Most riders, left to their own devices on a horse, will revert back to their usual sitting posture unless corrected and reminded by their instructor. As a rider, instructor, I don’t believe that I rider can ever correct a position on a horse that they cannot achieve naturally on the ground first.
If a rider's posture is bad on a horse such that the instructor has to regularly remind the rider to “sit up taller”, “lift the chest” or “keep your eyes up”, any attempts to correct this posture on the horse prior to being able to do it on the ground will be fraught with tension within the rider and eventually either pain or stiffness.
Whenever we are standing, sitting or riding our horse, we have the constant pressure of gravity pushing down upon us. Resisting gravity is the constant responsibility and fine tuning between the balance centres in our inner ears, our eyes, our joint receptors and our spinal muscles to stay upright. In fact the growth, alertness and health of our brain depends directly on this balance mechanism (but that’s another story!)
It seems that some people naturally have good posture and others don’t. Those who seem to have the best posture have generally trained to be like that; soldiers, dancers and models are typical examples. Many professional sports people including professional horse riders have also learnt good posture because it helps them to be more effective in what they do.
Without good posture you will lose effectiveness as a rider.
After all, how can we ask our horse to hold himself in a better state of balance or collection if we can’t control our own balance or position? I am sure many instructors reading this will echo my thoughts here that if you can correct the rider, the horse will generally follow.
So the first step to improving or correcting your seat is to train yourself to hold a better posture all the time. Remember, if you only do this when riding, especially if you only ride occasionally, then postural corrections can often cause stiffness, muscle fatigue and often pain, all of which will reduce your riding effectiveness.
- Lift your head like you have a string pulling up through the top of your head
- Lift you breastbone (sternum) up.
Try it now. Most people who do these will notice 2 things:
- they hold their breath, and
- they brace (tighten) their back muscles
Neither of these two are sustainable or allow you to ride in a relaxed position meaning you will be locking up against your horse or fall back to your old default posture before long.
A rider will not be able to correct the posture or shape of a horse when they cannot correct their own posture on the ground first.
Practice, practice, practice, until you can hold your posture AND be able to breathe simultaneously and unconsciously.
Expect your postural improvement to take 3 to 6 months but it will be worth it for so many reasons (such as your riding effectiveness, your posture, your ability to think positively, your self-esteem, your figure and even your health).
- Rather than fall back into your old sitting posture routines on your favourite couch, try sitting on the front of your chair to break the habit. Rest your knees lower than your hips (as you do when you sit in your saddle), relax your groin, sit up, lift your sternum and hold that position while you work on your computer or watch TV. See how long you can stay there before you fall back into your old position and “relax”. The more you practice off the horse the quicker you will sit better on your horse.
- Are you back muscles fatiguing and burning? Try a breathing exercise to help oxygenate your blood and get rid of the carbon dioxide which makes you feel fatigued. Breath in for the count of 3 through your nose (feeling your tummy expand) then breathe out through pursed lips for the count of 6 (feeling your tummy drop). Don’t hyperventilate. Take normal size breaths but by breathing out for longer than you breath in, you will be using the full capacity of your lungs to get more oxygen into your blood to help relax your muscles and reduce your tension on your horse.
The next key component to improving or correcting your seat is balance.
Nothing is going to tighten your seat more, reduce the effectiveness of your communication or make your horse more tense than not having good balance when you sit on your horse.
Just like learning to walk or ride a bike, this takes time to accomplish and years of regular practice to perfect.
Fortunately, your bike doesn’t react to the tension and frustration kids commonly feel when they are learning to balance on a bike. When they wobble or fall off, kids can throw their bike to the ground, kick it and even yell at it with no consequences to the bike…not so your horse. If you are unbalanced, wobbly or tense, your horse will feel it, especially through your seat. Then if you get grumpy at your horse because he is not performing, you can create distrust and more tension in your relationship with him.
The ideal measure of balance is if you can’t walk, trot and canter without stirrups, your eyes closed and your arms out sideways on the lunge.
YOUR balance needs some work before you start to focus too much on what your horse is not doing correctly. Again, “get the rider right and the horse will generally follow”. We continue this topic in Part 3.