Most of the time when I discuss riding and how to ride better, I talk about using your seat and legs. That's largely because they're the most important aspect to riding and doing it well. But your upper body can play a significant role in how you communicate with your horse and get the most out of him or her.
We all know about the age old -- ear -- shoulder -- hip -- heel rule if we've been riding any length of time, and the way our bodies should be aligned while in the saddle. But how often do you think about why that is? It's a pretty elementary concept: Balance. One of the mantras I preach routinely to my students is, don't let your shoulders to get in front of your hips, except under certain circumstances Even being able to walk a young very green horse forward, which requires mainly your seat just like with any horse, I still want correct alignment even though I'm urgent the horse forward with my upper body along with using my lower leg.
What's key in using your whole body while riding the horse is to not let your shoulders lead, or allow your hips to get left behind. I want my riders to sit tall in the saddle, look ahead at where they're going, and be aware of how they're communicating with their horses. Every ride, every time, you're teaching that horse something...good or bad. We should always strive for the good. A pet peeve of mine was the trend some years back of Hunter/Jumper trainers having their students ride an entire course in two-point position. No better way to encourage a horse to refuse a fence than that! When your center of gravity is too far forward (i.e., shoulders ahead of hips), you're teaching the horse inadvertently to quit, because that's the easy thing to do. We all know horses tend to be naturally lazy, right?
How can remind ourselves to ride correctly? That's probably the most commonly asked question I receive from my older riders, or those who are returning to riding after being away from the sport for a certain number of years. We all have a tendency to become complacent in our riding, even professional trainers. I have my own bad habits, which is why I took to entering Equitation classes at horse shows again some years back, when I had the opportunity. Eq is judged on the rider's ability, performance, position and precision. Doing so helped me challenge myself into riding my best, which translated into my horses working even better. It was definitely a win-win situation.
Summing up this discussion, don't forget that riding is a pretty uncomplicated endeavour, though doing it well can be quite a challenge. With a solid foundation though (just like our horses), you'll be unstoppable in any discipline you choose to ride!