Warning: This post will discuss all things about a region we seldom talk about, never mind actually analyze! So grab a "seat" and come along for the ride...
Riding is all about the use of the seat.
No matter how effective you think your seat is, you will likely continue to find a better/more balanced/more sophisticated way to use your seat as you develop your riding skills.
Developing a well-balanced and independent riding seat is the task of a lifetime.
(Click here to retweet if you're STILL grappling with seat development after all these years!!)
Having said that, you can start "finding" your seat right from the get-go. Before you have even learned to control the horse, you could be developing a secure seat through lunging lessons from a good instructor.
Why Bother With the Seat?
You could argue that you can give all your aids (or cues) to a horse through your hands and legs. You would of course be right - most horses could get by with a basic level of performance by listening to your intentions through your appendages. However, you would always have a sense that something is missing - something more profound and difficult to describe, because the horse will always have moments of disconnection that you won't be able to eliminate in your riding.
You might even catch a horse off-guard and have to overuse your hands to get a downward transition, turn or other maneuver.
Once you discover the true harmony that an effective seat can produce, you may agree that the seat can truly be distinguished as the core of all riding.
If you can free up your hands and legs from creating and maintaining movement, you'll uncover a source of freedom and harmony difficult to describe in words.
Do You Walk, Trot and Canter With Your Seat?
When mounted on the horse, your seat bones effectively become your legs. In other words, your seat bones will do on the horse's back what your legs normally would do on the ground.
If the horse is walking, so too should your seat mirror the movement. Your inside and outside seat bones can walk along with the horse's footfalls, in rhythm, at the same time as the horse's side swings.
In trot and canter, your seat bones move together to follow the arc of the movement of the horse. The better you can release and contract your lower back and seat muscles, the easier it will be for you to follow the horse's back without bouncing against the movement.
On the Lunge
Riding on the lunge is the best way to begin the search for the effective seat. Your instructor controls the horse so you can focus on your balance and coordination. The learning is not mental - in fact, it is purely physical. If you can allow your body to move with the horse's movements, the muscle memory will develop on its own through the repetitive motion of the horse.
Don't get me wrong - it's not like you are going to sit there and let the horse do all the work! That is far from the truth.
Instead, you will be doing your best to allow the horse's movements through your body. You will quickly discover that you must tense and release your muscles, all the way from the top of your head down to your heels, in rhythm, while maintaining enough balance to not fall too far forward or too far backward! It sounds easier than it feels!
However, since you do not have to control the horse, you are free to use your hands to hold on to the pommel of the and pull yourself deeply into the front of the saddle so you can help your core muscles maintain the strength needed for a balanced posture. You can also move the arms and legs into various positions to deepen the looseness in your muscles, stretching your sides one at a time, and creating a deeper seat by moving the positions of the legs.
More advanced lunging can be accomplished through riding without stirrups.Your instructor can teach your body how to deal with sudden lurches from the horse, and even provide opportunities for non-progressive transitions such as walk to canter, where the body has to give through the lower back and seat deeply enough to allow the horse's movements to go seamlessly through you.
There is no other way to finding an effective seat than through lunging, and you will develop an independent seat much quicker than if you have to control the horse on your own. Sadly, there are few instructors who have a suitable horse (a truly steady and reliable lunging horse takes time to develop) and enough marketing clout (to talk beginning riders into going round and round in circles) for the sake of muscle memory.
But lunging is simply the most effective short-cut to becoming the best rider you can be.
Off the Lunge Line
Once off the lunge, you need to learn to control the horse with all your aids. However, thanks to all the work you did developing your muscle memory, your seat will already be willing and able to maintain your balance so you can have better control of your appendages. Because you've already ridden at the walk/trot/canter and handled the non-progressive transitions, there is little left to surprise you when the horse suddenly heads in a different direction or stops without warning. Your seat will take care of any surprises.
Time and again, you can revisit riding on the lunge to maintain or develop an ever deeper and more effective seat. The time you invest on the lunge will be recovered ten-fold through your riding career.
In fact, once you've started working on the lunge, you'll wonder why you didn't do it in the first place.
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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also want to read:
Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!
Ride Backwards, But Ride Effectively! Although the rider had developed the correct “look”, the horse was telling a different story.
How Do You Know Your Horse Is Using His Back? In the long run, our primary motivation for self-improvement in riding is for the sake of the horse’s health. We want horses that live well, staying strong and vigorous long into their old age.
To Lesson or Not To Lesson? That shouldn’t even be a question!