Connection, communication and harmony all begin with The Magic of the Rider’s Seat. You may think that sounds a bit over the top, but trust me the seat truly creates magic. Horses feel every thing we do when we are riding. They feel our weight shift, the motion or lack of motion in our seat and even our breathing. Just think about a horses reaction when a fly lands on them. Instant irritation, tail swishing, feet stomping, head shaking. Everything they feel can create a communication to them. We just have to learn what we are telling them!
Rider type 1 – Have you ever watched a rider who seems to move with complete harmony on their horse? You might wonder if they have Velcro on both their seat and the saddle. It doesn’t seem to matter how fast or what gait the horse is moving, the rider just moves along with them. Their legs are quiet and their hands are still. You are in awe of how they don’t even budge if the horse shies, bolts or bucks. They ride an extended gait with ease. And, they are not even on a gaited horse! You think, how do they do that? I will share that with you in just a minute!
Rider type 2 – On the opposite end of the spectrum you witness a rider who is bouncing along in a trot or canter with a lot of air space between their seat and the horse. It is painful for both horse and rider. This rider will have hands that bounce and move everywhere. Their legs will swing back and forth, up and down or they grip the horses sides like their life depended on it. It’s obvious watching this rider if the horse where to shy, bolts or buck there is a good chance the rider will fall. The rider really cannot direct the horse properly without an independent seat. Without an independent seat you do not have you cannot have the needed control of your hands and legs. It’s all connected. If you fall into this category do not worry, most all riders begin as Rider type 2. The cool thing is that every rider can become a Rider 1!
I recommend if at all possible you begin by training with someone knowledgeable in Balanced Seat Riding. With that said, let me give you some guidelines to work with. Regardless of discipline or saddle type these guidelines can help you to become rider type 1.
An important first step is making sure the saddle fits both you and your horse. If you are not versed in saddle fitting there are many great video’s and articles regarding this topic. Here’s a link to fitting both english and western saddles saddle fitting. An improper fitting saddle can cause pain to both the horse and rider. As the rider you would vocalize your discomfort. Well, an improper saddle can cause many expressions from the horse including lameness, refusal to move forward, bucking, bracing, etc. Being well balanced starts with a well balanced saddle.
Once you have a good saddle fit for both you and the horse begin by sitting in the saddle without putting your feet in the stirrups. Sit in deepest part of the saddle. Once you have determined the center of the saddle concentrate on three points of your seat – your two seat bones, sit bones, or technically ischium. Simply put, they are the two little bones in your seat that you will feel resting on the saddle. The 3rd point is the pubic bone, (where the two halves of the pelvic bones meet). These 3 points should form a little triangle of contact. Sitting balanced on all three is an absolute necessity for the balance you will need in order to move with the horse in harmony. A good check for the triangle is allow yourself to rock a bit forward so all of your weight is on the pubic bone. Then rock a bit back so all of your weight is on the sit bones. In the photos below you’ll see the rider first sitting on her “triangle of contact” then you will see her weight shifting too far back onto the sit bones and too far forward sitting mostly on the pubic bones.
The importance of the triangle of contact becomes clear when you are moving with the horse in anything other than the walk. All other gaits have suspension to them. That suspension creates movement through the horses’ back. The pelvis has the ability to move up and down, independently side to side, forward and back. Sitting correctly allows your pelvis to perform all of those movements. If you are sitting correctly you will be able to follow the movement with ease. You will move with the horse instead of against the movement.
However, if you are not sitting on the triangle you will be moving against the movement and you will bounce. You will become unstable in your balance. You will grip! You will NOT be able to use your legs, seat or hands independently. You will lose the ability to direct the horse…quite a mess when that happens!
This little triangle of contact is critical in the first step of creating the magic. It is the base of your foundation. This is where it all begins so study the criteria and experiment following the photos of Kirsten.
In the first photo to the left you will see Kirsten with an excellent vertical line of position. Starting at her head, her ear is directly over her shoulder. Her shoulder is directly over her hip. And her hip is directly over her heel. This vertical line will enable her pelvis to move with freely with the horse. The additional photos will show her upper body position too forward and too far back as well as her legs too far forward and too far back.
The upper body should be strong in position yet without stiffness. Think about opening your chest and rib cage. I often tell students to form a “T” from their bellybutton straight up the center of their body and across the chest. Your ribs need to be lifted, again without stiffness. If you collapsed or compress your ribs you will inhibit the natural movement of the pelvis.
The inside of your thigh and inside calf should rest against the horses side. Allow your calf to rest against the horses barrel. It should feel like it is simply draped there without pressure – but with contact. It does not grip, it just breathes with the horse and is in a perfect position to add a squeeze of pressure when you need to aid your horse.
The stirrups and foot position are also important. Your stirrup is there to simply support your leg, NOT TO STAND ON THEM. Your weight should be allowed to flow down your leg softly resting on your horses sides with the energy flowing through your heel. There should be even weight in each stirrup ensuring that you are not favoring a side. Pushing into the stirrup creates stiffness in your ankles, knees and into your hip joint. This would also prevent your hips from moving with the horse.
I realize there’s a lot of details in this information. These details are important in finding out where you are and are not in balance. If we take the details out and simplify the goal: a centered seat forming a triangle and vertical line of position – ear, shoulder, hip and heel. Once balanced you will become a part of your horses’ back instead of an obstacle bouncing along on top. Becoming connected to the horse in this manner will allow independence of your seat, your upper body, arms, hands and legs. You can communicate your aids to the horse with ease – and The Magic of the Seat Begins.
A great book that can help you analyze your seat is: Balance in Movement by Susanne von Dietze.