Your seat refers to how stable you are in the saddle and your ability to direct the horse by your contact with the saddle. Improving your seat is the next step to becoming a better horse rider, as you will stop relying on the reins for your balance and security and start relying on the contact you have with your horse via your seat.
What are some ways to improve your seat on a horse? Here are 10 easy tips that helped me to improve my own seat:
- Feel the horse’s movements
- Allow your seat to move with the motion of the horse
- learn to give aids to your horse via your seat
- Ride your horse without the use of the reins
- Rely on balance rather than grip
- Wrap your legs around the horse
- Focus your weight down into the stirrups
- Ride your horse bareback
- Find the rhythm of your horse’s gaits
- Remember to breathe while horseback riding
Having a better seat will make you feel more balanced and secure on your horse. It will open up a whole new array of training techniques and advancements to learn. Improving your seat won’t magically happen overnight; it can take months and years to master the correct seat. These tips will help point you in the right direction and will improve your riding ability.
TIP 1: Feel the Horse’s Movements
The first thing you’ll want to do to improve your horseback riding seat is to feel your horse’s movements. Get familiar with the way your horse’s body moves through the different gaits. While you’re on the horse, take a moment to focus on each individual leg of the horse and what you can feel each leg doing while you’re sitting in the saddle. Learning to be aware of the different moving parts of the horse will help to feel the horse’s movements.
A great exercise to practice this tip requires someone to lunge your horse on a lunge line while you are riding. Get an experienced horse handler, preferably your instructor, to help you with this. They’ll have control over the horse, so you don’t have to worry about anything other than feeling your horse’s movements.
As your friend lunges your horse around, close your eyes. This will limit your distractions and allow you to focus on the movements of your horse. Learn to feel the rhythm of each gait; how the trot is a 1-2 beat and the canter is a 1-2-3 beat. Feel how your horse propels itself forward from its hind-end and feel how the horse balances between transitions.
This is a great exercise to do for beginner riders. If you’re a timid rider, this will help you to learn to trust your horse. If you’re a very off-balanced rider, this will help you to learn the beats and rhythms of horseback riding.
TIP 2: Allow Your Seat to Move With the Motion of the Horse
Most beginner riders will sit stiffly in the saddle, unaware that their seat can move with the motions of the horse. When you sit stiffly in the saddle, your seat cannot act as a shock absorber to the bounces that come with horseback riding; riders that sit stiffly in the saddle will find it hard to keep their bottoms in the saddle, specifically at the sitting trot.
A rider that sits stiffly in the saddle does not allow for their horse to push into their movements as they could with a rider that uses their seat properly. When you sit stiffly in the saddle, the horse’s movements will extend to the minimum and they will probably not apply any effort in pushing themselves forward as they should.
In the first tip, you practiced an exercise that allowed you to feel the very specific movements of the horse while under saddle. You felt how at the trot, the horse’s hips feel like they swing side to side. You also became familiar with the beats and rhythms that come with each gait. The next step to improving your seat would be to allow your seat to move with the motion of the horse.
It’s no longer about sitting stiffly in the saddle; rather, you’re going to let your hips move with the movement of the horse. It may feel unnatural at first as if you’re moving too much, but soon, you’ll feel as if you’re one with the horse and its movements. Try your sit trot now moving your hips to the swing of the horse’s gait. It will probably be much easier to keep your bottom in the saddle now compared to before.
Allowing your seat to move with the motion of the horse will help to push your horse into its gaits, making each gait feel bigger and flowy. It takes the restrictions from your horse’s back and allows the horse to move more freely.
TIP 3: Learn to Give Aids to Your Horse Via Your Seat
Once you are familiar with allowing your seat to move with the motions of the horse, it’s now time to start inserting your ability to use your seat into the cues you give your horse to do something. Using your seat cues with correct correlation to leg and rein pressure will make for smoother responses from your horse.
The easiest thing to ask your horse to do by using your seat is to lengthen their stride. You simply do this by following their movement with your seat. If you want them to lengthen their stride even more, you can anticipate their movement and add a little bit of thrust with your seat.
The next thing you can do is ask your horse to shorten their stride or stop. You do this by slowing your seat or stopping your seat completely. Stopping your seat will act as a block to the horse’s movements, which will cue them to halt.
If you practice these exercises enough, you’ll get to a point where you can control your horse’s speed and stride length simply by using your seat. These exercises are just the beginning. Everything you ask your horse has a correlating seat cue, whether it’s stopping, going, or tracking laterally, using your seat correctly will help the horse understand what you’re asking them to do.
TIP 4: Ride Your Horse Without the Use of the Reins
Once you’ve practiced getting your horse to lengthen and shorten their stride using your seat, it’s time to see how well it really works. Have an experienced horse friend lunge your horse while you ride. From here, drop your reins and put your hands behind your back. The only thing you have to rely on to control your horse’s speed is your seat.
During this exercise, practice transitions within gaits, meaning have your horse lengthen and shorten their stride within the same gait. Not only will this help improve your seat but it will also teach your horse to respond to your seat cues as well.
This exercise is great for beginner riders because it shows that you don’t have to rely so much on the reins. It can be easy to overlook your need for the reins. In reality, many riders rely on the pressure between the horse’s mouth and the reins for balance, which means that the horse’s mouth is constantly being yanked on. When you learn to use your seat, your hands will get softer since you won’t need to rely on that pressure anymore.
When I ride, I always make a mental note to attempt to slow my horse down with my seat before I start asking with the reins. Not only does this allow me to set the rhythm that I want my horse at, but it also enforces to the horse that they need to respond to the seat.
TIP 5: Rely on Balance Rather Than Grip
Riders who have a good seat will rely on balance rather than grip in order to stay on the horse. If you grip your horse with your thighs or your knees, you take away your ability to use and move your seat, which will limit your horse’s ability to carry themselves properly.
When you grip with your knees, you compromise your ability to wrap your leg’s around the horse. This means that if the horse were to buck, you’d more than likely fall off. Gripping your horse will result in bad posture and a bad position; it can also be communicated to your horse as if you’re tense, which can in return make your horse tense.
Being balanced on your horse is much better than gripping them with your leg. Having good balance will allow you to move your seat with the horse. Your body will be loose and relaxed instead of tense and rigid.
Having balance while horseback riding means having your weight distributed evenly between your two stirrups and your seat. Your balance shouldn’t rely on the tug of the reins or the gripping of the knees; rather, your balance will rely on your center of gravity over your horse.
When you’re riding, take a moment to assess your balance. Is your seat balanced evenly on the horse’s back, or do you tend to put more weight to one side? Do you have the same amount of pressure and weight sunk into each stirrup, or do you tend to lean into one stirrup more? If you drop your reins, will your seat stay the same? These are all questions to ask yourself when improving your seat.
TIP 6: Wrap Your Legs Around the Horse
It’s easy to just rest your legs at the sides of your horse and go about your ride; however, the correct riding position requires you to wrap your legs around the horse’s barrel rather than just let your leg’s hang. Wrapping your legs around the horse will ensure the correct points of contact your leg should have with the horse.
If you don’t wrap your legs around the horse, then your thigh and knee will grip the horse too much, causing your lower leg not be in contact with the side of the horse. This can also cause your lower leg to swing back and forth, which will make you tip forward in the saddle.
When you wrap your legs around your horse, your thigh and knee will be loose and your lower leg will rest on the horse’s side. This will help to keep your bottom in the saddle and your weight in your heels. It will also help you to maintain the correct position of your heel forming a straight line to your shoulder.
Wrapping your legs around your horse will give you a more secure seat. If your horse were to take off or buck, you’ll now have something to hold onto with your legs instead of relying on gripping the horse with your knees.
TIP 7: Focus Your Weight Down Into Your Stirrups
It can be easy to lose track of where your weight is focused when you’re horseback riding. If you’re pinching the horse with your knee, your weight will not be able to fall to your heel, as it should. When you pinch with your knee, your seat becomes tipped forward over the horse’s withers, which is where your weight falls as well.
Think about it, the saddle was created to aid in the weight distribution of the rider across the horse’s back; therefore, you want your weight to be over the back rather than the horse’s withers. When you wrap your legs around your horse and focus your weight down into your heels, it will help you to have a deeper seat and sit properly on the horse’s back.
Focusing your weight evenly in both stirrups will give you a center of balance even if your horse decides to shy or bolt. On the other hand, if your weight is thrown into one stirrup more than the other, your weight distribution is off and you’ll probably fall.
Putting your weight into your heels will help you sit up, sit deep, and keep your lower leg still. Teach yourself to be more aware of where your weight is falling as you ride to help you remember to direct your weight to your heels.
TIP 8: Ride Your Horse Bareback
Many horseback riders have the epic dream of galloping their horse bareback through a wide open field, the wind in their hair as all fears are abandoned. Well, in reality, this dream requires a lot of balance on the rider’s part. Riding bareback takes away all the material things you rely on for balance to leave you only with your seat.
Riding bareback is a great way to improve your seat. Since there is no saddle, it allows you to feel the horse’s movements much more naturally. It almost forces you to move your seat with the horse’s beats. Bareback is also a great way to recognize what muscles you should be using to ride properly.
Bareback riding will require a deep seat as there is no way to properly ride in a more forward seat position unless you’re going to grip with your thighs and knees. When you ride bareback, you’ll sit deep with your back straight and your legs wrapping around the horse. This will help you to master the correct position for when you put the saddle back on.
TIP 9: Find the Rhythm of Your Horse’s Gaits
Finding the rhythm of your horse’s gaits will help you to better use your seat in order to cue them to lengthen or shorten their stride. Finding the rhythm of your horse’s gaits means that you can anticipate the next beat to come and control each beat of the horse. It’s important to remember that you should be controlling the rhythm of the gaits.
When you can anticipate the beat of your horse’s gaits, you can alter the rhythm. A great exercise to learn this would start with simply trotting your horse around the ring in a posting trot. What you’re going to ask your horse to do is to shorten their stride.
You ask your horse to shorten their stride by posting slower. This means you may feel like you’re posting off the original beat of the trot; however, you’ll notice that your horse will adjust their stride length to accommodate the rhythm you’re setting.
If you have difficulty setting a new rhythm compared to the rhythm that your horse has already set, try counting your rhythm out loud. This will help you to keep track of your posting as well as make it clear the beat you want.
TIP 10: Remember to Breathe While Horseback Riding
While this point is widely overlooked, it’s also very important. I myself am guilty of holding my breath while riding; I can find myself gasping for air after a jumper course or a dressage test. It’s something that most riders do without even thinking about it.
The thing about holding your breath is the longer you forget to exhale, the tenser you’ll become. Try it; hold your breath and notice as the seconds tick by, you can feel your muscles contracting. This will cause you to hunch and tip forward instead of staying centered on your horse.
If you’re not breathing, your horse can most likely feel you becoming tenser in the saddle. This will result in them becoming tense as well as they feed off of your body language. Breathing deeply and rhythmically will help your body to remain loose and your bottom to remain in the saddle.
The world of horseback riding is vast; it may seem like there is so much stuff to learn, that you’ll never completely grasp anything. Never fear! The great thing about horseback riding is that everyone is still learning, even the professionals. There is always something to do better or to learn more about.
Learning how to improve your seat has many benefits; one being that a good seat will actually help your horse to carry themselves better. Part of a horse carrying themselves correctly is getting them to engage their hind-end. If you’d like to learn more about this, check out our article How to Get Your Horse to Engage Their Hind-End.