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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

It is true what they say - that horseback riders do nothing while the horse does all the work.

At least, that is what we all aspire to make it look like!

The best riders are the ones that make it look effortless - they glide along with their horses, always appearing to be in balance, making imperceptible movements that are barely evident except to the educated eye. Yes, the horse just flows from movement to movement seemingly on his own, as if he clearly knows what to do and where to do it.

But we know what it takes to get to that point. Years of riding and training go into developing the balance, strength and subtlety, never mind the amount of training the horse requires in order to be able to understand and respond to the slightest of aids.

How do we begin to look like we're sitting still, doing nothing on the horse's back?

We learn to move.

As with so many of life's paradoxes, only movement can make us appear to be still on our horses.

(Click to tweet that if you agree.)

The reason: because the horse is moving.

If we truly stayed motionless on top of the horse (which would be nearly impossible due to the movement), we would be awkwardly jerking around in reaction to the horse's body position in the moment in time. Perhaps you've been there before? The horse lurches forward underneath you and you don't! Not only do you end up looking like you were moving on the horse, but it also feels uncomfortably like a mild whiplash.


However - if you learn to move in rhythm with the horse, suddenly, your body flows along in tandem with your equine partner. Within your constant movement, you create the illusion of being stable and unmoving.

What staying still doesn't look like

Don't make the mistake of floating along on top of the horse's back.

Many riders "perch" on their saddles. The horse flows along underneath the rider, but the rider has lifted her seat out of the saddle just enough that she is hovering above the movement. Her seat seems to be still but when the horse canters, she bounces in and out of the saddle. When in sitting trot, even if the horse is just trotting along steadily, the rider is holding herself outside of the movement, rather than becoming "one" with the forward/backward motion of the trot.

The major drawback to perching or hovering above the saddle is that should the horse take one unannounced step, the rider will be either left behind the movement or flung to the side. The rider will not be able to move with the horse in the misstep, and will risk becoming unseated or falling off.

The first essential aspect of sitting still - the independent seat

So long as the rider is relying on only hand or leg aids for balance and control, she will continue to be working outside of the horse's movement.

The rider must learn to sit in the horse, not on the horse.

Charles de Kunffy calls it the "adhesive seat."

It's quite simple, really: the seat must belong to the horse. The difficult part is learning to move so that the seat can belong to the horse!

Where to start?

No blog (however wonderful!) and no book can give you the answer on how to use your seat effectively. (Un)fortunately, you must acquire the help of a competent instructor, and preferably, lunge lessons on a good horse. You need to learn to release your lower back and follow the horse's movements. You have to develop your abdominals so that you can counter the sway in the canter - so your muscles can alternately release and contract to keep your upper body from leaning too far forward or back within the movement.

You must learn to move your seat bones independently of each other, and to be able to maintain soft but controlled legs that do not disturb your balance-in-movement. Once you have movement in the seat bones, you can begin to influence your horse's rhythm, bend, balance and engagement from the seat. 

Sometime after developing the coordination needed to begin to ride in the horse, you will suddenly discover that you are looking more and more motionless. But you'll know how much you are in fact moving, within the movement!

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15 Comments

  1. How timelessly true—and what a revelation the first time one is shown this paradox of moving to stay still. This just never gets old! What a post…. :-O/

  2. I’m a new subscriber and a fairly new riding student. Add to that, I just had my 80th birthday! I’m either crazy about horses or just crazy. I have a great instructor who is taking it slowly. I see young people fall off and seem to bounce. I’m afraid if I fall I’ll snap like a limb from a half dead tree. That being said, I’m having the time of my life!!! Thanks so much.

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