Knees, Seat and Other Parts
"Spreading the buttocks to form as broad a base underneath you as possible is very important as it will allow the leg to hang unconstructed ...
ready to embrace the barrel of the horse."
"As well as activating, the lower leg also supports, directs, limits, controls, encourages, allows, and makes possible every variation of turn
and of forward, lateral, backward, and, in haute ecole, even upward work of the horse in all gaits."
Sylvia Loch, "The Classical Seat"
A balanced independent seat is the end goal of equitation…regardless of disciple or type of horse.
To develop an independent seat a rider works on alignment and position of their body in relation to the horse. We straddle a horse rather than sit on a horse as though he is a chair in order to get closer to aligning the center of gravity of the horse and rider. Standing over or straddling the horse gives the optimal influence over the horse’s center of gravity and performance. The horse’s obedience is achieved through a constant conversation between horse and rider. We communicate through our movement which in order to be effective have to be clear and consistent. By coordinating the torso of the rider with the seat we can use our legs and hands to have an effective conversation with the horse.
The legs rest against the horses side but don’t grip…the hands reflect the torso and communicate to the horse’s mouth and either contain energy…direct energy…or release energy…..the weight and position of the torso and the use of the back and core communicate this through the rider’s seat, thighs and knees.
In order to use leg aids correctly the rider must not grip with the thigh muscles or the knee. Gripping with the thigh muscles or the knees locks the hip joint. The hip joint is one of the rider's shock absorbers. If the rider locks the hip joints, he cannot follow the horse's motion and, therefore, cannot apply leg aids effectively.
Command central of all communications is through a deep and adhesive seat. The seat has a three point contact …the seat bones and the crotch in a v shaped support. A secure seat results by having a deep connected (but not gripping) knee and stretching the thigh down and back and slightly turning knees and thighs towards the horse. Toes out tend to clamp the seat together and limits the following motion of the hips. The ankles must be supple to follow the horse’s movement and not brace against it. This is accomplished by a long draped leg and a lowered knee. A toe down position weakens the ability to engage the core by closing the hip angle and generally results in a rider maintaining balance by a deadening grip on the horse’s side and hanging in the mouth rather than balancing at the center of gravity with the seat. The balance is optimum in a heel hip shoulder alignment with the toes kept behind the knee. The foot rests in the stirrup just behind the toes with the heel slightly lower through what I call controlled relaxation. The shock absorbers of the rider are the ankle, knee, hip, lumbar back, thoracic back, neck, shoulder blades and core. The energy we ride should be evenly absorbed through the body. Balance found in an educated seat allows the rider to be able to use the aids of legs and hands in a delicate and discriminating fashion. Without a secure confident seat the legs and hands grab and desensitize the horse’s sides and the ability to understand our communication as they are constantly assaulted with white noise …i.e. rough and abrupt aids.
Some of the “on” the horse exercises that I use to develop a draped leg and adhesive seat are:
Bending the knee and lower leg until you can catch the heel of your boot in your hand to stretch the hamstrings
Standing in a miniature two point position and relaxing the calf muscle to stretch out
Standing in a two point position and distancing one heel at a time away from the horse by rotating at the hip…then relaxing each leg and sitting on the three point contact seat.
Bending the lower leg and knee one leg at a time and brushing the leg down into normal riding position
All exercises that are standard in a lunge lesson…riding the bike, scissors, leg’s away, posting without stirrups etc
Practicing riding with unilateral aid’s, placing the outside leg slightly back in turns to weight the inside seat bone which the horse will then follow
Posting in alternate rhythms of regular posting and…up… up …down and down …down …up
It goes without saying that off the horse exercises are as equally important if not more so than solely riding. Understanding how horses learn, classical riding technique and the bio mechanics of horse and rider separately and together are the foundation to successful build on.