I remember riding a horse once that had been highly trained in campdrafting. Sure, he had his eye on the cattle nearby but on the slightest movement of my seat, he was gone…fortunately with me still on board. This really brought home to me the importance and subtlety of the seat as a primary aid; that is an aid that initiates everything, from going forward to slowing down and moving sideways.
Most people understand how vital the seat is when half-halting or slowing down but few people think of the seat with the same importance when moving forward. I don’t do campdrafting, reining or cutting but the good riders in these disciplines all look to me like they use their seat to initiate everything.
Let’s recap for a moment. In the downward transition, I talk about 4 steps
1) Brace the back
2) Block the forward movement of the hand and seat
3) Close the legs
4) Finish off with a check from the hands (if required)
To me, the first 2 steps of this are about giving an aid to your horse with your seat FIRST, then the leg to keep the horse engaged or going forward through the transition, then the hand last of all. Many riders use the hand first then wonder why the horse resists or disengages the hindquarters. For me, consistently applying the seat aid first minimizes the amount of hand you have to use in the downward transition and reduces the resistance while allowing maximum engagement from behind.
On the other hand, when most riders want to go forward, let’s say from walk to trot, they don’t consider the influence of the seat in the upward transitions at all – the legs are often the only aid. However further down the track when the educated horse gets the same leg aid, how does he know whether to lengthen his stride or go forward to trot or even canter? He doesn’t unless the seat again is the primary aid that heralds what is to follow.
Using the previous example, if we are walking and want the horse to go forward more without trotting, we swing our seat in a walk motion before (or as) we close our legs. If we want the horse to trot on instead, it is ideal to almost bump onto the horses back (rather than swing) as with a sitting trot the moment (or just before) we close our legs.
The key difference in both the upward and downward transition is that the seat aid initiates the movement, not the leg or the hand respectively. If riders could consistently apply a seat aid BEFORE a leg/hand aid and then back it up with the leg/hand if the horse doesn’t respond, then horses will become more finely tuned to the subtlest aids from your seat. Once you experience that level of responsiveness, it’s like driving a Merc instead of a Micra…you will never want to go back!