Your seat can have an enormous effect on how your horse performs, and there are variations of seat to be taken into consideration over the three disciplines. Every horse can react differently to varying techniques, and it is important to tailor your riding to each individual animal within the spectrum.
Start with a relatively light seat when warming up, and when you feel your horse is ready, it is good practice to work with quite a deep seat on the flat; this will allow you to be more upright in your posture, which will enable him to work in a more uphill manner, with his hocks underneath him. We are aiming ultimately for collection and obedience in whatever pace we are in, and this is harder to achieve if you are ‘perched’ on top, rather than sitting still and absorbing the movement underneath you. A dressage saddle will change your seat quite dramatically, and for all the right reasons.
It allows the rider to have a longer leg to wrap around the horse, and will give you a much deeper, more central position than any other saddle. A correct sitting trot is far easier to accomplish.
The seat for showjumping is slightly lighter – (see above pic); we still want the connection with the horse between the fences, but at the point of take-off, we need to be in a forward jumping position, out of the saddle. It is a common technique to adopt a light seat on landing to allow the movement to happen underneath you with no restriction.
If your horse backs off a fence or you have a long take-off point, you need to be able to adapt into a driving position, sitting very deep into the saddle and able to back it up with a lot of leg contact. (Many riders choose close contact saddles / monoflap saddles, as they help achieve that desirable contact between the rider’s leg and the horse).
Here is when we need that lovely light, ‘hovering’ position between the fences, allowing the horse to run freely; your weight is then evenly distributed across the saddle, making his workload easier.
Before each fence, you will need to regain collection – this is essentially through your seat rather than just your hands alone, which is likely to cause him to resist and/or hollow out. Each fixed fence needs careful assessment and proper presentation, with plenty of drive and determination.
A good training exercise is to practise your cantering in a large open space, intermittently returning to a collected canter, then pushing on again.
Your horse will then become obedient to your instructions on pace changing. Always keep your light seat for the extended canters, returning to the deep seat when collecting him.
Having the right saddle for each discipline will inevitably start you off in the right position.
For flatwork and dressage, have your stirrups set slightly longer, allowing your seat to be still and shock absorbing. Devote time to your training sessions and to different facets of your competitive work, allowing both you and the horse plenty of repetition, until it is all second nature!
Do consider a training break here at Castle Leslie Estate with myself and my team – it could reinvigorate your riding! (We do offer lessons on the mechanical, virtual horse, as well as lunge lessons on our lovely real horses, both of which can be used to help improve one’s riding seat and balance.)
Emma Hobson is Equestrian Business Manager at Castle Leslie Estate…
Home of memorable training and riding holiday breaks in Ireland.