seat learned
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

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?

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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!

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3D book 2Here are some related articles about the seat:

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

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.


  1. While I get the point that the writer is trying to make, the method frightens me. Riding with an arched back puts the rider at risk for painful injury. Yes, the lower back must move, but equally forward and back, and side to side. Focusing on the arch is opposite of what I would recommend

  2. I am one of those old stiff backed riders who starts bouncing at the canter. One of my former instructors had a teacher as a child who would always yell at them “tits to God, ladies”! When I follow that command it arches my stiff lower back just enough to push me back into the saddle and let my horse go happily forward. I occasionally startle my instructors by saying it out loud but I think they all agree it works.

  3. I agree with the above comment from Amanda- the idea is right, but the methodology may put riders prone to serious and chronic back pain. A rider needs fluidity in their entire body (without flopping) to flow with their horse…Arching your back takes your body out of a biomechanically efficient position and is a compensation for weaker areas in the body. It may seem easier short term, but long term it could very well cause low back pain and other compensations in the body- leading to injury.

  4. I love your posts! I have been a trainer, teacher, rider for over 50 years and you are the best! I have had lessons from the greats and I get so much form your posts that I would have to say you are right up there with them all.
    Please keep it up so that the many will get it and stop treating their horses with such cruelty.
    Your posts are so insightful and so very easy to understand. You write to be heard not to be thought of as great!
    Vicki Bauer

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Vicki. I know perfectly well that no piece of writing can replace a live lesson with an experienced coach, but I am regularly amazed at how these articles are being useful for people.

  5. agree very much with Vicki. I have had great results both doing it myself and also when teaching – to have my students lift up their chest in the rhythm of the horse as if they had a string attached to their breast in a 45 degree angel forward and constantly thinking and looking forward with soft elbows and light contact to the mouth if they use a bridle. They first learn it in a halter and with no hands on the rein. I first have them learn this without holding the rein – maybe keeping the outside hand on the bareback saddle pad and the inside hand out to the side pointing to the middle of the roundpen I start all my beginners in. The inside arm is moving in circles back wards – as if making a backward biking movement with the arm. That slight twist of the body is sending signals down in the back and activate the butt to step under the body. With more energy the stride will be longer, with less energy in the swing, the stride shorter, but same rhythm. When they stop moving, the horse stops – this is ALL through the seat. The swing and energy in the body activates the “motor” which is in the horse’s butt and get the horse to step under himself. the energy in the swing of the inside arm communicates the speed or rather lengthening of the stride. This gave me an excellent support and idea to ask my students to put the outside arm behind the back (instead of holding on to the saddle pad) and as you so perfectly explained give the back a little pressure with that arm. The inside arm out to the side while rhythmically saying “Up” with the chest , Up, two, three, four, Up, two ….or whichever gate this exercise is done in. First in walk then in trot. On each count of “up” the outside arm on the back is slightly pressing mildly to sort of push the chest forward. The inside arm can swing backwards in the same rhythm to activate the motor. This really teaches balance. When cantering it becomes a soft floating movement – like a dance with a soft swing- but very important to remember to breathe softly while doing it and keeping the legs long and soft on the barrel of the horse. If you keep your breath or try to hang on with tight legs- your are tense and the whole thing is counter productive and will course pain in both your body and the horse’s back and thus counter productive. I smile mildly and look far ahead. while balancing my head softly on the spinal cord as the juggler does with a ball in circus. Centaur feeling is there. To soften up the back so it becomes a soft wave following the movement of the horse – or influencing the horse’s movements with the energy in your body – is a wonderful feeling and the horse loves it too. Danehill – a Danish warmblood breeder in California.

  6. A very timely post! Thanks for the exercise ideas. I’ll definitely try it out when I’m on my Western horse (just a little easier to steer with one hand in that case 😉 ).

  7. I had one trainer who would use the phrase “coconut bra and bubble butt”. The point of this article, as I understand it, isn’t to ask the rider to over-arch the back but to allow it to be more supple much the same way that the rider is asking the horse to be supple. Makes perfect sense to me! Thanks for the article and the reminder to be a soft, yet effective rider. 🙂

  8. I practice my yoga breathing when I ride. When I take a big exhalation breath I can actually get my horse to do a relaxing exhalation snort. It’s fun to try. Connecting on so many levels.

  9. Because the equine pelvis moves with an anterior, posterior and lateral tilt in order for a rider to follow this motion the riders pelvis must move in the same plane while keeping the legs are stabilized but following the motion and letting gravity keep the seat in total contact with the saddle by not gripping with your legs.When the riders pelvis lumbar curve is increased(lordosis) the pelvis tilts anteriorly or forward.When the lordosis decreases the pelvis posteriorly tilts or backwards.The core muscles that surround the lumbar spine need to act synergistically to contol the amount of all three pelvic tilts.When you’re in sync with the horses pelvis you can directly influence his gait by contracting your core muscles with changing intensities to influence his pelvis to collect extend, halt etc.

  10. I am happy to say that, stiffness from work postures can be corrected over time. Wow was I stiff in my hips, I had siatic issues too. My 9-5 job had me sitting way to much at a computer. The stiffness just crept in there. It has taken over a year to stretch my hips and hamstrings, I am riding better than ever due to this blog and some physical therapy stretches I found on the web. never give up!!! stretch those hamstrings and hip joints.
    I did it because of pain while sleeping, my riding became so much easier as a benifit.