Question: Dear Julie,
First I wanted to let you know that I truly enjoy your website and reading your training library section. I have picked-up many good points which I have been able to put in to my riding. I started riding lessons about three years ago and bought my very first horse this past June. She is a four year old quarter horse mare and although she had been broke and received training at three, she did spend a few months without a rider and was still green to some degree when I purchased her. We have now spent just over five months working together and we have made a lot of progress and have bonded together quite nicely.
The problem I wanted to discuss with you is mine, of course, and it is one of balance. I am having difficulty finding and maintaining my seat, especially with my right seat. Because of this, my horse is not receiving the proper commands and therefore she is not responding the way I want her to and I find I have to correct her with the reins too much. I know it is not her fault and she is extremely patient with me but after a while we both get frustrated and things fall apart. Spending time with my horse is the most rewarding thing in my life. Something I have always wanted to do and I want to be able to fix this problem so Nellie and I can enjoy our time together and be in harmony with one another. Can you please help me?
PS:: Do you know if your television series can be seen in Canada?? If so, could you let me know which station, day and time?
Answer: Dear Jocelyne,
I am happy to hear how satisfying the time you spend with your horse is and even more pleased that you look to yourself to improve your riding skills so that your horse can perform to her best capability. I wish all riders had this point of view, instead of blaming the horse.
Some riders really struggle to “find” their seat, especially if they have not done any kind of training that helps you isolate parts of your body and have good abdominal control, like yoga, Pilates, ballet or even sit ups. I do know quite a few exercises to help with this and I enjoy teaching these exercises in clinics. In fact, the exercises are so popular that I put them all into one video (GPR Vol 3, Perfect Practice), which includes both unmounted and mounted exercises and they are divided into three categories: balance, rhythm and communication. The seat is a major factor in all three.
Balance is the number one skill required of riders and the position of your pelvis while riding is one of the most critical issues. My guess is that you are riding on your crotch instead of your seat bones, which causes tension in your back (and your horse’s), bouncing, and an inability to use your most important aid (your seat) in cueing.
You can start finding your seat right now, off the horse, by trying this simple exercise. Sitting in a chair, with both feet flat on the ground underneath you, sit on your hands, palms up, so that you can feel one seat bone in each hand. Now inhale deeply and lengthen your spine; as you exhale, push out every last drop of air from your lungs by compressing your shoulders down toward your hips and rounding your back. Now inhale and stretch up; exhale deeply again and feel how much movement there is in your seat bones. Also, try sitting up tall and keeping your spine centered while you look up and back around behind you; come back to center and look up and around behind you the other direction. If you keep your spine centered, you’ll feel weight shift onto the outside seat bone and your inside seat bone lift as you turn.
Of course, it would be easier to help you if I could actually see you riding, but this should give you a better feel of where your seat is and also how you use your seat for going, stopping and turning. There are many articles about this in my Training Library and also, Volume 2 in my Principles of Riding video series, Communication and Control, goes into explicit details about using your seat for cueing and becoming less dependent on the reins. Volume 3, Perfect Practice, has many more exercises that help along these lines. Good luck in your riding. I firmly believe that you can improve your own riding if you have awareness, knowledge and self-discipline. As you improve, so will your horse—there’s no question about that!