Objective: The rider’s position should not interfere with the horse’s natural balance.
If you had to pick the most important factor in training a riding horse, then it would have to be the rider’s position in the saddle. It also happens to be one of the hardest things for a rider to achieve and maintain through all the paces.
If you do not have the correct position or seat in the saddle then you will not be able to give the aids correctly, you will unbalance the horse, which in turn affects the rhythm of your horse’s paces.
When people talk about position or seat they are usually referring to your seat bones and pelvis. However, your head, neck, body, arms, hips, legs and feet will all have an impact on your seat.
What are your seat bones?
Your seat bones are part of your pelvis (pelvic girdle) and as the name implies you sit on them. Try sitting on a hard, unpadded chair and you will soon feel them. You have two seat bones, with one inside each cheek. Don’t confuse these bones with your coccyx (tailbone) which is the last three joints found at the bottom of your spine.
One of the worst mistakes a rider can make is to put their weight on their tailbone rather over the top on their seat bones and pubic bone (pubis). Many classical riders refer to a three-point seat as the triangle formed when you sit on your two seat bones, on either side of the saddle, and your pubic bone at the front.
It is also important to understand that girls and boys are built differently in the pelvic area.
If you look at these two diagrams you will notice major differences:
The male and female pelvis is very different in its size, shape and tilt, which means that the ‘classic’ seat is different for males and females. The riding position was developed by the cavalry and the nobility of Europe for men, not women. With this in mind, girls and women may have some difficulty in achieving a completely flat back and a classic length of leg. This only means that their seat is different, not less effective – as their equestrian success shows.
There are three basic seats:
Forward (Jumping) Seat.
The Dressage Seat
A big “Thank You” to our members kelcooper and delly for agreeing to be our models. They are both very good riders and didn’t mind changing their riding position to demonstrate common problems in the following animations.
The dressage seat is the basic foundation seat for everyone learning to ride. It should be used to train horses on the flat, for Dressage and while you are undertaking dressage movements.
You should be sitting upright (no slouching), your head should be looking forward with your shoulders square , you should be positioned in the lowest point of the saddle with even, balanced weight over the saddle . Your inner thigh should be flat against the saddle with the knee bent and always making contact with the saddle (not squeezing just a constant contact). The lower leg should be stretched down making a light contact with the side of your horse. Your feet should rest in the stirrups on the ball of your foot with your heel lower than your toe. Your toes should be pointing forward with only a slight angle outwards (if your feet are angling too far out it usually means that your inner thigh is not flat against the saddle). Your upper arms should fall naturally from your shoulders and sit in contact with your body (this supports you) . Elbows should be close to your side with the lower arm bent down to the reins (from the elbow, through the lower arm, hands, reins and bit should be a straight line). Your hands should be holding the reins with your thumbs on top (if your elbows are sticking out it usually means you have flattened your hands and your knuckles are on top not your thumbs). Your hands should be even and about 10cm apart. Keep your hands on either side of the horse; never bring your reins across your horse’s withers.
A correct, balanced seat is not only better for the horse but it will also be safer for you as it uses your own centre of gravity to keep you in the saddle. If you are sitting correctly a perpendicular line should go from the back of your heel, through the centre of your pelvis, shoulders and head.
This is a lot to think about but the more you concentrate on your position the easier it will become. Just remember that straight does not mean stiff, your body must be flexible so that you can give your horse aids through your seat and legs. The most important thing is to stay balanced with equal pressure on both seat bones, relaxing your pelvis so that you can sit as deeply as possible in the saddle and maintaining this through walk, trot and canter.
It will take time but it is worth the effort. When you get it no one will be able to take the smile off your face.
- Tension Tension
- Chair Seat Chair Seat
- Slouch Slouch
- Slouch (Legs) Slouch (Legs)
- Hollow Back Hollow Back
- Feet Pointing Out Feet Pointing Out
- Looking Down Looking Down
Tension. This is the most common problem and can affect any part of the rider’s body. If any part of your body is stiff or tense you will not be able to deliver effective aids.
Chair Seat. Instead of balancing over your heels you lean too far back and your legs come forward so all your weight is on your tailbone. Your legs will become straight with toes pointing out and knees will no longer have contact with the saddle. In this position you will not be in control of your aids.
Split Seat. If you transfer too much weight on to your thighs and too little on to the seat bones your lower leg could slip too far back. You will no longer have a secure, balanced seat.
Slouch. Collapsing your back will cause your knees to be drawn up, your lower leg will be moved back and your heels will rise. Slouching can also cause your hip to collapse to one side, which makes an even, balanced seat impossible.
Hollow Back. This will tip you onto your pelvic bone causing your heels to come up. Your thighs and knees may also lose contact with the saddle.
Long Stirrups. This will cause your legs to be too straight with little or no bend in your knee. If this happens, your heels will pull up, your toe will point down and your legs will move backwards and forwards rather than keep contact at the girth.
Feet Pointing Out. This can be caused by your thigh not lying flat on the saddle. Try rolling your thigh into the saddle and see what happens to your feet.
Looking down. When a rider looks down on the ground their balance changes. You are no longer evenly balanced over your seat bones, therefore more weight goes onto one side of the saddle causing your horse to fall in on that side.
The Light Seat
This is an excellent seat when you are training flat work with a Showjumper, where you need to move quickly back to a Dressage Seat. It is also safer and more comfortable when you are riding across country with uneven terrain. It is particularly useful when breaking and training young horses as it takes the weight off their back muscles, which have not yet developed.
The stirrups should be shortened by two holes from the length used for the Dressage Seat. You should lean your upper body slightly forward, taking your weight off your seat bones; your thighs and knees will now support most of your weight. Your hip joints, knees and ankles must act as springs to follow the movement of the horse. Your hands and lower arm should be in a straight line.
Seat leaving the saddle and your lower leg moving backwards.
Hands resting on the horse’s neck and the rein.
It takes a lot of practice to become evenly balanced in the Light Seat and all riders should be balanced in the Dressage Seat before moving into this position. When you use this seat you should be able to move from Light to Dressage and Dressage to Light, quickly and smoothly.
Forward (Jumping) Seat
Until you have mastered balance in the Dressage Seat and Light Seat you should not attempt the Forward Seat. Also it should only be used on horses that have learned to obey the aids in their Dressage training.
The objective of this seat is to give freedom to the horse’s back and to allow you to follow any change in your horse’s balance when you are Showjumping, Cross-Country Jumping or galloping.
The stirrups are considerably shorter than the length used in the Dressage Seat. You will need to use either an all-purpose or jumping saddle, as the knee rolls are set further forward to support your knees.
Your upper body will be positioned in front of the vertical. Your lower leg must stay on the girth with the heel down, which means that you will need more bend in your hip and knee joint. Your seat will be slightly lifted out of the saddle; there is no weight on the seat bones but your seat is still close to the saddle. You must keep your hips forward and keep your head erect while using your hip and knee joints as elastic shock absorbers to keep your balance. Your shoulders, elbows and wrists must stay relaxed and move independently. Hands should be held down on either side of your horse’s withers.
This seat takes a lot of practice and different muscles to achieve balance and total body control.
- Swinging Lower Leg Swinging Lower Leg
- Toes Down, Heels Up Toes Down, Heels Up
- Ahead of Movement Ahead of Movement
- Too High Above Horse Too High Above Horse
- Behind the Movement Behind the Movement
- Not Releasing Not Releasing
Even top riders have days or particular jumps where they depart from the classical forward seat position. The difference is that they usually have the experience and balance to get away with it, however they would all prefer not to have those moments.
Swinging Lower Leg. This may occur when you pinch with your knees and don’t have any thigh contact. It may also occur when your stirrups are too long and you don’t have any balance and support. If your lower leg swings you no longer have the anchor that will keep you in the saddle.
Toes Down And Heels Up. This is usually caused by a swinging lower leg, incorrect leg position or the stirrups are too long. It will also occur if you stand in your stirrups rather than push your weight down through your lower leg.
Rider Ahead Of The Movement. This usually means your stirrups are too long, your legs are too far back and your heels are drawn up
Rider Too High Above The Horse. You may be riding with your seat too far away from the saddle. Remember even in a Forward Seat you take all the weight off your seat bones but you still stay close to the saddle. You are not riding a racehorse in a jockey pad.
Rider Behind The Movement. You have not kept your hips forward so your bottom is trailing behind. Your lower leg is probably too far forward and your hands are in a high position, rather than down beside the withers, causing you to be pulled back or ‘left behind’.
Leaning To One Side Or Ducking. This will unbalance the horse as well as the rider. You must keep weight evenly balanced over the centre of the saddle with equal weight in both stirrup irons. This usually occurs when you put too much weight in one stirrup rather than being evenly centred.
Not Releasing. This is the worst fault because it causes your horse pain every time you bang it in the mouth. It is usually caused by a rider using the reins for support, rather than having natural even balance. If this continues your horse will quickly associate jumping with pain and will start to refuse jumps.
The Classic Dressage Seat