We often talk about the rider having an “independent seat” but instructors rarely take the time to explain what this means and how to develop it. Whatever the level of the rider, they will always benefit from some quality time on the lunge, particularly to develop the independent seat.
An independent seat is a term used to describe the ability of the rider to influence the horse with the aids without interruptingthe forward movement or distorting the position of their seat in the process. For example, novice riders often distort their position significantly as they attempt to halt their horse, rolling their shoulders forward, lifting up the heels and looking down as they pull backwards with the arms. This not only demonstrates a seat that is not independent but a lack of independence of the legs and eyes as well.
When most riders learn to ride they tend to pick up habits and patterns that can stick. A common habit is for the beginner rider to pull back on the reins as they kick the horse forward or look down at the leading leg as they make a transition from trot to canter. The more established rider may draw up with the heel and drop the inside shoulder as they learn to leg-yield. The longer the rider maintains these patterns, the more likely the brain wires the dependence of one action to another.
As instructors, we often place significant priority on creating an independent seat by prioritizing the reduction of all the unnecessary habits a rider has picked up over the years. One of the best ways I know is to take the control of the horse out of the picture by putting the rider on the lunge. Many riders find this boring because “old habits die hard” but the benefits can be substantial.
With the instructor controlling the horse, the rider has the opportunity to concentrate on each area of their position independently so as to rewire how they move their body. In particular, we are looking for the rider to maintain the position and suppleness of their seat while doing exercises with their arms, legs and trunk.
The instructor should look to create exercises around specific rider weaknesses but useful exercises can include the following:-
- stretching the legs down the horses side and pointing the toes towards the ground
- doing big circles with the toes to relax and stretch the ankles
- swinging the lower leg backward and forward from the knee
- slump down, stretch tall and arch the back backwards
- rotate and stretch the neck in every direction
- pull the shoulders forwards then backwards, up then down
- roll the shoulders with arms down, fingers on shoulders or arm outstretched
- rotate the trunk (touch the horses back and mane with opposite hands)
- reach down and touch your ankle on either side
- hold your opposite knee and pull
- ride with one or both hands behind your back or straight out to the side
- rub your tummy and pat your head simultaneously
The possibilities are endless. Be creative and make it fun but make sure you have a suitable horse to lunge. This can be a rider stretching exercise as much as it is a reprogramming activity for the independent seat providing the emphasis is on maintaining the rider’s position and suppleness through out the activity.