8 Simple Ways to Improve Your Seat


Want to develop a balanced seat? Here are eight ways of how to do it:


Not iron knees but a good balance keeps the rider on the horse. (François Robichon de la Guérinière (1688-1751))

  1. Ride bareback or with a saddle pad

It is more difficult to feel the three dimensional swinging of the horse’s spine in a saddle. There is so much inflexible material between you and your horse! Saddles with a wooden or plastic tree are the worst. Moreover, many saddles, especially the ones with big knee blocks, force the rider into a certain position. Ride without a saddle until you have developed a good seat, provided that horse horse is safe and calm. If you don’t dare to ditch your saddle yet, ride without stirrups.


2. Relax all the muscles in your body

Mount your horse and just sit comfortably. Let go of the reins. Take your legs away from the horse, shake them, and gently put them back without applying any pressure. Make a mental journey through your whole body, from head to toes. Relax the neck, shoulders, back, hips, bottom, upper legs, knees, lower legs, ankles, toes. You can imagine to be 120 years old, without any power in your muscles.


3. Breath in your centre

Now take long, even, deep breaths. Aim for the area at your navel. Now through your breath, feel your hips, your bottom, the horse under you, the ground beneath you, let your thoughts wander further through the rocks of the earth, the hot lava, the core. Open your eyes again and keep this feeling of calmness and being grounded.


4. Drive backwards bicycle

Now take your horse on the circle in a relaxed walk. Give him all the rein he wants. Check if all your muscles are still relaxed and then focus on your seat bones. How do they move?

Your seat bones move forward/backward and up/down. Let’s analyse this movement some more.

When the horse pushes back with a hind leg, the rider’s seat bone on the same side makes a backward-upward movement. When the hind leg has left the ground and swings forward, the rider’s seat bone also swings forward-down. Imagine to drive backwards on a bike! When your right hip goes forward-down, your left hip comes backward-up and so on.

Now feel when the inside seat bone is going forward down, and exaggerate the down movement a bit. Tel yourself: “down, down, down, down…”. You will feel how your horse will start swinging in his spine even more and how he will relax and take bigger steps.

Feel the chest of your horse coming towards your leg each time it makes the ‘down’ movement. This is the right moment to give a leg aid.

Now also allow the outer seat bone to swing backwards-up and don’t grip with your outer upper leg.

This movement of the hip can be felt in all the gaits and should be felt at all times. If at some point you cannot feel it anymore, or it is incomplete (your hips just move forward and backward), then you stopped your horse’s spine from swinging with either your seat, leg, or hand aids.


5. Shoulder parallel to shoulder, hip parallel to hip

At all times, your head, shoulders, and hip should be parallel to the horse’s head, shoulders, and hip. With this simple rule you can explain to yourself the position of your shoulders in all the exercises. If you want to ride on a circle, you have to turn your shoulders on the circle line (imagine to be a spirelli-shaped noodle and twist the noodle on the circle 😉 ).


6. Don’t care about a correct body posture

There are many books filled with explanations of the right placement of the different body parts. If you relax your spine, it will take the shape that it is naturally given. If you force it in any other, unnatural position, you unnecessarily tense some muscles which will also affect the rest of your body. Feeling for the horse’s movements is much more important than correct body posture. The seat is the information that the horse receives!


Many riders look pretty while they are ineffective and without feeling, while sometimes a seat that on the first glance does not look so pretty can have the qualities a good rider needs. (Bent Branderup)


7. Do less, feel more

Sit relaxed and follow the movement of your horse, also allow for the natural nodding movement of the neck. Many riders try to produce something with their seat. Instead, try to feel where the horse is not straight and only correct the body parts that fall out. This will help your horse much more than trotting endless rounds on a circle in raising trot.


8. Imagine you are riding the king’s horse

Be proud of yourself and your horse! And don’t care about what others might say about you or your riding skills. In your little kingdom, you are the royal!

This is only the beginning, of course. I good seat is the result of a life-long practice. But I hope I could help you a little with these tips! Have a great weekend with your horses!


8 Comments on “8 Simple Ways to Improve Your Seat

  1. You fail to address the problems of a rider with back problems. Your suggestions, especially 1 2 & 6, are especially detrimental to riders who’s back & spines are not naturally in the correct position. I know because I am one of such rider. It has taken me a very long time to sort out my issues. And I only succeeded because (1) I rode in good saddles that allowed the swing of the horse’s spine to transmit to my spine, my trainer taught me to sit properly in a saddle – weight in my thighs not in my seat – with some weight in the stirrups. (2) the muscles that hold your spine erect are so short that a person can not force them to relax. It was only be sitting very correctly and allowing my horse’s spine to move my spine and the relevant muscles that the knotted muscles finally relaxed. (6) You must have correct body posture! Your posture affects your horse. Your spine connects with his and you effect each other. If you are not correct then you are hurting your horse.

    If I rode as you suggest I would be tense and crooked and do more damage to my horse and myself. What you say may work for people who start out with a supple back but I do wish people would mention that as the first requirement.

    It took me a long time to figure all this out. So it bothers me when people say things like “just relax” but fail to point out that the rider must be sure that they can relax their muscles correctly. An assumption is made and both the horse and the rider may suffer because of it.

    • Hi Dolores, thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found a way for you that works. The way you described did not work for me for many years, so I’m also writing from experience. I also suffer from back problems, I have a scoliosis if you call it like that in English, and I had a bad riding accident when I was a teenager in which I broke my spine in three places. As soon as it was possible again, I sat on a horse again, on a therapy horse, without a saddle. You see, in therapy, the patients sit on the horses without saddles, only on pads, and if they cannot stay seated themselves they are kept in place by the therapist walking next to the horse. My sister has an education as hippotherapist, and she helped me to rehabilitate after the accident. The three-dimensional movement of the horse help people with severe mental and physical disabilities, only because they sit. They don’t get any instructions of how to sit, they just spend time on the horse and their muscles and skeleton are moved by the horse. In Germany, this is a recognised form of therapy, also in Poland (I don’t know about other countries). After my accident it was even harder for me to sit in the saddle like my teachers told me. My horse even got back problems! Now, I am learning how to sit just like thousands of other students in the academic art of riding, the way I have described it here. If you look for the old riding masters in past centuries, the seat looked different according to the fashion of the time. For example, in the Renaissance, the rider would sit with stretched legs and step powerfully into the stirrup and press the knees more to the horse. But they also still used the horse in battle and performed extreme movements and had to stay in the saddle during a fight. During the baroque, the royalty retreated from the battle fields and an art of riding for pleasure arose. The seat was entirely relaxed, they sat on their seat bones, legs hung long and relaxed, no pressing the foot in the stirrup. Then during the times of classicism, more and more merchants and officers rode horses, and they were also jumping fences. The stirrup was shortened and the legs were more pressed against the horse. Steinbrecht didn’t like this development and his seat was closer to the one during the Baroque. How the seat developed during modern times we all know. So during different times, there were different ideals of how to sit on the horse, influenced by how horses were used. You can see this on old paintings. Also different cultures sit differently on the horse. What is the correct body posture then? Whose culture and time is right? In my opinion, the seat should first of all be functional. Many problems I encounter now with my seat come up because someone told me to keep my legs in a certain position or my hands. And I see lots of riders that try to look pretty and correct on the horse but whose seat is not effective. The Prussians were famous for that, an old saying goes that they sit pretty on the horses, now they just need to be able to ride. If you look for my teacher, Bent, he also doesn’t have an idea conformation of the spine, and form a modern perspective, one could find lots to criticise about his seat. On the other hand, there are not many people left in the world who can do what he can do with his horses. So thanks very much for triggering my brain with your interesting comment! Personally, I disagree, but I’m happy that you found a way that works for you, which I think is the most important. Have a good Sunday!

  2. O I still haven’t found a way to sit effectively. Quiet, hmm, perhaps, but effective, not so much.
    I get stuck on thinking too much.
    Time to get more experimental!
    I think I’ll try a little with the bareback pad on my young mare…

      • Oh wow!
        Well, if I’m ever going to do it a bit with my mare, this is the right time of year. Cold(ish) and cuddly to have a “warm” seat. The rest of the year, with the desert temperatures and sweat breaking before even done tacked up… Not so much 😉

  3. Much of what you outline here is how my daughters learned how to ride. Their coaches/instructors are big believers in being relaxed while mounted with or without a saddle, and also in giving the horse as much rein as they’re willing to take. Sometimes they’re scored lower when they ride hunter with the looser reins, but the horses appreciate it in that they still look very elegant.

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