The Seat
(understanding)
Chapter III

    To properly develop a correct seat on the horse, one needs to first understand it, in order to perform it and learn it. To learn to sit correctly on the horse is essential for further development of the rider abilities, which are then endless. There are simply no limits to riding improvement once when we have achieved the proper seat on the horse. It not only makes us more stable on the horse, but it mainly insures our ability to feel and communicate with the horse and enables us to become part of him and his movement. We will no longer be a burden to the animal, but we will be an asset in improving the horse’s athletic ability, swiftness, speed, and freedom of movement. Without the correct (balanced, steady) seat the use of all riding aids, and the horse's response to them, is drastically reduced.

    It would be best to say at the start, that the rider becomes a part of the horse, through his seat. Since we were not born as a part of the horse, nor were the horses born as a part of us, we will come into a conflict with nature. Most folks are aware that it takes some time for the horse to develop his body to move about with a rider, though most will not give enough time. Similarly it takes time to develop one’s own body for riding. The conflict with nature will show in the pain and discomfort that the new rider will feel. If in any sport it says: “No pain, no gain”, it is double that for riding. The entire lower body, from the hips down, needs to be somewhat “rearranged” in order to achieve a good seat.

Centaur 

Did you know that the ladies participated in the side saddle in the steeplechase like the one below, about 100 years ago?


Click to enlarge.

    To imagine what it means to be a part of the horse, one can only imagine the Centaur from Greek mythology. What it really represents are two species blended together as one, but the important part is the fact that they are both standing and not sitting. This should be your first clue to understand the seat. In reality, the rider takes up the same position as when standing, rather then sitting. Hence his hips are in the same position, in relevance to the ground, as if he would be standing. I assure you folks; this will hurt, especially if the horse will be moving in trot. This is the key foundation stone of a correct seat, which the rider cannot ever abandon. I have learned from my teaching experiences, that most women find this very uncomfortable and painful. 
    I also believe that this is the main reason why the riding seat has corrupted so much in the last few decades, because the riding population in the advanced countries consists of about 90% of women.

    In the older days, women rode horses in the saddles specially designed just for them. It is therefore recommended for women to use various, specially designed for such purpose padded clothing, should they find this position painful and unendurable. Remember, this is not about pride, but about the horse and your ability to make your self at least less burdensome and at best to become part of him. If you think that you can handle it, here are some tips on how to lay the foundation stone to a correct, stable and supple seat.

    First it is recommended that you get yourself some blanket, similar to a military wool blanket. Fold it twice, lay it over the horse, partially covering the withers, and then fasten it to the horse with an over-girth (preferably the racing over girth). The girth should be placed approximately in the same place where you're supposed to sit, which is approximately on the last vertebrae of the withers and the first even one of the back. It is best if someone is controlling the horse with a lunge line (before you learn to master it), so you can concentrate strictly on your seat and feeling it in your body, as well as feeling the horse and his movement at the same time. (The reins often give the new rider a false sense of security and he often learns to hang onto them.)

     One assumes the same position in the hips as if he is standing. Pay no attention to your legs, because they are not your seat. Ignore the bouncing of your body, since this has nothing to do with the seat, but with the unbalance of the horse. This is where most people make a mistake, because they believe that the bouncing on the horse is caused by not knowing how to sit. As a matter of fact, I have noticed that once when the pupil took up the correct position and ignored the bouncing, they not only bounced less but the horses seemed to enjoy it more than if he/she tried to cushion the bounce by collapsing in the hips (or better said catching with his buttock by collapsing in the lower back) and thus sitting further in the horse's back.  The legs should drop down by their own weight (no pulling up the toes and/or knees) and they should not be used to assist in the staying on the horse (pulling the knees up, squeezing the legs etc.). You will feel extreme pressure (pain) in the thigh and hip area, which is normal. If you sit correctly you should be able to feel your knees relatively tight against the horse, without doing any squeezing.  If you feel yourself falling/sliding to the side, do not panic, nor correct your position by squeezing or pulling up your legs, but rather use the movement of the horse, and your slightly bouncing body, to get back into the center position over the spine.

This photo shows a fairly correct posture of a rider (not the going of the horse),  consistent with the motion forward.

 In contrast, this image  shows the opposite of the above,  the backward leaning seat, inconsistent with the motion forward. Commonly seen in today's dressage.

     The view from behind reveals correct position of the rider if his spine lines up with the horse’s, as well as the hips are in the same parallel with the horse. This is very important to observe in the young riders, especially when on the line, since the horse's body is slightly tilted, the rider's hips should line up with those of the horse. The emphasis must be paid, that the rider sits straight, because once when he learns to sit crooked, it is very hard to correct it later, not to mention that crooked riders will produce (keep) “crooked” horses.

    Once when you've learned to “stand-sit in the horse”, then you can learn to “move in the horse”. We use the word “seat”, yet the concept of “sit” does not coincide with “move”. To become a part of the horse, you must assume not only the same position but the same attitude as well. One cannot learn to ride or to “sit” without understanding it. So, to sum up this keystone seat article is, that when we are speaking of the “stand” in the horse, we are referring to the part of your body from the hip up (including the hips). The legs must remain free and they are separate issue. The legs cannot become part of your seat core, and if you need them to stay on a “normaly” moving horse, your riding progress will be extremely limited. This “stand-seat” foundation must be practice all through out the riding career, for the new rider to learn it and for the advanced rider to keep refreshing it, thus keeping the “deep” seat.

    The seat issue has been here much longer than most folks would imagine. Xenophon (430 – 355 BC) recommend to the Greek riders, that they should not sit on the horse, as they sit on a chair, but rather as if they would be standing with spread legs. (He also recommended that they should not ride so much in the limited spaces of a riding ring, but train their horses on the open fields (something for most trainers to grasp at, especially in dressage). 

     Of course the foundation idea is correct, however, when the stirrup came to Europe this resulted in stiff forward stretched legs, which can still be seen in the core of western (Europe) style seat, which is a separate issue. Never the less, the entire foundation of the seat still remains the same, because it refers to the proper attitude. One cannot walk, run or jump while sitting; hence he cannot become part of the horse and his movement.  

A typical "fork/breached" seat
inconsistent with
 the motion of the horse.

   As you will see in all upcoming articles on various seats and styles of riding, we will be often referring to this article, because from here all others styles derive.

    To sit tightly against the withers will stabilize the rider's seat and it is also a decisive factor whether one will stay on the horse or not, during unpredictable moves of the horse (spooking, stopping, being out of control etc). When a horse spooks to the side or stops abruptly and unexpectedly, it is the correct seat that will keep the rider on the horse and not the rider’s reaction, which is usually too slow and too late. This deep seat must be practiced to the point that it becomes permanently imbedded into the rider’s sub-consciousness, in order to serve its full purpose for further advancement. Only a very advanced rider with a good deep seat can implement his seat as a riding aid. The correct deep seat builds a foundation for a “good hands” of the rider, as well as it will maximize the ability to use his legs as a riding aid.

If you cannot ride at least one hour each and every day, disregard this article. 

Xenophon (zen-fn, -fon)  430?-355?. B.C. Greek soldier and writer. A disciple of Socrates, he joined Cyrus the Younger in an attack on Persia. After the death of Cyrus, Xenophon led the Greek troops to the Black Sea, an ordeal he recounted in Anabasis. (Click here for a partial translation)
(Back where I was)

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek