How many times have you been told to sit back on your seat? It’s good advice, of course, but the way you do it can have a huge effect on your position and your horse.
Most riders are aware of their two seat bones but what about your fork? That’s your pubic bone – or the front of your seat. (The bit nobody dares to mention!) It has to take some weight. How else can you support the weight of the front of your body?
Think about it. There’s a reason your feet stick out in front of you – they give you a broader area to support your body weight. When you get on a horse you take both feet off the floor yet suddenly you think you can support your whole weight on two small bones at the back of your seat. That’s like walking around on your heels. If you did that you’d spend most of your life falling over backwards! You can balance on your heels – try it – but your muscles would be so tense to maintain it you’d soon get tired.
Tip back onto your seat bones and you’ll put direct pressure onto your horse’s back in one small area. It’s the difference between being prodded with a finger or pushed with the palm of a hand. Is it any wonder some horses get tight behind the saddle?
Tip back onto your seat bones and your legs naturally swing forward, just as they do when you sit in a chair. Your body would like to tip backwards too but if – like many riders – you look down or lean forward you’ll end up in a slumped position or you’ll have a back like a banana. These things can all be corrected BUT if your seat is still at fault then tension moves to your hips and lower back as your body tries to hold everything in place.
Ideally you should aim to get your horse to take roughly ¾ of his weight on his quarters and ¼ over his shoulders. Think of your seat in the same way. Whilst your seat bones take the majority of weight your fork supports the rest.
Get on your horse and in halt sit straight down in the saddle. Forget about trying to find your seat bones. Aim to distribute your weight across the saddle as best you can. Allow your bum to look big on it! Anyone anticipating cutting themselves in half shouldn’t worry. If your saddle is big enough and you’re not tipping back (and therefore ‘exposing’ your fork) then you’re actually better protected!
In halt feel how your legs just hang down when you sit flat onto your seat. The weight should fall directly onto your stirrup. Let it. Leave your foot in a fairly flat position and move it so your heel is directly underneath your hip. A good guide is to look down at your knee. Your toe shouldn’t be visible.
Sit and focus on how it feels to have your weight supported over your whole seat. Now breathe in and pull your body up as if you’re trying to pull your vertebra apart. Pull the bottom of your ribcage out and forward. Be careful as you breathe in that you don’t tighten your seat, everything needs to stay soft.
In this position you are in self carriage. Your weight is evenly distributed, your muscles are relaxed and each part of your body is carrying itself without causing tension through the rest of your body. It’s what you expect your horse to do.
Still in halt push your heels down. As your heel pushes down your lower leg will swing forwards. Your seat will slip back and tense up. You’ll feel your knee tighten against the saddle. In halt this has little effect on your horse but do the same in trot or canter and you’ll find it’s impossible to sit in the saddle. If you can’t remain in contact with his back then you’ll find it difficult to control his speed, keep him balanced or shorten him up.
Ride forward in walk, trot and canter on 20m circles and serpentines but forget about your horse’s carriage and focus on yours. As your seat relaxes your leg will naturally hang longer meaning your heel will be lower than your toe but don’t force it. Keep your foot flat on the stirrup and allow your weight to fall directly onto it. Practise sitting trot with your weight spread over all three points of your seat and instead of thinking ‘heels down’ think ‘foot flat’.
On turns and corners concentrate on keeping your whole seat relaxed and in contact with the saddle. Keep the weight evenly spread and you’ll avoid direct pressure points. When you turn your shoulders onto the line you want your horse to take don’t forget to turn your hips. He’ll copy what you do with your body. If his shoulders turn but his hips go straight on his quarters will swing out on a corner or turn. You can put your outside leg back to correct it but whose fault was it anyway?
Some of the lightest riders can actually sit quite heavy in the saddle. It’s not about your weight in stones but what you do with it. Take responsibility for your own body weight. Distribute it around your saddle and make yourself as easy for your horse to carry as you can. Once you’re in self carriage you may be surprised to find he is too.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.