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Dear Dana: What is a ‘good’ seat and how do I perfect mine?

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - June 7th, 2012 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: I haven’t been riding long, but I am being told I have a good seat — and that I should continue with it. What does that mean?
C.A. Wilcox, San Diego

Dear C.A.: When you have a good seat you are able to catch your horse’s rhythm and can “flow” with your horse. Can you picture watching certain riders who look like they are “one with their horse?” They make it look effortless and easy.

When your seat improves, you get closer to riding “as one,” and soon you, too, will be able to catch the rhythm and flow with your horse. All you need is some knowledge, a “stick with it” mentality, and a little hard work.

Let’s first look at your body and your horse’s rhythm and gaits. Your body is made up of many movable parts and joints, and some part of you has to move with the horse. The key is for you to learn what part of your body needs to move. Your hips or pelvis need to be flexible and move in rhythm with your horse. They will be your primary breaking or pivot point — not your waist or 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: your seat!
Through your seat, you can learn to feel your horse, his rhythm, his motion, and the beat to his gaits. I teach my riders to look for, listen for, and feel this rhythm. To do this and become a truly great rider, you need to understand both your body and your horse’s body.

Your horse is also made up of many movable parts and joints, and to add to 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 and unlock your body with his and become “hooked up” or one with his gaits.

The walk is a four-beat gait, the trot is two-beat, and the lope or canter is a three-beat gait. Start with the trot, as it is the easiest gait to catch. 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” beat, 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, too, like a rocking chair if you relax your seat enough to catch that beat.

The walk is a “one, two, three, four…one, two, three, four” gait.

You should practice feeling this rhythm while you ride your horse at all three gaits.

Another key to gaining a good seat is to learn to control your breathing. When you breathe correctly — taking a full deep breath, breathing 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. So remember, 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 which allows your hand and leg cues to become smoother and clearer and your timing improves.

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 — that’s important, too. I agree that proper alignment through your body is essential, but it all starts with your seat and learning 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 that helps you align your body position is to stand in your stirrups. Make sure someone is holding you horse and that you have a safe horse to use. Hold onto the horn for balance, if you need to. 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 – and, 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 – then 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.


Visit with Dana at the Western States Horse Expo June 8-10 in Sacramento! She will be in the California Horsetrader booth Friday 4-5 p.m.; Saturday 10-11 a.m.,and Sunday 10:30-11:30 a.m.

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