Visually Analyzing Progress In Lessons

A Look into the Five Ways My Student Progressed in a Month

(And one where she still needs improvement)

I posted a picture on my Instagram and Facebook business page a little bit ago that showed progress pictures of a student that were taken one month apart. I could see the changes and so could she but I had several people ask what the big deal was so I figured I would highlight what I see in these two photos so that you can help train your eye to notice changes in your own riding.  I have applied circles and lines in different colors to show differences between the two photos and also one that has stayed the same that we will continue to work on as well. Let’s get started!


Picture 1 (left) was taken at the end of August and Picture 2 (right) was taken end of September of this year.

Let’s start at the top!

The white circle highlights where the rider is looking. 

Picture 1: Looking down and to the left

Picture 2: Looking straight ahead

Why it’s important: Your head weighs a lot (about 10 lbs).  Where you look affects your balance and in turn your horses balance.  If you are looking down your balance is forward and that puts more weight on the horse’s forehand (front legs) and it’s harder for them to lift their shoulder and have a good jump. 

Looking straight ahead helps your balance and also alerts the horse where you want to go.  It’s easier to land and stay straight if you are looking where you are going so your horse knows that’s where you want to go.

Tips to help: As you are coming to the jump look at the top rail until it disappears from between the horses ears. At that point look up to a fixed point.  If going straight, find a tree or a landmark in the distance. If turning to the next jump, look at the next jump while going over the current one.

(I’m looking up ready for the next jump ahead)

The blue line highlights the bascule of the horse.

Picture 1: The horse’s bascule is curved down (hollow)

Picture 2: The horse’s bascule is curved up (round)

Why it’s important:  The bascule is the arc the horse makes over the jump. If the horses back is down so that the bascule is hollow then the horse cannot use himself over the jump well and will hit more rails.  If the horse has a nice bascule (arc) then the horse can use himself over the jumps well and keep his legs up to prevent him from hitting rails.

Tips to help: Place a pole 9 feet on either side of the jump.  These placing poles help to encourage your horse to take off and land in the most ideal spots to help create a good bascule.


(This can be jumped either way and the poles can be moved at first to be more accommodating for the horse)

The yellow circle highlights the rider’s lower leg position.

Picture 1: Lower leg is slipping back

Picture 2: Lower leg is more underneath the rider

Why it’s important: A leg that slips back shows a lack of stability of the rider’s position over the jumps. The rider cannot use her leg properly over the jumps and does not have pressure distribution along her leg and is pinching with her knee most likely. As the horse lands on the jump she will either have to swing her leg forward or risk landing unbalanced and on her hands, using the horses neck for balance and putting more of her weight on the horses forehand (front legs) which makes it hard for her and the horse to recover enough to jump the next jump on course well.  With her leg more underneath of her and closer to the girth the rider is more in balance and able to influence the horse over the jump and landing so they are ready for the next jump.

Tips to help: A lot of two-point position at the walk, trot, and canter can help strengthen riding muscles as long as you feel that your knee is against the saddle but not squeezing. When you squeeze excessively with your knee its known as pinching with your knee and it creates a pivot point which sends your upper body forward and your lower leg back. Feel as if you are using the back of your calf as you keep your knee soft in the saddle while you are riding and doing two-point. 

(You can do two point anywhere!)

(Two-point going through the water)

The green line highlights how high the horse is lifting its knees and the black circle highlights the tightness of the legs being lifted.

Picture 1: The horse’s knee angle is open and legs are hanging

Picture 2: The horse’s knees angle is closed and legs are pulled up (known as tight knees)

Why it’s important:  Horses that have open/hanging legs tend to hit the rails on jumps and have them down and can be dangerous to ride over solid obstacles if the horse doesn’t pick their legs up well. Tight knees mean the horse doesn’t have to jump as high and can keep their legs from hitting or getting caught on jumps.

Tips to help: Put your ground rail out a foot from the jump.  Your ground line helps the horse know when to take off from the ground and if they start their jump a little sooner can give them the time to get their legs up and tight.  In addition you can place “V” poles (two poles where one edge is placed on the jump and the other on the ground in the shape of a V where the point of the V is in the middle of the jump).  The “V” poles encourage the horse to lift his legs early as well to be able to jump the point of the V well.

(V poles on a barrel- look at those tight knees!)


(Depending on the horse you can make the V wide or narrow)

The red line highlights the rider’s hands and the connection to the horses bit.

Picture 1: Hands are above the straight line from elbow to bit

Picture 2: Hands are above the straight line from elbow to bit

Why it’s important: This is an area the rider needs to improve.  To maintain a consistent connection it is best to maintain a straight line from elbow to bit and this riders hands are above that line.

Tips to help: You can flip your hands over on the reins and hold them in a driving position.  This helps to create a following connection from your elbow to your wrist and hands.  This rider is constantly working on keeping a good feel and connection on the reins and as she develops in her position, strength, balance, and coordination she will start to develop a more independent seat and hand and can move to a more following release.

(Normal rein position above)

(Driving reins to create a more following hand above)

I hope this helps to train your eye to see the subtle yet huge differences between this horse and riders progress in the picture and in your own riding.  

Happy Riding,

Barrett Diehl