|PART 1| Sitting square and straight

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to sit effortlessly on their horse like they were glued together while others seem to struggle? Do they sit that way because their horse is going well, is it the riders ability or does it come down to a combination between the horse and the rider? 

So let’s take a look at the mechanics of sitting on a horse for a moment.

Most of our communication to the horse through our seat occurs from the pressure of the seat bones on the horses back through the saddle.

Our horse can be trained to respond to subtle changes in the pressure of our seat bones on their back.

I am sure many people have had the experience of getting on a highly trained dressage horse or campdrafter which seems to respond to the smallest shifts in our balance like a Formula 1 racing car would to an untrained driver.

We essentially have 3 contact points with the saddle. Underneath our buttock muscles we have 2 large boney masses we sit on called the ischial tuberosities (let’s call them the “seat bones”). They are there regardless of how much padding we have over the top of them so don’t despair! The third point of contact is called the pubic symphysis where the 2 pelvic bones meet at the front of the groin like a wishbone.

Regardless of male and female anatomy, the symphysis is rarely covered by much padding so can be easily felt against the back of the pommel but is probably the weakest link amongst most horse riders. When all 3 seat bones are in contact with the saddle, the pelvic sits upright and the lower back has a small dip to it (called a “lordosis”). Most riders however flatten this dip, roll the pelvis backwards, lift the pubic bone and sit back onto their buttock muscles. The horse often can tighten his back in response to the riders shift in balance.

This “arm-chair” position tends to lean the rider backwards, create a very broad pressure area on the horses back and puts the rider’s weight behind a vertical line extending between their ear, shoulder, hip and ball of the foot.

If we were to take this rider off the horse and put them on the ground in their riding position, they would most likely fall backwards such is the reliance on the horse for their balance. This position can often result in a horse being tender in its back and resist other properly applied seat aids.

Another common fault of riders is to sit crooked or to one side on the horse applying more pressure to one of the seat bones. There are essentially 2 planes of movement of the pelvis while we are riding: forward and backwards in a polishing movement and side to side in a rocking movement. When these 2 planes are coupled together, the resultant torque of our pelvis essentially mirrors that of our horse. If they are moving freely and we are not, either the horse will become stiff or we will get a sore back (or both).

Sitting crooked often leads to a tightening of the groin on the same side and a forward rotation of the same shoulder. Ultimately the rider then blames the horse for being stiff and starts to pull more on the inside rein to compensate for their crookedness.

To correct our sitting position, first make sure you are sitting in the middle of the saddle, ensure we are sitting on all 3 seat bones and literally tilt our pelvis sideways if necessary.

Over an extended period of time the horse and the rider can develop muscular imbalances, subtle postural misalignments and pain. Many well-meaning riders then get in a chiropractor or masseur in to straighten out the horse, only to find that the patterns return unless you deal with the crooked rider…the vicious cycle compounds.

The challenge then is to straighten the crooked rider and undo some of the unbalanced patterns. The saying “old habits die hard” is very apt here. We will discuss some exercises for sitting better in Part 2 of this topic.