Do You Ride With Your Hands or Your Seat?
I meet a lot of riders. And I see even more. And something most of them have in common is that they are convinced that they are riding primarily with their seat. And some of those are definitely not riding primarily with their seat - maybe not at all.
You can see it in the posture and movements of the rider. Hunched shoulders, rounded back. Stiff arms. Head down looking at the hands. The body of the rider seeming a little unbalanced, bouncy, out of rhythm. Since the rider’s focus is often on keeping the horses head down in this position, the horse is often on or behind the vertical, maybe leaning on the hands, and heavy on the forehand. Which in long term can cause injuries and strain the teamwork between horse and rider.
Riders who manage to ride from their seat have a beautiful posture. They look confident and light (and their weight or body mass doesn't have anything to do with this). They sit upright and you get a clear impression that you could either whisk away the horse or the rider and neither would change anything in their appearance or movements. It looks harmonious and graceful.
A Little Quiz
So, try and answer these questions and find out if you are one of those riders, who ride more with the hands than with the seat:
- Is your spine more rounded forward than upright/in neutral position?
- Are you unsure of your seat bones placement in the saddle and whether your weight is distributed evenly between them? (if you have to think about this one, the answer is yes, sorry)
- Does the horse change form, rhythm or head-position if you give him completely loose rein for 3-4 steps?
- Do you look at your hands while riding?
- Do you feel tired in your arms and hands or do you have blisters on your fingers after riding?
- Are you experiencing difficulty balancing when you do not have contact on the reins?
If you are guilty of two or more of these questions then chances are that you are riding more with your hands than with your seat. And that is not optimal, as it affects your horse and your own body in a negative way. So here are three tips on what you can do to change this.
Tip No 1: Forget your horses head position and keep your hands quiet for a while.
Let your horse move with its head wherever it wants and focus on becoming aware on how much your hands are moving and twerking. They should be quiet and listening. If there is too much movement in your hand from twitching, pulling etc, it disturbs the signals and your connection with your horse. It is like noise on a radio, where you can't hear what's actually being said. As soon as your hands quiet and stop moving about you can start to listen to what your horse is telling you through its mouth. And since a lot of tensions start here before they spread to the rest of the horse's body, you will be warned in good time.
Tip No 2: Look forward and start to feel with your body.
I know you've heard this one before, but there are actually some very good reasons for this. But the take-home message for this one is this: About 70% of the sense-inputs we get from our body comes from our eyes and our sight. But we are not riding with our eyes. We are riding with our body. If we try to ride with our eyes and act on what our eyes see we will be too slow to react and end up riding with stronger aids than necessary, frustrating our horses. So, we have to "block" our eye-input and stop relying on this. When you look up and forwards you open up so the last 30% of your sense-input get a chance to tell you what is happening. And some of these inputs are very intuitive for your body. Then you will be able to correct your horse even before the mistake becomes visible - and hence your riding will seem much more graceful.
Tip No 3: Find your own balance when riding without contact to the reins.
It is very important that you find your own balance with minimal aid from saddle, reins etc. to keep you in place. You can try this simple exercise and it will help you no matter what type of horse-riding you like doing. Find the light seat, where you are standing slightly in your stirrups so your butt is off the saddle. Your hips should move a little backwards and your shoulders a little forward. For many it can be an exercise in itself to find this sweet spot in the light seat where you can stand all day. Now, if you have found it, try and sit down once and find the light seat again. And keep on sitting down once or twice and back up into light seat without disturbing the horses motion. I find that most students develop their balance best in this exercise when doing it in trot, but you might need to start in the walk. Good luck when trying this out on horseback!