New FEI rules make it easier for Biomechanists to know what is correct – by Colleen Kelly

The FEI always had rules to judge rider seat &  position, but now new FEI Rules (www.fei.org) make it even easier!

As a Biomechanist I specialise in the horse rider’s seat & posture, but struggled with riders understanding the best mechanical and balanced position – with so many different opinions and grey areas.

But now, the new FEI Rules are simpler for riders and judges and researchers in biomechanics, and back up findings of researchers worldwide:

–          “The aids must be imperceptible …& effortless” (the more judges see kicking or pulling, the lower the rider mark – the more effortless, the higher the mark).

–          “Sitting deep in the centre of the saddle” (we tested 200 riders on saddle stands with four scales, one under each foot.  100% of riders had differences sideways.  The worst: 17kgs heavier on one side.  This confirms why many riders have one stirrup lower than the other with the saddle pulled off to one side – easily seen on a circle viewed from behind).

–          “Legs steady and well stretched down…heels should be the lowest point” (at the Sydney 3DE our researches observed 26 riders during warm up for the dressage phase.  27% of riders had knees over the front of the saddle, and 33% had their knee on top of – rather than behind – the knee pad.  Only 36% were found to have their heels the lowest point).  This would indicate a more forward cut saddle and shorter stirrups are more appropriate for the dressage phase).

–          “The rider’s body must be vertical (the rules now say “tall”).  Measuring 200 riders showed looking down puts approx 18kg on the forehand!  At my lecture at Equine Affaire Massachusetts we asked approx 7,000 people in the audience to look at the person next to them to see which ear, and shoulder, was closer to the ground.  Not one person was level!  It therefore takes considerable work to be vertical and not lean sideways (making the horse crooked), not lean forward (on the forehand), and not lean backwards (making the horse hollow and the hands higher).

–          “Thumb the highest point [of the hand]” (testing 200 riders on saddle stands showed just rolling the hands over put approximately 11kg on the forehand!  This happens because hand rotation also affects elbow and chest position).

–          “The hands must be LOW” Now even clearer: “The hands should be carried steadily close together….a straight line from the supple elbow through the hand to the horse’s mouth”.  The supple elbow helps the hands follow the head movement in walk and canter, and stay still in trot.  Elastic elbows were mentioned several times at Andrew Hoy’s Master Class.

So – GREAT NEWS from the FEI to help riders understand how they must sit and judges understand how to assess the rider mark.  It makes riders safer and more balanced allowing “the harmonious co-operation between horse and rider”.

Biomechanics Lecturer Colleen Kelly, EFA – NJAS Official Judge (Retired), President, Vaulting Victoria, started her career in exercise physiology, working in rehabilitation gymnasiums, and now, some 30 years later, is one of most sought-after speakers around the world. Visit her website

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