How do you know when you have a well established, independent seat?
Our riding can feel like a never ending process of self improvement (or struggle to success). I find that for a lot of students we are our own worst critic - and what’s more our peers are often not very positive either. Part of having a good independent, upright seat is understanding what it is, when you have it, how you achieve it, acknowledging you will never be perfect but knowing the key areas that you are working on to improve and rewarding yourself for how far you have come. Hopefully you can also have some cheerleaders that are supportive and encouraging of your development as well and not just trying to pull you down with negative comments.
When riding we want to transfer our balance, core and centre of gravity skills to the saddle. The better we get at maintaining good posture on the ground the better our posture will be in the saddle and more independent our seat will be. Where you are holding your horse from is also very important. It is impossible to get into a good, independent upright seat when you are tensing your inner thigh and rotating your pelvis down. Essentially our independent seat is all about strengthening and stabilising our legs, rotating our pelvis up and increasing the freedom and range of movement of our upper body.
When you manage to get the holy grail that is the synchronicity of your movement integrating and moving as one with your horses movement you will feel things like:
You sit more upright and feel your horse adjust itself and come into self carriage
When you get your seat into the right place and all of a sudden that aid that wasn’t working works
When you put more weight into one stirrup than the other and your horse shifts its balance
Your can pull your shoulder back and let the other go forward to turn and your horse follows without needing to use the rein
You can turn through your hips and pelvis and the horse knows where it is joining
You can shorten or lengthen the stride or ride a different pace just by the flick or adjustment of your pelvis and hip bones.
Most of the time, it doesn’t last. So we are always working towards getting better and holding for longer. You want to ride a positional correction before you ask for each movement to keep reengaging those postural and core muscles.
Here are 7 questions you should ask yourself to understand how your seat is working:
If you were to take the horse out from under you, would you still be standing up balanced?
When riding we don’t learn a whole new centre of gravity and balance. We take our already established posture, core, centre of gravity and balance from the ground and learn how to apply that to the saddle. The longer and taller you can hold your posture and the more freely you can move your upper body and legs in the saddle the more centred you are in your core.
If you were to take the reins off you and put your arms out to the side, would you still be balanced?
Our balance and stability in the saddle starts with our legs. If your legs aren’t stable under your body you will be using the reins and the horses mouth to balance yourself. If you can hold your arms out to the side and maintain your balance you will be using your legs and core and not the horses mouth.
Can you hold your 2 point seat (without holding the reins or mane) and not collapse into the saddle?
In our rising trot every second step we are standing out of the saddle. If your unable to hold yourself up in your 2 point seat without holding on with your hands there is a good chance your legs aren’t strong enough and balance is not centred enough to be holding your independent upright seat in the rising trot.
Can your ride different horses strides without losing your balance?
Challenge how good your balance is by riding other horses, especially trotters and warmbloods. The bouncier the stride, the more they throw you out of the saddle, the better you need to engage your core to stay with the movement.
Do you get bounced around a lot?
Getting bounced out of the saddle and sucked into the saddle has a bit to do with your horses level of education. If your horse is behind your leg they won’t help you with your rising trot and will suck you into the saddle. It could also mean your legs are too far forward. If you get thrown up out of the saddle and over the front of the saddle your horse may be moving unpredictably. You also may be hanging on too much with your knee and inner thigh creating a pendulum action with your lower leg.
Do your shoulders sit in front of your hips?
You won’t be able to tell unless you have someone tell you or see photo or video of yourself. Also you may have people always telling you shoulders back. Any degree of shoulders in front of your hips puts your horse on the forehand and results in you locking and bracing your elbows and pressing down on the reins to use them. It also means your hips and pelvis are rotated down and will create resistance from your horse to the bit.
Do your shoulder sit behind your hips?
Shoulders too far back is the result of hollowing your back or using your body weight to try and follow the movement and get your shoulders back rather than following the horses movement actively through your pelvis. This is most common in canter and sit trot and seen more exaggerated in riding the medium/ extended trot in sit trot. This results in a lot of concussion on your horses back and will make them hollow their back away from your seat. We want to invite their back up into our seat.