How to be a Good Horseback Rider- Get an Independent Seat

cassidyHow to ride a horse well – Develop an Independent Seat

What do all of the great riders in San Diego and the world have in common?  An independent seat!  It is a common term (“independent seat”), but it is not always explained or understood well.

What is an Independent Seat?  An independent seat is when a rider can balance and move in rhythm with the horse so that he/she can use her seat, hands, weight, legs and ALL aids independently and without compensating anywhere else with her body.

Why is it important? An independent seat is a foundation and prerequisite for all great riding.  Why?  Because without it you will not be able to develop feel or timing (you also won’t look as good to watch, or feel as good to the horse).  Feel and timing basically mean you can “feel” what your horse is doing and you can apply or remove pressure in a “timely manner” so as to communicate with your horse.  If you do not have an independent seat, you will unknowingly be putting pressure on your horse.  This makes it difficult for your horse, basically your horse has to learn to ignore some of the pressure you apply (because you are not able to balance without applying pressure by gripping, leaning, stiffening, grabbing, hanging, kicking, etc.) and pay attention to other pressure you are putting on, very confusing for the equine partner.

Finally, an independent seat is an important piece in your safety when riding horses.  As you develop this seat you will be better able to stay on, respond, and redirect your horse during tricky or unpredictable situations.

Signs of an independent seat?  Here are a few things to look for to identify an independent seat:

1-      A rider can use legs and reins without compensating any part of their position, balance, or body.  This is especially evident during transitions.  Look and see if you can tell when the rider puts legs or reins on horse?  Do the rider’s shoulders, hips, or back move too?  You don’t want them to.  It should only be the calf or fingers that move, it should be almost imperceptible when the aides are applied.

2-      Riders who can keep their whole body relaxed during the ride, every part of the rider is relaxed and moving with the horse (if not, then you are likely moving against the horse i.e. putting pressure on the horse).  Look for a rider who can sit the trot or canter and not come up and down out of the saddle.  Look for a rider who keeps their correct position in all gaits and not have to compensate by moving legs, hands, or should forward or back in an effort to keep up with the horse.

3-      Watch the horse.  Does the horse maintain a relaxed back, gait, and even frame (frame is the position of head and neck) throughout the ride.   Relaxed horses move easily between walk, trot, and canter without lifting their heads, pinning ears, or leaning their shoulders and hips.  Relaxed horses are responsive and light to the aids.  A rider with an independent seat helps the horse feel relaxed and confident because of their feel and timing, the feel and timing of the aides is what is meaningful to the horse (aides are reins, leg, voice, weight, etc.).

How to develop and independent seat? 

It has been my experience that the “independent seat” is not stressed at most general riding schools and by most entry level instructors.   One reason for this is that many of the instructors teach the way they were taught old school as children “put your heels down, sit up, etc.”, which is not necessarily how they ride today.   Secondly, many riders new to the sport or not do not relish the idea of spending 6+ months on the lunge line without reins and stirrups.   So, programs don’t focus on it.  It is likely to come up later when a rider wants to move up to a higher level of competition or challenge but is unsuccessful, then that rider has to go back and try to work out the kinks.

I evidence this with the statement I heard made by an Olympic level dressage rider that when he went to study in Germany he was lunged for 8 months.  Lunging is one way to work out any kinks, as well as develop upper level skills.  Lunging is also one of the simplest and most standard ways to develop and independent seat.

Lunging on the appropriate horse allows you to: focus on yourself, develop balance in a safe manner, and experience how you can influence your horse with your body.   When lunging to develop an independent seat you want to do exercises that help you relax and tune into your body, do large movement exercises to develop strength and balance, and just get time in the saddle.  You need time, exposure, and repetition to train your body and mind to accomplish such an important milestone in your riding as that of an “independent seat”!

If you are interested in developing your seat, then I applaud your interest in excellence!

See you on the trails!  and Thank you 🙂

Salisbury Farms

Horses Helping Humans

About Amy

Dr. Amy Jane Hayden Oleson is the founder of Salisbury Farms. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and lifelong horse enthusiast. She has combined her passion for working with horses, instructing, and helping others into a unique and versatile community support program. She offers equine assisted activities and classical riding instruction to individuals interested in learning more about horses and themselves.

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