When aids shall actualy help the horse to carry his rider in all excercises both supple and balanced, then they need to have a proper foundation in a seat that does not disturb the horse.
Therefore it is also the seat that needs to be supple and balanced. But these qualities are not always easy to achieve. In order to help myself and my students to improve the seat, I have been
working with two immages a few questions which allow the rider to become more aware of her body and enable her to feel and to correct imbalances. I write this article because several of my
students asked me to write the questions down for them, so they could look them up in case they need to.
Be aware that the images I use and the questions I ask come from my experience as female rider and trainer. 95 % of my studens are female and this is very important if we look at the anatomy that plays a role. The female pelvis is very different from the male. My pictures and questions can also be used by male riders, but they need to be changed in certain points. I will explain a few differences, yet, the article focuses on the female perspective .
The first image: the "seat feet"
Imagine that the surface on which you feel contact between the saddle/horse back and you seat is like two big feet. The seat bones (ischial tuberosities) are the "heels" of those "seat feet" wheras the "big toes" are where the pubic bones lead to the pubic symphysis. (The syphysis resembles a "front iron" in your pelvis.) The outer edge and the small toes of your "seat feet" are on the innside of your thighs. While you are reading this article you can try to get a feeling for the questions I ask my students on horseback by standing upright on your real feet on even ground, with your legs vertical under your hips.
Question no. 1
"Are your seat feet equally far away from the horses spine?"
affects: lateral balance, position of the pelvis
You might think that the "seat feet" should in general be equally far away from the horses spine. This is not neccessarily the case for all equipages and in all excercises. But in most cases it is important, that the "seat foot" on the inside of the lateral bending (of the horse) is NOT closer to the spine that the seat foot on the outside. The "seat foot" on the inside should also not come closer to the spine when the inner hind food of the horse is stepping forward.
Question no. 2
"Are the "seat feet" parallel to the horse's spine?"
affects: positioning the riders pelvis parallel to the equine spine
In order to enable the horse to transfer his power fom the hind quarters over the back towards the forehand, the "seat feet" need to stand parallel to the equine spine. If both "seat feet" are parallel to each other but turned so their toes point out of the circle, they will prevent the correct bending and a good transition of power.
If you have the impression that your "seat feet" are turned away from each other so the distance between the "toes" is bigger than the distance between the "heels" (like duck feet), or the other way around, then you should use a (different) saddle or have your saddle fitted.
Question no. 3
"Are the toes or the heels of your "seat feet" deeper or do they stand in horizontal balance?"
affects: horizontal balance lengthwise
In this point the difference between male and female anatomy becomes very obvious.
If the anatomy of the horse and the rider fit to each other or are supported by a saddle that fits both of them, then the woman should get the feeling that the "heels" and "toes" of her "seat feet" can stand on one level in horizontal balance (A), while the horse is moving in horizontal balance. Only when the horse collects himself, bends the haunches and lifts the chest and the neck higher, the "seat toes" should be standing higher than the "heels".
(The seat bones and pubic bones of men have a totally different shape. When men keep their pelvis upright in horizontal balance, their "seat toes" will be much higher than the "seat heels".)
If a woman has the feeling that the "seat toes" are deeper or that the "seat heels" are deeper even though the horse is not collected, she should check whether the saddle forces her into this imbalance. When the toes are deeper, the reason might also be that the horse has dropped the rib cage between the shoulders and/or that it is pushing up the loin and thereby lifts the riders "seat heels". Question no. 4 will help to analyse these kinds of imbalance further.
Question no. 4
"Is the pressure spread evenly on the "seat feet"?"
more precise: "Where are points of high pressure? Where do you feel (almost) no contact?
affects: position of the pelvis, lateral and horizontal balance, posture of the upper body above the pelvis, following the horses movement in three dimensions
An unequal distribution of pressure can easily disturb the horses suppleness, build up tension and make proper lateral bending impossible. Unequal distribution of pressure happens most often because the rider tries to take a positive influence on the horses movements with her seat. If she, in trying so, has the wrong timing or an unrealistic idea about the feeling of the right movement, there will be points of friction and of high pressure.
The most common unfavorable situations in the distribution of pressure under the "seat feet" is the ne you can see in the picture: the rider has a constant high pressure point under the "heel" of her inner "seat foot" and looses contact to the horse with the "big toe" of her outer "seat foot". If you discover this situation in your own seat, return to question no. 2 and put the seat feet parallel to the horses spine, this will enable the horse to stretch into the bending. If this is difficult for you, try to bring your iliac crest of your outer pelvis further forward. Maybe it also helps you to turn the real heel of your outer real foot a little more out.
Another quite comon phenomenon is high pressure on both "seat heels" with the pelvis tilted. This pressure provokes the horse to press up the loin and to lower the spine and the chest between the
shoulders. If this happens, the horse will either press down with the nose and pull on the rein or the underneck gets visible. It could also roll up the neck and come behind the bit. If the
saddle fits both horse and rider, it should not be difficult to release the pressure by bringing the toes and the heels on one level . If the horse is very wide and therefore brings the rider
into a chair seat (it will feel like the duck feet I mentioned under question no. 2), she will have to bring some pressure on her thighs in order to allow the horse to release his long back
Second image and question no. 5
"Where is your "tail"?"
affects: lateral balance, position of the tail bone, phenomenon of being put to the outsideBetrifft: laterale Balance, Position des Steißbeins, Phänomen des "Nach-außen-gesetzt-werdens"
(Also in this point men and women are very different from each other. I would be glad to learn more about the male perscpective.
Most people are not very aware of their tail bone and struggle to feel it's position as long as it is not involved in an accident and reminds us painfully about its existence. With an inner
image it is easy to become more aware of this part of the body. Please imagine that you've got a tail!
Please imagine further, that this "tail" should be able to hang loose and relaxed, neither raised like arabian horses tend to carry it , nor pressed down between the glutes like iberian horses do it. The input of the "tail" should be centered above the horses spine, so the the "tail" would hang straight trough the horse, if that was possible. In some excercises the "tail" should be hanging on the inside of the horse so it drops right behind your inner thigh. Never should the "tail" (bone) be on the outer side of the horses spine. As soon as that happens, the rider's seat will prevent the horse from bending correctly. No matter how hard you'll try to correct the bending with secondary aids, you will not succeed until you place the tailbone correctly.
Being put to the outside and how to overcome it
Do you know how it feels when the horse does not allow you to sit straight but puts you to the outside and gives you a hollowness over your inside hip? I think every rider has experienced this
and many struggle every day to overcome this challenge. The first thing that happens, when this dynamic occurs is, that your tail bone is put to the outside. The tailbone can slip to the outside
in the moment when the horse's inner hind leg is on the ground and the horse's outer hind leg is in the air on the way forward. THIS is (in my experience) the ONLY moment, when you can change the
dynamic of the movement, so the horse no longer puts you to the outside. Do NOT put more pressure on your inner seat foot in the moment when the inner hind foot is swinging forward, this would
only make you lean with your upper body, bring tension on your hip joint and ruin the position of your pelvis (remember question no. 2). INSTEAD take care to keep your pelvis and your tailbone
centered and do not swing/glide/turn/drop to the outside when the inner half of the horse' back is coming up while the outer hind foot is swinging forward. Think "Ok, you want to lift me with
your inner rib cage? Fine, then I allow you to lift me!" In this moment it is ok to have more pressure on the inner "seat foot". One moment later, when the outer hind foot has touched the ground
and the inner hindfoot swings forward RELEASE the pressure from the inner "seat foot"!
It might be necessary to use secondary aids in order to achieve the correct bending, but they can only work on the basis of a correct positioning of the pelvis.
Most riders clearly feel the imbalance, when their horse puts them to the outside, but they struggle to change the dynamic due to misunderstandings about the right timing. I hope I could help you with my description. You are welcome to comment and to ask further questions.
I use these two images and the 5 questions regularly both in my own training and in my teaching. They help to improve body awareness and to find solutions whenever intuition just tells that something is not totaly right. For me they are tools that can help riders on any level to gain straightness and precision in their seat as the primary aid, by achiving the softest possible physical connection between the horse's and the rider's body. This connection allows the horse to respond to any secondary aid. In an ideal case this connection is the only thing left, when the horse and the rider melt together and secondary aids become unnecessary.