tilting my upper body slightly forward, especially when I am schooling Leah in the stretchy trot. She, in return, becomes heavy in my hand and her hindquarters are no longer engaged; she’s just diving. The minute I make the correction and re-center myself, she is much more apt to work independently through her body. I repeat again: sit straight in the saddle at all times and elongate yourself!
Saddle Fit Synopsis
Remember when I said that core strength is everything? Well, so is saddle fit. This is commonly known fact in the equestrian world. Not only does a saddle have to accurately fit your equine partner, it equally has to fit you. Finding the right saddle has been the bane of my existence this year. I won’t launch into that parable now… Back to my point – when you are tall, you definitely need a saddle that offers the rider a fair amount of support, especially if you are atop a large moving breed of horse. Some are quick to dismiss my liking for large knee blocks. Yes, I do agree that riding without them is incredibly beneficial. However, when you are this tall, knee blocks are necessary for stabilizing your body - at least I think so. How many of you agree? I also find that saddles with a longer leg panel are equally necessary. You don’t have to necessarily opt for a deep seat with a narrow twist; again, every rider’s preference varies. You want a saddle that will allow you to move, sit comfortably, and feel secure, without feeling stuck. I’ve tried a handful of saddles throughout my day, and have found that I do better with an 18-inch seat, a longer leg panel, and a substantial knee block with a deeper center. This is what I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to strengthen my balance with a flatter saddle featuring virtually nonexistent knee blocks. Patience is the key when it comes to finding the perfect saddle for the taller rider.
My new navy MacRider saddle - one that finally fits!
There you have it! My tall girl guide to everything dressage. I’ve learned to embrace my height, using it to my advantage when I can, especially while in the saddle. Remember, there is no “ideal dressage body,” regardless of people’s opinions or views. Body type shouldn't matter as we each embrace dressage because we love our horses and our sport. Plain and simple.
Have any tall dressage rider tips or pointers that you think I need to know about? Drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram or Facebook (The Blonde & The Bay Online)!