What is an independent seat, and why should you be aiming to achieve one? (Part 1)

The independent seat is a terminology that is thrown around a lot in riding. While the words conjure up a vague image of what it should be, do you truly know what it is, how to get one and how to tell when you have it?

What is an independent seat?

The independent seat happens when a rider can move one part of their body independently of other parts of their body and independently of the horses’ movements, while maintaining balance. The rider is moving with the horse but still maintaining a level of independence so if the horse stumbles or transitions gait the balance is maintained. There is a level of softness to the contact and aids, with no added pressure.

The independent seat is not legs jammed down into the stirrups with your ankles locked and knees firmly in contact, it is legs that are relaxed that naturally sit lightly in the stirrup and hug but don't grip the horse. The independent seat is not a rigid, inflexible posture, it is upright and balance and fluid in movement while at the same time lacking unnecessary movement. The independent seat is not hanging onto the reigns, but instead soft contact with the mouth that alters slightly in response to the horses actions and desired outcomes.

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The independent seat is a beautifully communication with your horse that makes it look like you are both working as one. It is what we, as riders, would call an amazing feeling, and I’m sure our horses would agree.

But an independent seat is not a naturally easy achievement. It can take years of practice and correction of bad habits, both on the ground and in the saddle. An independent seat can also be tested, challenged or perfected by riding different horses.

How to achieve an independent seat

As a rider you need to remember first and foremost that you are an athlete. A weight lifter does not go from beginner to 180kg lifts in a short period of time – they use different exercises over a long period of time to condition their body and prepare for the end goal. It is with that in mind you need to consider what your end goal is: if you wish to compete or even just work on your horses’ fitness, you need to be fit as well.

To achieve the highly sought after independent seat you require:

  • Balance
  • Good Posture
  • Core strength
  • Coordination
  • Positive and action oriented mindset
  • The knowledge of how to use your aids to communicate with your horse

As you may see, a large part of your athletic development can occur outside of the paddock, in the comfort of your own home, with refinement of these techniques in the saddle. It is also something we need to consistently work at until it becomes second nature.

Do you need help with your independent seat? Check out our 3 Weeks to Improving Your Riding course, which focuses on the exercises you need to improve balance, core strength, posture and mindset, both on the ground and in the saddle.