How are we supposed to sit on the horse? To the inside, to the outside or equal over the horse? Should it vary when we do different exercises? You sure can get confused, because you can hear about all sorts of different ways of sitting.
When talking about the seat we need to think about what we want to accomplish on the horse back. In Academic Art of Riding we want to educate the spirit, mind and bodies of horse and human. We want the horse to be able to carry itself and us in a good way, that does no damage to either horse or human. But how does a horse carry properly? All four legs must go in one direction, with hind legs stepping in under the seat of the rider and front leg stepping in under the muzzle. As the inside hind leg moves forward the inside hip should come forward and down. The belly then rotates to allow space for the inside hindleg. It is actually not just the belly that rotates, but the whole spine of the horse, from tail to neck. This is called bending and it goes along with stellning. Stellning is the rotation of the skull, where the inside lower jaw is moved in the direction under the wing of the atlas, the first neck vertebrae. However, for this to happen the head must first be searching forward. If the head is held back there is no space to rotate and obtain stellning. Here are some pictures to show when stellning is and is not possible. The bending of the horse can be seen as a rotation of the chest. The inside gets lowered and the outside is raised. The raised outside chest brings along the outside shoulder, that will be lifted and free. The Duke of Newcastle once said the inner leg should appear lower than the outside, and this is because of the rotation of the chest.
Now we know we need chest rotation for a proper bending and stellning. If we allow our inner seat bone and inside leg aids to go downwards when the inside hip is moving forward down, and the outer seat bone and leg aids to go upwards we can maintain the chest rotation and hence bending and stellning. If we press down our outside seat bone we will spoil the chest rotation, the bending and the stellning, and create some hideous curves in the spine. This is unhealthy for the horse and the rider. This gives the answer to how to sit on the horse. We must always sit lower on the inside and higher on the outside seat bone. However, note that there is a difference between lowering your inner seat bone and hanging all of your weight on the inside. You may experience some difficulties lowering the inside seat bone, but then you may try to lift the outside one. Some seat lessons to become aware of your body, pelvis and movements may also be a good suggestion. Good luck!
If the horse is moving its hindlegs in under the seat of the rider and the front legs in under the muzzle it is doing its basic job. It is carrying itself and the rider and you will experience softness in your riding.
When the legs of the horse are not doing its job you will notice this in different ways, depending on the horse. Some loose everything and fall all over, wobbling here and there. Some lower their back and put the muzzle up in the air, some go too low, some just loose a bit of stellning. There is a whole range of ways to loose it, ranging from minor issues to big ones. We need to figure out which leg is not working properly and then adjust it. If we allow ourselves some time and stop all negative voices in our heads about how difficult it is, we can just sit and feel our own body and the body of the horse. What is it that we sense? Most of my students do feel what is happening if they just give themselves a little bit of time and get explained what to look for.
For the horse to move properly we need to stay out of the way of the horse, i.e. allow the movement of the horse to pass from the hindlegs to the front. We need to first allow and then induce chest rotation of the horse, to get a proper bending and stellning. This means we have to sink down a bit on the inside seat bone and lift the outside. Still, you need to sit on both seat bones. If not, it is very easy to lose the outside. After all, the horse is a unity and all of it needs to be moving in the same direction. How well can you place the legs and how soft can the horse become? This is what your training should increase, little by little.
…the softer you can stay, the softer the horse will be.should
In our efforts to get the legs in one direction, it is easy to press too much with the aids, maybe adding pressure and increasing it until the horse responds. Adding a lot of pressure often means we lose our seat, and then of course it is more difficult for the horse to respond. You should try to always stay soft enough that you can maintain your seat. Use the whip as an extra aid rather than pressing too much, and if the horse does still not respond it probably either cannot do it or, most likely, doesn’t understand how to do it. Then you slow down and try again, or explain in a different way. The softer you can stay the better it is. You will be able to add your aids in a more precise way because when you are relaxed you can still feel what the horse is doing. If you press a lot then you will get stiff and you do no longer feel the horse. You will soon notice, that the softer you can stay, the softer the horse will be.