The phrase “sit deeper in the saddle”, “deepen your seat” or “sink down in the saddle” is heard on many arenas in all countries I have taught and ridden.
If you ask several different riders and instructors what “sitting deep” means to them and how they do it, you are likely to hear many different concepts and ways of achieving a deep seat. How do you understand it? How would you teach it if you were to asked to explain it?
Put simply, a deep seat to me is the ability to remain in close contact with the saddle during motion. This is reliant on ability to synchronise muscular contraction and weight distribution in the rider with that of the horse when both are in motion. The better the synchrony and harmony, the “deeper” the seat looks without also being heavy.
Today I will chat shortly about a very simple stretch that any rider can do before getting in the saddle to help achieving “deeper seat”, tomorrow I will look at a set of exercises that aid the ability of weight transfer without becoming “heavy” in the saddle.
THE PIRIFORMIS STRETCH
If you read my post about achieving stability in the saddle through good use of core and thigh muscles (About Stability (Core, Pelvis and Thighs Connection) in The Rider and Why To Work On It) you will know how important it is to be able to rotate the hip and thigh inward in a way that wraps the rider’s legs around the horse.
For the upper and lower leg to lie closely around the horse’s barrel without undue pressure or unnecessary gripping we need flexibility in one little magic muscle…
It’s an interesting muscle that’s also involved in sciatic nerve pain so if you suffer from sciatica or are at all unsure about the stretches it’s best to consult your doctor.
HOW TO STRETCH
I start these stretches from beginner courses onwards and below you can see a rider on Start Programme during the exercise. The rider will have groomed and tacked up and so will have warmed up all the muscles in her body as well as marched in place for several minutes – all to make sure no stretches are ever done “cold”.
There is a floor version of this exercise which apparently works better for many but I find it’s vastly impractical in riding environment…I ask the rider to stretch her piriformis muscles before mounting for a few minutes as part of a short stretch routine.
If you have higher step that you use to get on the horse, it will do a great job for this.
- Sit down on it making sure your upper body is well aligned with your pelvis so you feel the weight of your head dropping right down into your tail bone and your seat bones are pointing downwards (not backwards or forwards). Take a couple of deep breaths and let the air out slowly letting the weight of your ribcage drop down (but do not collapse through your waist)
- Bend your knees so they are at the right angles with the ground.
- Lift one leg and position it so your ankle rests just above your knee as on the photo above
- Inhale and on exhale slowly lean forward bringing your chest to your lower leg. Hold this position for 3-5 deep breaths.
- Repeat on the other leg
- To increase the stretch press gently down on the resting leg over the knee (as on the photo)
I recommend doing this exercise 2-3 times on each leg every time before you get on if you are learning to ride or working on improving your seat in sitting trot or canter. I do it often even now and love the feeling of looseness it gives when I sit in the saddle.
Let me know if you try it before mounting next time you ride!
All the best,