The Independent Seat (part 2)

Using your seat as a tool for communication

  • Are you ready to get back in the saddle and want to improve your core fitness and balance in the saddle?

  • Are you wanting to achieve your riding goals but feel like your fitness and endurance is holding you back?

  • Have you hit a plateau and want to improve your riding so that you can take it to the next level?


This article is best to read after you have done our course “3 weeks to improving your riding”. In this course we go into depth about the angles and lines we need in our posture that allows for maximum range of movement in both ourselves and our horses and also how to move and follow our horse. It includes 3 weeks of exercises designed by a personal trainer to help you hold this posture easier. This will also only work if your horse is working correctly in self carriage and connection. --Katie

Everything we are trying to do with our horses is to create more engagement, more self carriage, to create a stronger, more elastic top line so that our horse can move more freely, move with more power and agility, to reduce the concussion of the movement on their body and develop their core strength and soundness for a long and healthy riding career. The tighter we are through our thigh and the more we pivot at our knee and our hip in our dressage seat, even if we are trying to lean back to keep our upright, the more we are putting our horse onto the forehand. This is why all the angles and lines we discuss in “3 weeks to improving your riding” is so important. When we break these lines and angles we distribute our weight away from our centre of balance and then try to counter balance ourselves. Our horse then tries to counter balance our imbalance and both ours and our horses posture “shrinks and curls” to try and protect our balance. If we start with our center of gravity and work out, engaging the same balance points as we do on the ground we have the best opportunity of maintaining our posture and guiding our horse to maintain their balance, posture and center of gravity.

Once we understand how to do this and our connection is established we can then start to use our seat to communicate. This is our ultimate goal. The more we can communicate from our seat, the less we interrupt our horses flow and balance with our hands. If we do this exercise describe below without having established connection our horse will “jack up” and potentially also rear. Our horse needs to know how to sit into its haunches and lift through its tummy so that it is shortening its body in a way that lengthens the crest. Which is why we have our foundation exercises of self carriage that ensure our horse can first do all these things and that we also have an adequate feel of how to distribute the horses weight and balance effectively. Once these skills are established this is very easy. If these skills aren’t established your horse will let you know if you try this exercise. Make sure you listen to your horse and get help by someone who understands these principles if you are unsure.

Establishing a half halt with our seat.

Katie demonstrating the correct position in the saddle to improve your independent seat

Katie demonstrating the correct position in the saddle to improve your independent seat

First have all the prerequisites of self carriage established. Tempo changes, bend and changes of bend, transitions within the pace and pace to pace, shortening and lengthening the frame, rein back over a pole, trot poles and canter poles, introducing leg yield and shoulder fore.

Have the angles and lines of an independent seat as described in “3 weeks to improving your riding”.

At the halt:

  • Cuddle your calves
  • Squeeze your butt checks together like you are trying to hold a poo in
  • Lift through and rotate through your pelvis like your practised on the fit ball in “3 weeks to improving your riding
  • Draw your shoulder blades together and open your chest
  • Increase the angle through your elbows, taking your hands towards your hips gently, keeping a straight line elbow hands reins to bit.

The end goal is that the horse squeezes together and their head comes onto the vertical. Release the pressure for this.

To get this right you want to balance the amount of energy you are creating with your legs to the amount of wait you’re are creating with your hands.

Think about driving a manual car if you have the clutch out of gear it doesn’t matter how much you put your foot down on the accelerator the car won’t go. In a horse that understand self carriage and connection the contact is like your clutch you are balance the revs (forwardness from your legs) with the amount of clutch that is engaged (contact). If you don’t engage the clutch (contact) as you rev (legs) the car won’t accelerate with power (your horse will be strong out on the forehand). If you have to much revs (legs) to clutch (contact) your car will accelerate uncontrollable and do a burn out (your horse will take the bolt and spit you out the side). We are trying to find the balance between just enough rein add to say wait without stopping and just enough leg aid to say stay moving powerfully forward without rushing and this creates impulsion. When we go into this level of detail you can see why our foundations need to be so clearly established for both ourselves and our horses.

What we are trying to do here is establish this aid above which is our half halt by tightening and lifting through our seat to squeeze our horse together and lift the forehand.

We are not going to be riding like this all the time it is an add. We cuddle, squeeze, lift and draw our horse up and to us and then relax and allow our horse to move. We are creating a controlled tension which shortens, bounces and re-energises the stride and riding forward out of it.

As we ride forward our horse will going onto the forehead and we also have an opportunity here to create acceptance of the bit. As we relax and allow our hands forehand we are asking the horse to follow our hands forward out of the frame, to poke its nose out. Just before it gets to strung out, we cuddle, squeeze, lift and draw our horse in and up to us and then relax and slowly inch our hands forward encouraging our horse to poke its nose out seeking the contact. Rinse and repeat. This is your new half halt. The more often you ride this aid combination the stronger your horse will get through the chest and the shoulders and the more impulsion you will create.

This ability to shorten and lift into you is also your prerequisite to collection and why the transition from novice to elementary is so hard for some. If you have learnt how to get your horse into a frame by grounding them and putting them more onto the forehand you have to go back to scratch and relearn how to work your horse uphill into the frame if you are to achieve collection. The impulsion is a natural progression of self carriage that becomes collection.

Activating this seat aid is part of the puzzle. Your horse can only come uphill if you do first.



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