Many of us have less than adequate movement through our hips and lower backs to start with. Whether our joints, ligaments and tendons are shortened (tightened) through age, or through tension, or (over)use - or for whatever other reason - I think that more of us have tight lower backs than not. Many of us have to work hard to "loosen" through the lower back - which then translates to a more active and released core, hips, legs and even upper body.
There are some people who have wonderfully flowing backs and soft but toned abs, cores, and upper backs. So if you are one of those people who have little to no issues with following the horse's movement, please disregard the rest of this article!
On the other hand, if you bounce in the saddle, fall out of sync with your horse's movement, or otherwise feel less than balanced and effective, maybe some of the following ideas might help.
Bring Attention to the Lower Back
One of the easiest ways to isolate the lower back area is to touch it while you are riding. So, put both reins in one hand and place the back of your other hand in the small of your back. Feel the amount of movement that goes on there. Is it flowing easily with the horse's movement? Is it too tight? Could there be more movement and release?
Try this at the walk, trot and canter as it will be different at each gait. Don't be surprised if you find tension even at the walk. We often carry more tightness than we think we do.
Keep your hand over the lower back area and start playing with movement at each gait. Try some transitions and see how the energy flows (or doesn't) through your lower back in the transitions. When do you brace? Where do you flop?
Once you have a good feeling of what is actually going on, work toward moving that area more with the horse. Look for better flow, better rhythm through your own back and less bounce in the saddle (especially in the canter).
The Secrets to the Looseness
To be perfectly honest, even after you feel like you are arching your back, you likely won't be arching in the way that causes a negative effect to you and/or your horse. Precisely because of your stiffness or tightness, what feels like an arch is more like a straightening of your lower back. So while you feel like you are in the arch moment, you are in fact only allowing your pelvis to tilt enough to actually keep position while the horse moves.
The other secret is that you must "loosen" in movement. Your supple back will allow the horse's supple back. You will be moving into and out of the arch in rhythm with the horse's movement - thereby not really holding an arch at all.
Once you have the feeling with your hand in your lower back, remove your hand and take up the other rein again. Think/feel to the lower back and keep it moving as if your hand is still there. Any time you feel the stiffness coming on, take your hand back there again and find the looseness.
What Not To Do
Finally, beware the "flop." The opposite extreme of the tight back is the jello back. If you find that you let your lower back go too much, thereby really arching too deeply, you have to hold more tension at the end of each stride so that you don't just flop into the saddle.
There is such thing as too much of a good thing!
There are many more details to developing an effective riding seat, but finding that flowing lower back is the first step.
All you really need to do is become more aware of the movement through your lower back, to know what it feels like to really allow the back to move in tandem with the horse's back, and to release enough to be able to maintain an honest three-point position in the saddle.
How do you ensure that you have a "loose" lower back when you ride your horse? Let us know in the comments below!
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email
Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding
Available as an eBook or paperback.
Why Rising Trot Is Not Rising At All: How to rise in the trot so that you move in tandem with the horse.
Why Would You Bother to “Scoop” Your Seat Bones? Learning to use your seat effectively should take a lifetime to develop, so we will begin with just one basic aspect: how to move the seat bones.
Rarely Considered, Often Neglected: Lunging to Develop the Riding Seat: 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.
6 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Riding Seat: As you become more subtle in the aiding process, you will begin to discover just how powerful the seat can be in guiding the horse without disturbing and interfering in his movement.