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Dear Dana: How do you know if you have a good seat?

By Dana Hokana / Horsetrader columnist - July 14th, 2010 - Q&A Dear Dana

When you have a good seat, you are able to catch your horse’s rhythm and you are able to flow with your horse. How do you know if you have one?

I’m sure you can just picture watching certain riders who look like they are “one” with their horse? — they make it look effortless and easy. Now, I’d like to help you to develop a strategy to improve your seat. Once your seat is improved, you can get closer and closer to riding as “one” with your horse, and you, too, will catch the rhythm and flow of your horse. You just need some knowledge, a “stick with it” mentality, and a little hard work.

Let’s start with your body and your horse’s rhythm and gaits. Your body consists of many movable parts and joints. You can’t sit still on a horse and never move. Some part has to move with the horse. The key is what part of you needs to move — your hips or pelvis. These need to be flexible and move with your horse as your primary breaking or pivot point. Not your waist. Not your upper body. As you learn to unlock your hips and relax your lower back, you can sit down or back on your pockets and engage the first and most important body part needed in having a good seat — that is, your seat!
Through your seat, you can learn to feel your horse — his rhythm, his motion, and the definite beat to his gaits. I teach my riders to look for, listen for, and feel for their horse’s rhythm.

To become a truly great rider, you need to understand your body and your horse’s body. Your horse also consists of many movable parts and joints, and you must also consider that he has three separate, distinguishable gaits unless he is a gaited horse. Each of those gaits has a separate beat. As you learn about your horse’s gaits, you can look for the feel or beat through your body. When you unlock your body with his, you become “hooked up” (or “one”) with his gaits. The walk is a four-beat gait, the trot a two-beat, and the lope or canter is a three-beat gait.

Since the trot is the easiest gait to catch, let’s start with it. It has a definite “one-two, one-two” beat. The better trot your horse has, the more definite the beat. If you have trouble feeling the gait, speed him up a little to encourage him to engage in his gait. Look for that rhythm, and as you learn to feel it, allow your body to move with or catch the rhythm, remembering to unlock your hips and allow them to catch the beat. The lope or canter is harder with some horses to feel the exact “one-two-three, one-two-three,” but it does have a moment of roll or lift that you can look for and catch. It goes like this: “one-two (hesitate or lift) three.” That moment of hesitation is a moment of lift or suspension when your horse carries all of his body weight on his outside hind leg and it gives that rocking chair feel. You can learn to catch it like a rocking chair. Relax your seat enough to catch that beat.

The walk is a “one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four.” Practice feeling this rhythm while you ride your horse at all three gaits.

Another key point to gaining a good seat is to learn to control your breathing. When you breathe correctly –taking a full deep breath through your diaphragm, your seat aligns itself in the correct position on your horse. Deep breathing expands your ribcage and positions your seat correctly on your horse. A short shallow breath encourages an arch in your back and brings your tail bone up off your horse. This can also encourage you to lift your seat up off the horse and lean forward, which then breaks that communication between your seat and your horse. Good, correct deep breathing will greatly improve your seat and your riding on your horse. It also relaxes you and makes you more aware of your body, your horse’s body and his gaits. You also send a confident message when you are relaxed and in control of your horse and your body. As your seat is centered where it belongs, your balance improves, resulting in hand and leg cues that are smoother and clearer. Your timing becomes better.

I am not discounting the age-old teaching that ideal position on your horse is a straight line from the ear through the shoulders, then through the hip, knee and heel. I agree that proper alignment through your body is important. But it all starts with your seat and knowing where your seat is most effective on your horse.

The key is to first position your seat on your horse, then align the rest of your body. A real good exercise to help you to align your body position on your horse is to stand in your stirrups, making sure someone is holding your horse and that you have a safe horse to use. If you need to, hold onto the horn for balance. When you stand, relax your knees and ankles, driving your heels to the ground, then tuck your fanny and stretch your upper body up to the sky. Relax your shoulders down and back. After you are comfortable holding this position for a moment, sit back down, but — this is really important — don’t sit back down like you are sitting in a chair. Instead, slowly fold down to the saddle, landing first on your crotch, then roll back until you are sitting on your pockets. This exercise helps to keep your whole body in alignment on the horse. When you feel yourself get out of balance or out of position, stop your horse, stand and reposition and try again. I often have my riders do this exercise as well as a series of other exercises to encourage proper body position.

If you would like more information on these exercises, I have produced a DVD titled Take Control Vol. 1-How to be a More Effective Rider, this DVD gives a lot more ideas and exercises to help you develop into the best rider that you can be.


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