The Seat and getting the horse on the bit.

The Seat

There are various thoughts within the gaited horse community when it comes to the equitation best suited to gaited horses.  Since you have arrived at this page to learn more about gaited horse seats and getting your horse on the bit, I would like you to ask yourself what - in your opinion - exactly is 'a correct seat" and 'on the bit'? 

Go ahead, write down YOUR description, before you go any further,, I'll wait.

Now on to other opinions! First I would like to offer a quote for your consideration.

I do not approve of a seat which is as though the man was sitting on a chair, 
but rather as though he was standing with his legs apart."

                                   Xenophone, 355 BC, Athenian philosopher and cavalry leader.

What Xenophone implied in his writings was to maintain the straight vertical line while in the saddle. In a standing position, a straight vertical line can connect the points of gravity. Thus achieving a balanced seat. The points of gravity start with the ear, then the point of the shoulder, then the second sacral vertebra, then the hip joint, and finally, the ankle. In otherwords, if you were to hang a plumb line (like the one surveyors use) from your ear, it would pass each of the above points and land against your ankle.

You can better understand the balanced seat if you stand with your side to the mirror, shoulders square, back straight, legs slightly apart. Now bend your knees slightly as they would be if you were in the saddle. Make sure that you keep your back straight (push your lower back BACK, filling in the hollow above your buttocks) and your shoulders square. You will notice the vertical line connecting the points of gravity has not changed as you bend your knees. This is a posture that leads to harmony between you and your horse as it causes the rider to be responsible for their own weight. 

One way to assertain if a you as a rider has a balanced seat is to have someone view you, when riding, from a side position. If the horse were to disappear from beneath you, would you land:
A) on your face
B) on your feet
C) on your posterior

Let us consider the effect of these different seats on a horse. If your weight is on your buttocks (C) with your legs well forward, the horse's reaction will be as follows: he will hollow his back away from the discomfort your seat is causing, throw his head in the air and arc his neck, hold his breath, and retract his ribcage from contact with your legs (becoming flat-sided). In motion, sitting still in this situation becomes difficult, and the rider will often grip with his legs and balance on the reins, which will bring even more tension to the horse.

If your weight is too far forward (A) the horse will dip in front of the withers in an effort to balance your weight, which is now distributed more over his shoulders. (often causing pacie or trotty horses) The horse will stiffened muscles along his  back, on either side of the spine. The horse's hindquarters will then begin to  trail along behind him, with no lowering of the croup or shift in balance to the rear. 

Which seat is safer? 

In the more forward seat (A) it is difficult at best for the rider to stay in balance when the horse increases or decreases speed, often causing the rider to shift back and forth with speed transitions, resulting in the rider balancing on the reins. This position also tends to lay more of the forward muscle of the inner thigh on the saddle, and less of the inner and back thigh muscles are  flat against the saddle. 

With your weight is on your buttocks with your legs well forward, (C) this position in a saddle can result in an insecure seat and inevitable falls. With your legs forward in this position, you are loosing contact between your inner thigh muscles and the horse. 

These muscles, when assisted with a the leg position acquired in the balanced seat (i.e. maintaining the vertical line of gravity) act as a seat belt - holding you in place - when an emergency occurs. You also will be less likely to fall forward when the horse stops suddenly.

Some tips on achieving good leg position. 

Make sure of your stirrup length. You can not achieve a balanced seat if your stirrups are too long or too short. A quick check is to allow your feet to hang out of the stirrups, then pretend you are Fred Flintstone. Yep you heard me right, remember Fred? The only way he could stop his speeding car was to push his heels down and straight below him.  That is what you need to do, push your legs straight down, heel pushing to the grown as if to touch the ground below the horse. The stirrup should hit you in the ankle bone, if they don't adjust then so they do. Now you should have to raise the toe slightly to be able to place your foot in the stirrup.

Speaking of placing that foot in the stirrup, JUST how far in should it go?

Riders who ride with JUST their toe in the stirrup should only do so when there is a reason. ( GREEN horses being one of them, the ability to GET OFF the horse can  outweigh the benefits of proper foot position ) The "toe hold" riders often end up with their foot slipping out or bearing too much weight in the stirrup  to prevent the slippage, (resulting in lifting the riders seat off the horse).

Then there is the rider who "JAMS the foot home" they insert the foot as far as it will go into the stirrup, with the arch of their foot bearing their weight. This position often leads to the shifting of the leg forward, causing the rider to lean toward the (C) seat described above, with all the associated changes from the balanced seat.

The rider who places the foot in the stirrup with the ball of the foot placed in the center of the stirrup will find the balanced seat more easily achieved. It also allows the rider to drop the heel just enough to maintain the stirrup with out placing too much weight in the stirrup.

How much weight should be in the stirrup?

An old Calvary rider that I was fortunate enough to have as a riding instructor when I was VERY young, told me OVER AND OVER that the stirrup was not there for me to stand in. He told me to visualize a raw egg placed between the bottom of my foot and the stirrup. I was to keep my stirrups WITHOUT breaking the egg. If you will use this visualization the next time you ride, you will probably find that you tend to place far too much weight in your stirrups!

ROLL your thighs!

One of the easiest ways to adjust your leg position and to assure that you have the proper muscle groups of the inner thigh laying against the saddle is to 'roll' your thighs. To accomplished this you sit in the saddle with your stirrups properly adjusted, and the ball of you foot in the stirrup, then allow your hand to fall straight down at your side. Reach and grab the fattest part of the back of your thigh and pull it back and out. This will roll the flattest muscle groups of the inner thigh against the saddle and will also align the ankle with your hip. This position allows you to have a much broader muscle laying against the saddle, which results in a MUCH more secure seat! If it feels uncomfortable at first perservere, the muscles are probably not used to being used properly and will protest. With practice you will find that the aches will go away and a more secure seat will become easier to maintain. As an added bonus this will help to trim the thighs of those with more bulk in that region than they would like!

Ok so you are probably wondering what all this has to do with getting the horse on the bit?  Getting a horse 'on the bit' means more than the horse's head position, it means achieving a  'rounded outline'.   The essence of a well-rounded, responsive horse depends on a deep, secure, and independent seat. Once the rider has become responsible for his own weight, the horse's back will lift up, his ribcage will expand, he will round his neck and bring his nose to the vertical, and breathe regularly and deeply.   A balanced seat will allow you to create impulsion, which allows you to supple your horse and round him up. Then and only then, can he begin to come 'on the bit'  properly, which is another article altogether!

© 1999 Beverly Whittington

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