I believe that most riders see their seat as a means of riding their horse; a way of staying astride and to be taken for a ride with little other purpose. When most of us learned to ride, particularly in a country like Australia with a “have a go” attitude and little structure to a learn-to-ride system, we were all taught the riding basics of kick to go and pull to stop. It is often only much further down the track that we learn to use the seat as a primary aid, supportive of rather than in addition to our hands and legs.
I think the purpose of the seat goes much deeper than a means to sit on our horse. There are 3 key elements to the seat:
Feel: Developing feel is a bit like getting to know your life partner or best friend. With time and often numerous ups and downs, a deeper relationship develops that often requires few words to understand one another and work harmoniously together. As different from a partner however, to “feel” your horse is more about feeling his movement and/or stiffness than to understand his emotions.
Follow: Once a sense of understanding, balance and confidence has developed, it becomes imperative for the rider to follow the movement of the horse by RELAXING. Just as a gymnast moves fluently while holding a posture, so too must the rider follow the movement of the horse while remaining tall. Both require training to maintain a position while at the same time remaining relaxed. Most of a riders’ ability to sit into a horse comes from their ability to coordinate the function of the back muscles while also keeping them relaxed.
Muscular tension will kill the rider’s ability to follow the movement of the horse. Any riding position that requires regular correction will also create tension. Posture needs to be maintainable off the horse before posture with relaxation can be achieved on the horse.
Influence: When the rider can feel and follow the horses’ movement, especially in a state of relaxation, he/she is then in the position to be able to influence the horse through the subtle application of aids (primarily the seat) and minimal shifts in balance. This is generally achieved by means of repeated half-halts which keep the horses’ attention, fine tune the communication channels and continue to improve the riders’ seat.
The riders’ ability to truly feel, follow and influence the horse is my benchmark of the illusive “independent seat” and the ultimate goal of every rider.