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...

The Seat

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!

19 Comments

  1. Excellent post. I gave lunge line lessons to several people this summer. It’s a challenge for some people to let go of that (false) sense of security or control they get from holding the reins, but once they do they get a whole different feel of the horse. They become better connected to the horse as they become more connected to their own bodies. I highly recommend lunge line lessons to everyone – no matter what your riding experience level is.

  2. “Allow” is the most important word in this post. And I am glad to see that it appeared more than once. The first time I did a lunge lesson, my trainer repeatedly said “allow, allow, allow” as we trotted round and round. That made all the difference for me. That one word said, “lose the grippiness, follow the horse, give him room to come up under you”.

  3. This is such a good post. The times I’ve ridden on the longe, I’ve wished I never had to stop. It’s nice to see the benefits listed and discussed—brings the actual ‘doing of it’ back to me as though it were yesterday. Have you guessed by now that it was a LOT longer ago than that? :)) Well, what we’ve learned, never totally departs.

    1. Great post once again! Time spent on the longe line with a good instructor is so valuable. Development of the seat through riding on the longe does reap many benefits. It is a good confidence builder too.

  4. I have been trying to learn to ride dressage for about three years and was very frustrated. I kept asking my trainer to do lunge line lessons with me but she did not think it necessary. Finally I changed trainers about a month ago and began weekly lunge line lessons. It has already made a HUGE difference in my riding. I am loving it and would recommend it to anyone…no matter how long you have been riding. This trainer says that she wishes more people would be willing to do them as part of their training.

    1. I think lunging is difficult both on the trainer’s part (to find a suitable horse that can balance underneath a rider on a circle round and round) as well as talk especially beginning riders into the “work” that is involved in lunging. Most riders want to get on and miraculously “go” without much work on their part.

      I’m so glad you had such a good experience. There really is no other way, and people can benefit from lunging as long as they are riding.

  5. I have an excellent 18 yr old “schoolmaster” that I am now on my second phase of lunge line lessons with. First phase last years (I’m an older AA rider ) was to rebuild confidence after a nasty tumble from said big powerful schoolmaster :).. now it’s amazing how much better I feel on the lunge after 6 months of 3x weekly lessons… I love it, love the feeling of improvement I do one LL lesson a week and two regular ridden dressage lessons. Right now I’m working on sitting trot without stirrups, doing lots of tension releasing exercises, have a small grab strap but barely need it now. It truly is a gift to have both the horse steady balanced, strong and confident, and a gifted coach who is patient, knowledgeable and encouraging.

  6. Many trainers don’t know HOW to give lunge lessons, which is why I wrote my book Training Tree for Riders. It give instructors the tools they need to give effective longe lessons and it gives riders exercises they can do on their own if they don’t have access to longe lessons, that will help bridge the gap.

  7. It only took me 70 years to learn to sit properly….oh, actually let’s say 50 years. I quit using a saddle some time ago and use a bareback pad. Makes it even sweeter to ride. Actually, you become the horse’s mind and his legs become yours….one exercise we do (my mare and me) is we walk or trot around the arena and I THINK let’s turn left or let’s turn right or let’s go canter or let’s whoa…and it happens. My legs are “angel wings” embracing her sides and I try to keep the lightest touch on her face. Unfortunately we don’t have too many years left to enjoy our company together, but I’ll take what I can get.

  8. I’m surprised to read that the lunge lesson is not mandatory by now. I’ve stuck my head back into the sport after being away for a very long time. I am Internationally Certified with the BHS as an Instructor and graduated from the famous Crabbet Park Equestrian Centre in 1971. Riders from all over the world, about 40 of us that year, studying at the best facilities in England, and believe me when I tell you, that had I not worked extra hard outside of the 3 hrs of daily riding instruction, by also taking lunge lessons from top BHS Instructors, I might not have passed my exams. It made that much difference!!! Just 6—30 minute lunge lessons will push your riding up into a different level. You want to be the best at your sport? Invest in them and yourself, you will gain the advantage. I promise you.

  9. I totally agree with Kathryn. I am also a graduate of Crabbet Park Equestiran Centre and really believe that the lunge lessons made me the rider I still am today at 52! Funny, when I ask some of my much younger instructors for a lunge lesson – they think I want them to teach me how to lunge my horse:)

  10. Interesting and excellent comments. I haven’t ridden for some time, and would love to go back to lunge lessons – I used to really enjoy them.

  11. The instructor who was taught this method of learning the art of riding , will practice it in their own teaching of students ,because they know the value is priceless. This is the instructor you need to find whatever it takes ,!

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