Whether you’re a novice or an experienced rider a correct seat and riding position is essential to maintaining balance and ensures you can apply the aids without feeling unbalanced.
So, what exactly is a correct classical riding seat and how can you improve your seat?
Put simply, it’s when the riders centre of gravity is perfectly positioned and aligned in the saddle.
In the correct position, there should be a perfectly straight line from the ear, to the shoulder, to the hip, to the heel and another straight line from the horse’s mouth up through the reins to the elbow.
The rider should also look straight from behind – from the head right down through the body. The foundation of a good seat comes from the pelvis, which should always be upright and with equal weight on each seat bone and the pubic bone.
The benefits of improving your riding seat
There are many benefits for both horse and rider in improving your riding seat. It not only helps you to stay balanced as the horse is moving but you’ll have easier communication with him and be able to apply the aids more effectively.
Your horse listens to your body weight, so it’s better when your weight is evenly distributed.
Quite simply, it’s much more comfortable for your horse and you’ll do his back less damage in the long term.
Correcting the chair position :
One of the most common problems is known as the ‘chair position’. This is when the lower leg comes forward.
All lower leg problems come from having an insecure seat. This position causes problems as you can easily get ‘behind’ the movement of your horse which causes you to tip backwards and grip up with your legs.
Riders with this position have too much weight on their seat bones.
Solutions: That will help you improve your seat
CAUTION! As a general caution do not attempt to do any of the following exercises if you suspect a lower back problem. Consult your doctor first.
- Firstly, take away the stirrups by crossing them over the saddle in front of you. Then wiggle around in the saddle to feel all the three points, the seat bones and pubic bone.
- Rock forwards and backwards until you find a comfortable place and the pelvis feels upright.
- Circle your ankles towards the horse. This exercise really helps relax the hip at the top.
- Try swinging one leg forwards and the other backwards, keeping the toes in and the heels out, so as not to kick your horse.
- Hold the front of the saddle with one hand and with the other grab an ankle and stretch your knee to the floor. This strengthens and opens the hips and pelvis. Hold this position for thirty seconds. Relax and then repeat with your other leg.
Here’s another exercise to try.
Hold both reins in one hand, bring both legs up to the top of the saddle and then push both legs back down towards the hocks of the horse, without tipping forward. This will stretch your hip flexors. Relax and repeat this exercise several times
Correcting lower leg problems
Another major rider error is a wobbly lower leg problem. This is when the lower leg swings loosely backwards and forwards.
This will cause the rider to tip forward in a see-saw effect, onto their pubic bone. The knees will also ‘grip up’.
This can cause tension in the lower back, and impedes the horse’s movement.
There should never be tension in the knees as the only time you need to grip is when jumping or galloping. So we need those knees.
Solutions: for lower leg problems …
- With the stirrups taken away, stretch your legs pointing your toes to the floor and then level your heel with your toes. This helps to stretch the leg longer.
- Take your legs away from the horse’s side and then place them gently back on. Repeat this movement several times.
- Pretend your riding a bicycle and cycle really fast! This loosens the entire leg and again helps to stretch it down and lengthen it. Try this exercise when moving and when stationary.
Correcting upper body problems
There are several upper body problems that come from tension or bad posture. The head needs to be relaxed and straight. Tension in the head and neck is a major problem. If the neck strains forwards it will unbalance the entire body.
Another common fault is rounded shoulders which lead to a slouched back. This is when the rider takes the horse’s movement through the upper body and not as we would wish through the small of her back.
The alignment of the torso should come from the correct alignment of the spine.
Solutions: for upper body problems
- To release some of the tension, drop your head to the chest and then look up. Tip your head to the left, then to the right. Drop your head to the chest and then look ahead.
- Now repeat again – chin to chest, tip to the left, then to the right, chin down, then head up.
- Now your head should be aligned, by keeping it straight but relaxed. Repeat this exercise several times.
- Circle one arm backwards with the chest and shoulders open, loosening any tension in the shoulders. Stretch up from the waist and breathe in on the way up and out on the way down. Circle your arm several times then repeat with the other.
- We need to lift up the diaphragm, which is just under the rib cage, to correct the slouched back.
- Begin by stretching both arms outwards. Then stretch upwards as if climbing a ladder. First with the right arm then the left and continue while remembering to breathe as well. Repeat this exercise a few times. TIP! Have a friend hold your horse while doing these exercises.
Correcting hip problems
Hip problems such as sitting crookedly, come from the pelvis, with your hip collapsing on one side.
Solutions: for hip problems
- To help to correct this, the rider needs to firstly find the three points of their pelvis, by sitting on their hands and wiggling to feel their seat bones. This will help to distribute their weight evenly.
- If your tendency is to collapse to the right, look over your right shoulder to the horse’s tail, then look ahead. The hips instantly become more square on. If you tend to collapse to the left then look over your left shoulder.
- With the stirrups crossed and reins in the outside hand, bring the knees up and then put the legs against your horse. Pull away the flat of the inner thigh from behind. This really helps to deepen your seat.
Correcting hand problems
Problems with the hands such as uneven and insecure contact with the reins also come from having an insecure seat.
Solutions: for hand problems
- Hold the reins in one hand and raise your arm to shoulder level and allow it to remain there, still. Practise this first in walk and then in trot.
- Place your whip in between the thumbs, bend the elbows and ride in walk and trot, keeping the whip level. This exercise is very good for steadying the hands.
- Try placing a plastic cup in each hand, filled with some water. With the reins at normal contact start to walk, keeping an even rein contact and try not to spill any water. You can also progress to a trot, if you don’t mind getting wet.
- Hands and rein contact need to be elastic, sensitive and allowing, meaning they should be going with the horse’s movement.
Having followed all the above guidelines, you should now be sat correctly in the classical riding seat.
Your weight should be evenly distributed over your horse and your spine aligned to your horse’s centre of gravity.
Continually improving your seat & maintaining a good classical seat.
- Have some lunging lessons from a qualified instructor. This will prove very beneficial.
- Ride occasionally without stirrups.
- Get a friend to observe your seat. And maybe you can observe theirs!
- Mimic a rider that you admire. Observe them very closely.
Whatever your age or riding ability; practise, practise and practise again. But most of all ensure you and your horse have some fun while you improve your seat.