The Seat in Action
The position of the shoulders, arms, back, pelvis, seat, and legs have all been discussed. It is now time to see how can they all be used together to bring out the best of your horse.
Shoulders Behind The Perpendicular
The secure basic position has been explained with a perpendicular pelvis with a 0° tilt. There are occasions when the pelvis, back, and shoulders can actually tilt approximately 10° behind the perpendicular. This angle strengthens the seat, provided your legs remain in their position, unaffected by the rotated pelvis. Adopting this position can occur under the following circumstances:
The heavy horse: If the horse is heavy on the forehand and is leaning on your hands, adopt this position to push the horse forward with your seat bones. When the horse steps underneath him with impulsion, he will become lighter on the forehand, then you will be able to return to the basic position.
Extensions: Since this position encourages the horse to step forward, it can be used to help the horse to extend in any gait. If you watch dressage riders at a competition, you will notice that most of them bring their shoulders behind the perpendicular to extend the pace.
The lazy horse: When the horse is ignoring your leg aids, strengthen your seat through this position to get him up and moving.
The sitting trot: Particularly in the medium and extended trot, tilting back will help you sit smoothly to this bouncy gait. Beware, however, of constantly sitting in this manner to the trot as this has a tendency to damage the horse's back. It is only helpful if you are learning to sit to the trot, and you want to get a feel for it.
Use Of The Seat Bones
The seat bones can be used to extend or collect, and for lateral work. Their benefit to push the horse forward has been discussed above. But there are other benefits to the seat bones as well:-
Transition to canter: Horses often respond to the canter aid by cantering on the wrong lead. This is specially common among novice horses and riders. For the horse to canter onto the correct lead, it must be evident for him where your weight is as this will make him step under your center of gravity to maintain his balance. The canter aids usually include application of the inside leg on the girth, and the outside leg behind the girth. The inside leg asks for impulsion, and the outside leg asks the horse's outside hind leg to step forward into canter. To send the message to the horse clear from misunderstandings, shift your weight to your inside seat bone as you apply your leg aids. Be careful not to collapse at the waist or the shoulders. The horse will step under your weight, and therefore canter on the inside lead.
Lateral work: By shifting your center of gravity to one seat bone, you are asking the horse to step underneath your weight. In the half pass, the inside leg is applied on the girth, and the outside leg a few inches behind the girth. The inside leg asks the horse to bend around it and maintain impulsion, while the outside leg asks him to step away from it. The inside rein gently asks the horse to look to the inside, while the outside rein supports the shoulders from falling behind. The purpose of the inside seat bone comes when you want the horse to step sideways. It's true that the outside leg is already asking the horse to step sideways, but shifting your weight to the inside seat bone enhances the sideway action as the horse is more able to maintain his balance.
Turning: Try this: Ride your horse in walk towards the rail of the arena or towards a wall. Ensure that your contact with his mouth is very light, and keep your hands very still. A little slack in the reins would guarantee that your hands are in no way interfering with the horse. As you approach the rail or wall, the horse will begin to wonder to which direction you wish to go and will keep his senses alert to your slightest movement. This is when the horse is actually eagerly waiting for instruction. Approximately 4 strides from the rail or wall, shift your weight to the right (or the left, if you wish to go to the left). The horse will immediately step to that direction. This goes only as far as proving that horses do sense and respond to seat aids, but it comes in handy when riding circles, serpentines, turns on the forehand or on the haunches, and lateral work.
Once you have achieved a deep balanced seat, you will be able to easily collect your horse. Collection is a natural state for horses and should never be viewed as a restraining or artificial gait. A horse can start collecting as early as the age of five. Collection makes the horse more responsive and attentive, which brings about a more smooth ride.
Collection is all about contained energy. Unlike extensions, where the energy is directed forward, collection directs the energy upwards. The horse covers less ground with every stride, elevates his steps, and contracts his outline. When the horse has engaged his hind legs and elevated his forehand, he will be lighter in your hand and possibly twice as responsive since engagement of the hocks makes tasks all so much easier for him.
The Role Of The Seat Bones In Collection
The seat bones can be used to collect the horse just as they were used to extend a pace. Remember that the legs initiate the energy, and the seat controls the flow. To direct the energy upwards instead of forwards, reverse the action of the seat described for extending. Instead of tilting the pelvis backwards, contract the muscles in the small of your back to tilt the pelvis slightly forward, lifting the weight from the seat bones to the crotch. This position has the effect of pulling the horse together by concentrating the energy in the hocks.
Never pull on the reins to collect the horse, gently play with the reins to relax his jaw. Forcing the horse on the bit with the reins does no good to the horse or to your hands. By regulating the energy from the back to the front of the horse, he will naturally flex at the pole with little interference from the reins.
Be patient with your horse. It might take a while before he is able to engage his hind legs and collect, so be willing to compromise. Remember to praise your horse lavishly every time he is responsive.
Problems arise when the horse and rider misunderstand each other. The classical seat is one way to overcome the misunderstandings and establish a clear distinguished language. The horse gets his inspiration from you, not from watching other horses and riders. Be his guide, not his boss. Give him a seat that will make him happy, balanced, and comfortable. The classical seat is the key to a prosperous new future for riding. For your sake, and for the horse's sake, use it; it will unlock many doors that were once thought closed forever.