Just about everyone and their grandmother talks about the seat in riding. Do this with your seat; do THAT with your seat. Why the fixation on the riding seat?
The "seat" in horseback riding is not limited to the area of the "derriere" that comes into contact with the saddle. Some people include much more than that - all the way from the lower abdominals and waist to above the knees.
Essentially, the seat is THE most effective aid we have to influence our horse's movements. (Click here to tweet that.)
The balanced seat is what allows us to develop independent hands, good riding posture and loose, supple legs that can aid at a moment's notice. The seat is also the prime factor in our ability to stay on the horse during the "bobbles" that invariably happen from time to time.
The Passive Seat
In general, beginning riders are taught the passive seat. As the name implies, you simply follow the horse's movements with your seat. If the horse offers a gait, your seat matches the movement in stride and depth. The idea here is to not interfere with the horse's movements. You let the horse lead, and you follow.
Don't get the wrong idea. The passive seat is not as easy to perform as it sounds. It takes hours and hours of riding practice to develop a strong enough core and a loose, supple lower back. Then you need to and coordinate your upper legs to tighten and release as needed to make following look easy.
You know you're on the right track when you stop bouncing, or having air-time, during the canter or trot. Another good checkpoint is to see if you can let the horse's energy float right through the saddle area and up toward the neck and head. If there is no restriction of energy (i.e. the horse doesn't quit, stumble, lean, toss the head or lose rhythm), you know you are following effectively enough to NOT interfere with the movement.
- allows the horse to move freely, almost as if without a rider on his back
- develops confidence and trust in the horse
- gives the horse a "yes!" answer - the following feels good and is rewarding to the horse
The Restricting Seat
Sometimes, you may not want to follow the horse's movements. The restricting seat helps in achieving better uphill balance in the horse. It gives the horse a "heads up" that a transition is about to happen. It lets the horse know that he should slow the tempo or lighten the forehand.
You restrict the movement in the seat by pausing in your lower back (and maybe even the upper legs) even while the horse is still moving. In the middle of the canter stride, at the exact right time, you hold back the seat. You resist the movement, and yes, the horse will feel it right through the saddle.
Be careful to restrict diligently, over a very short period of time so that you continue to allow the flow of the energy of the movement toward the front of the horse. Too much restricting seat can result in shutting down the horse's forward impulsion, or worse, cause a stumble if the horse was not prepared correctly.
- this is the central component to the half-halt
- allows you to control rhythm and tempo from the middle of the horse rather than from the front
- aids in rebalancing and straightening the horse
- makes for a very powerful downward transition
The Driving Seat
Use this type of seat to ask for more from your horse - more stride, more strength, more impulsion, even more rhythm. To "drive" you use your seat in a forward motion, at the moment the inside front leg comes back (inside hind leg is off the ground and therefore able to be influenced).
It feels almost like you want to push the saddle over the horse's withers and neck. This way, you can use your seat in conjunction with your legs, which results in quieter, calmer legs that don't have to kick and demand at all times.
- less reliant on legs, allowing softer, more subtle leg aids
- helps to draw up the hind end of the horse, encouraging a longer hind leg stride deeper underneath the body
- aids in the development of engagement and impulsion
There are many other ways to use the seat, but these three form the basis of all other variations. Using the seat doesn't have to be for the few and far between - work with a good instructor and practice regularly, and you will be amazed at the progress you can make. The added bonus is that your horse learns to respond to the subtle changes of your seat and communication becomes invisible.
THEN, you can be one of those who look like they aren't doing anything while riding!
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