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BEFUDDLED ABOUT THE RIDER'S SEAT?!
January 29, 2016
I have been present recently at two days of saddle fittings. It is valuable to have someone on the ground who intimately understands the workings of the classical seat and also the biomechanics of horse and rider when the saddle fitter is present… and with each different saddle that was tried by the rider it brought me to want to discuss again some aspects of the rider’s seat.
There are simply thousands of theorists with their own idea about what the “right” riding seat is and what it should be and how one should sit on a horse. Many of these theories are slight variations on a theme and others are just downright loony!
“Seet well and do nussing” (sit well and do nothing) was the mantra of the first Portuguese master with whom I learned sometime back in the last century. He didn't say much else, to be honest! And in reality he probably didn't need to say much else because when we find that perfect way to sit on the horse in that moment everything usually works just fine.
… so what did he mean by “Seet well?” …and more to the point, how do we sift through the overgrown jungle of theories and ideas about how one should sit on the horse to find some light of truth?
Let’s start where we should always start: with the horse.
The horse has not evolved to carry a rider, we have been sitting on the creature for approximately 6,000 years and evolution generally takes an awful lot longer than that to perfect its adaptations. So the horse is only designed to run about all by itself, eat vegetation, stay safe, breed and crap an awful lot… and then we clamber on its back with our tens of kilos of weight. Not only that, we sit with our weight essentially above the horse, which means the effects of our presence on the horse are magnified by gravitational forces. So it goes without saying that we need primarily to find a way to sit which creates the least impedance to the horse both as a static vertically balanced structure (horse and rider together one atop the other) and as a forwards or sideways or backwards moving structure (horse and rider moving together in walk, trot and canter).
The simple fact of needing to be IN BALANCE immediately brings some clarity to the question of “befuddled about the rider’s seat,” because the most obvious first step is for the rider simply to sit in balance with their body parts placed one above the other, i.e. not tipping in any direction with any body parts, including the seat, pelvis, ribcage, spine, shoulders or head… simple! And yet, one can go to almost any riding establishment in the world and see riders not just doing the opposite as they struggle to learn this simple but in reality quite challenging skill of sitting in balance on a moving unpredictable herbivore, but actually trying to sit out of balance or even being trained and taught to do so…mysterious!
…and there lies the source of the befuddlement about the rider’s seat: lots of people sitting on a horse in ways that don't make sense in simple terms, instead doing the opposite of “seet well and do nussing” and making life more complicated for themselves but especially so for the poor horse, because anything other than a perfectly balanced rider causes the horse to have to work hard to compensate for the argument the rider is having with the laws of gravity. Without the horse in the middle of the sandwich humans don't generally go around defying gravity too much with their posture, otherwise the streets would be filled with people falling over even when sober! When we place a horse between us and the surface of the planet we seem to think it is ok to have an argument with the gravitational pull of the planet and the horse will somehow be the arbitrator who sorts out the disagreement between us and the astral body some 24,000 miles in circumference upon which we all exist.
So, to help the horse and to give us an increased chance to stay on the horse, the question of the rider’s seat first and foremost has to meet the with the approval of gravity, and that means sitting in balance. And that means simply practising the fine art of placing one body part accurately on top of the next in a pure, classical, simple and naturally aligned stack and then practising to keep the stack aligned when the horse is in motion… and see how happy that makes the horse… :-) BALANCE. SIMPLE!