The All-Rounder Training Series: Relax, Supple Up, Collect. Part 1 – The forgotten “light seat” ?

Laura 7608
Aspire training session June 2014. Photo by Magda Mucha

This post starts a new mini summer series. I am not sure how many parts it will have yet, I will let it flow organically (hopefully I won’t waffle too much!) so if you would like to add suggestions or questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section below the post. 

The series will discuss some elements in training process of an all-round, grassroots riding horse and an improvement driven rider i.e. the type of riders and horses we teach on Aspire programmes.

I should add that all input in comments is welcome, there are many ways of doing the same thing, we always learn with horses and the thoughts written in this series are just one of those ways…

Please, grab a cup of tea or coffee or whatever else you fancy and let’s chat 🙂 


This little series is here as a consequence of questions I receive from riders which makes me think that perhaps more general chat about training horses and riders at grassroots level (lower to medium level) might be of use. Questions that come up most often are focused on the following 3 elements of training a horse: suppleness (“how can I make her more supple?”), relaxation (“how can I can get him to relax?”), collection (“how can I ask him to collect ‘better’ ?” ). In many cases the riders are perfectly able to recognise the issue(s) when they watch their lessons on a video. They can often tell me with great attention to detail when and what is happening but the struggle lies in corrections. Therefore, I would like to chat about the tools that a grassroots rider (an average, amateur rider who doesn’t ride many horses a day for a living) can develop in order to achieve training results and help their horses develop athletically as riding horses.

In Part 1 and 2 I will focus on ways of achieving “[bright] relaxation” as that is to me the element that comes before any other. Just to be clear as to the “bright” side – I don’t mean sofa-popcorn-TV type of relaxation but a state of body and mind that is ready for learning…An athletically relaxed horse should still have a spark about him 🙂

magda on black mare
Magda Mucha, one of instructors who worked with me – here riding for a client on a young mare in a fairly good, basic stretchy trot. The horse could have her nose out a little more and be softer through lower neck muscles but she is only just learning more athletic way of going so is very much a work in progress

PART 1: The forgotten “light seat”? 

One fabulous key to this bright and focused relaxation that seems to be very much a struggle for many riders is work in light seat. The Army used it, Reiner Klimke used it, the classical trainers have used it – the benefits are many both for the horse and for the rider. First of all, light seat is most natural of all seats for any horse whose back and neck muscles are not yet in a good “riding horse” condition. This might mean a young horse as well as one that had worked under the saddle for years but was never ridden in a way that helped him build the muscles that carry the rider.

The light seat as a training tool for the rider fabulously improves feel for balance, movement synchronisation, joint suppleness, core strength and leg and hand stability. When practised correctly it shouldn’t cause joint pain in the rider.

Below is a short clip of a rider on Aspire Development Programme having her lesson on a stiff backed riding school horse and using light seat in warm phase of her lesson: 

Light seat is a great tool for the rider to “relax” the horse in trot and canter. Relaxation we are after manifests itself in regular, repetitive length of steps, desire to move forwards, “neutral”, relaxed posture i.e. usually fairly horizontal neck position (depending on conformation), neutral position of the back (neither hollow nor overly round), loose throat area with open angle between jowls and neck and ground covering movement that looks purposeful and quietly active. As the horse in this posture will almost always be naturally front heavy (on the forehand to some degree), it’s important for the rider to develop good, supporting balance. I generally love light seat work as part of a warm up for most horses, as a re-training tool for horses with back issues or contact issues, older horses, hollow moving horses, nervous and/or anxious horses to name just some examples. On negative side I personally don’t like to use it for long periods of time for months on end as the only way of riding (especially for heavier breeds) precisely because it can encourage front heavy way of going but I will get back to this in further parts of this little series.

As far as riders who practice light seat go, I see improvement in seat balance (ability to remain in balanced posture regardless of horse’s issues) and effectiveness (ability to achieve more functional posture in the horse) in both beginner and advanced riders…

Below you can see a still frame of a rider who came to me for lessons when Aspire programme were just starting out (in 2010) 🙂 The still frame at the top shows her in rising trot…She is a beginner rider but many much more advanced riders have very similar problem. As you can see, she is losing her balance at the top of the rise which will cause the horse to contract the back muscles and remain hollow. I used variation of light seat work (including standing in the stirrups in trot shown on the frame at the bottom – this was her first ever try) to improve her perception of “staying in own balance” which in turn improved her overall balance, leg position and horse’s way of going.


Most horses will relax into forward-down posture when ridden in a well balanced light seat. If this is what many of us want in the warm phase of our schooling sessions, why is light seat not utilised on larger scale as a routine exercise? Large amount of horses work with tense backs and blocked necks – another very good reason for warming such horses up without full weight in the saddle.

The beauty of this exercise is that it allows almost any rider with even relatively no experience in schooling a horse, to feel the benefit of forward down posture and relaxed back. Danger starts when riders get stuck with always riding for relaxation and stretch and never sympathetically teach the horse to use his body in various degrees of collection as well. We shall get back to this some posts later!

Over to you 🙂 Do you use light seat in your regular schooling sessions in the arena? Do you think it’s beneficial? Have you noticed how it can promote athletic relaxation in your horse?


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4 thoughts on “The All-Rounder Training Series: Relax, Supple Up, Collect. Part 1 – The forgotten “light seat” ?”

  1. I wish you could come and watch where I work for a day! It’s sadly and embarrassingly rare that our horses (and riders!) are warmed up properly. Having read what you said, more light seat work could absolutely benefit some of our horses, but part of the issue is that we don’t have many riders who could do it safely, nevermind effectively. That all sounds like I’m seeing barriers rather than possibilities, but it’s the truth. I’m going to have a think and see how I can try and improve things in some way.

  2. I can imagine…I know it’s very very tricky to make changes in the sort of environment you are working in but definitely have a go 🙂 Perhaps the kids will enjoy it and want to do more of it which would certainly help the ponies.

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