An Independent Seat
The seat is the dressage rider's focal point of influence
with the horse. The rider must sit naturally upright from the seat and allow the legs and arms to work independently from
the torso. The seat is the first area to develop within the rider. While it is developing, the instructor must also encourage
correct leg and hand position.
The rider's balance is acquired with an independent
seat that follows the motion of the horse's gaits. This means, the reins are not used for support or balance, nor do the legs
squeeze against the horse's sides. If, instead of balancing, the rider grips with any area of the body, use of the aids will
be inhibited, interfering with the horse's movement and loosening the seat.
Because aspiring dressage riders want to sit and look
like an FEI rider they frequently start to sit in a full seat (with long stirrups) too early in training. Riding in a full
seat or sitting a trot before a horse "comes through" and stays round "on the bit" can interfere with the unconstrained gaits
and shorten the horse's stride.
Therefore, basic training for a horse requires a rider
to adopt a posting trot and light seat position, which enables the topline to elasticize and strengthen under the rider's
weight. The rider begins to sit regularly when the horse consistently comes through, stays round, and does not lose tempo.
Because both the full and light seat are required to
train a horse, riders should be taught on the lunge with stirrups as well as without them.
Just as the horse requires lateral balance, the rider
too needs to be equally balanced on both sides. Scrutiny in a full-length mirror will help the rider notice if the body is
symmetrical or lopsided. Are the shoulders level, hips aligned and toes facing straight ahead? Any asymmetry in the riders
body will affect the horses training and muscular development.
rider can also observe if the body is evenly distributed on the horse by facing a mirror in the arena. Notice if the same
areas of the body are level, and note if the stirrups are even.
Both a horse's asymmetry and an unbalanced saddle can
put a rider off balance. Therefore, always make sure both are not affecting the riders balance.
The Three Aids
Three specific areas of the body are important for
communicating with the horse: the torso (including the head) and its alignment and symmetry; the position of the legs; and,
the hands or arm position. The correct use of these aids is established from a good basic position, which is centered, aligned,
symmetrical, balanced and relaxed.
The foundation of a good seat is a balanced and symmetrical
torso. The seat, including the whole torso and spine, must move with the horse's three gaits. The head should be balanced
on the top of the shoulders not forward, back or tilted.
Early stages of riding involve the rider learning to
follow the horse's movement with the seat without stiffening, in either the torso, legs or arms. Later, they learn to use
the limbs without stiffening the body.
The rider's leg position will easily be acquired when
the seat is independent and is not affected by the horse's movement. The legs are positioned with the inner thigh against
the saddle, and the inside of the calf or boots against the barrel.
The toes are positioned nearly parallel to the horse's
sides. The feet rest securely in the stirrup irons while the relaxed hip, slightly bent knee, and supple ankle absorb the
horse's motion. These three joints need to function as shock absorbers allowing the rider to move with the horse, just as
the spine performs this function for the torso.
seat is in balance and there is no undue muscular stiffness in the pelvic area, the legs will naturally fall into place. Learning
to sit a horse and adjust the leg position will seem awkward at first, but, eventually the rider will discover how comfortable
1. The Renaissance An Art Reborn,
by Stephanie Lile, USDF Bulletin, Vol. XV Issue 2, 1988
2. An Anatomy of Riding, by
Heinrich and Volker Schusdziarra, Breakthrough Publications, New York 1978, p 59.
3. An Anatomy of Riding, p.