Tag Archives: rider’s seat

Forward Thinking Hand continued – Exercise with a “Bridleless Bit” to improve rider’s perception

bridleless bit

The Aspire blog posts about contact, whether about how not to pull on the reins or improving a forward thinking hand have been incredibly popular this year so here is yet another suggestion, albeit quite unusual, for an exercise on those “hands that just don’t feel”…

The exercise has some very good results with a few common contact issues like:

– lack of symmetry in the seat (showing in one hand being more dominant than the other/pulling/dropping connection)
– lack of awareness of neutral connection that is neither resisting not dropped but is simply supporting and “closing the circuit of energy from leg to hand”
– lack of awareness of a forward thinking hand that simply “carries the bit” while the horse moves towards it


I am sure many of you recall Luciana Diniz and recently Nicole Pavitt riding is a Carson bridleless bit…


I immediately thought about trying this with those of my riders who are almost moving to Development programme but are still working on quality, forward thinking hand that can offer the horse a neutral contact to work into.

Here are the results of this experiment with one of the riders.

Please note: I have known the horse in the video for over 8 years and have taught many different riders on her. I would not recommend this exercise with a nervous horse or a rider who isn’t ready (i.e. does not have the good beginning of an independent seat). The bit is her usual bit with the rest of the bridle unclipped. The exercise lasted 10 minutes and was done at the end of the training session. 

The rider’s contact and symmetry perception improved as the exercise progressed. She realised she was not really carrying her own hands before and discovered some muscles she needed to use to provide stable, sympathetic hand position that wasn’t reactive to losses of balance.

I noticed an overall improvement in the rider’s awareness of her hands – their position in relation to the horse’s mouth, their “connection” to the seat and their relationship with the seat.

The exercise also taught her how to release the connection without dropping the rein and how to follow neck movements in walk without allowing the rein to go slack and taut alternately.

I will be including this exercise in education of my riders as and when possible and when other perception exercises don’t have a desired effect.

CAUTION: Use your common sense if you try this exercise. Observe how the horse deals with having just the bit in his/her mouth. Always have horse’s welfare a priority when training yourself. Always have someone experienced with you on the ground and be ready to stop the exercise at any moment if needed. Performed well, this exercise shouldn’t change the way the horse feels the bit in his/her mouth. 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A HORSE SUITABLE FOR THIS EXERCISE you can still try it: simply imagine that you have no cheekpieces holding up the bit…imagine you have to hold the bit for the horse…

tilly and larry
Little chat with fellow session member after strutting her stuff without a bridle 😉

From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider by Kathlyn Hossack (sequel to How NOT to pull on the reins)

Since the How NOT to pull on the reins post has now reached over 12k views and sparked some questions I didn’t feel fully qualified to answer, I asked someone who has the proper anatomical knowledge to pitch in and write a sequel 🙂 Here we go! 

Happy reading and please don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions! 



From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider

Many riders struggle with poor shoulder posture; often this is from both habit and from muscle weaknesses/amnesia in the upper back. If you find that you tend to use movements at the elbow to pull back or have trouble balancing during transitions (and as a result tend to pull on the horse’s mouth instead) instead of using steady resistance (as discussed in Aspire Equestrian’s article here) and slight hand/finger motion to accomplish a smoother (in look and feel) transition– you are likely not activating the lats the way you should. Similarily, if you experience trouble maintaining a strong shoulder and upper back posture, and/or experience pain in between the shoulders, neck, and upper back.. you likely have forgotten how to use the rhomboids, traps, and lats properly.

Don’t fret! It’s a common problem with a simple fix for anyone willing to work at it!


The latissimus dorsi runs from the front of the shoulder, down to the pelvis. It’s textbook function is to help with shoulder movement with their composite action being a pull-up, or a front crawl type movement at the shoulder. They also stabilise through the back. For the purposes of the riding athlete, the lats are stabilizer of both the shoulder and the back. We don’t require big movements at our shoulder or arms, but what we do require is a stable shoulder girdle and spine to create resistance and allow movement of our elbows, hands, hips, and ankles.

Another important part for the riders upper body is the stabilisers between the shoulder blades. The rhomboids run between the interior border of the scapula or shoulder blade to the spine and function to pull the shoulder blades back towards one another and stabilize the upper back. The trapezius is a diamond shaped muscle running through the neck, shoulder, and upper back and has many movements on the shoulder blades and spine- but again, for us it aids in keeping us stable and upright in the tack. As riders we want everything from the top of our rib cage (this starts at the base of the neck) down to our pelvis to be one stable unit, while our hip joints and elbows allow for fluidity and functionality at the hands and lower legs. To do this we both need a stable core and a stable upper back/shoulder area.

The first step is teaching you how to properly establish a connection and feeling for these muscles on the ground. If you need a reminder for how your shoulders should be sitting in a proper posture, simply have your hands at your side and rotate so your thumbs are facing outwards. Feel how that immediately puts you into a more open, tall posture at the shoulder?

Now, let’s start with those rhomboids and traps between the shoulder blades. Standing, or sitting in a good, tall posture bring your arms up straight in front of you until the shoulder is at about 90degrees. Here, keeping the arms straight, you are going to retract the shoulders (or bring the shoulder blades closer together). Remember to keep the arms straight. Hold here for about 5seconds, and then relax forward. Repeat this at least 10 times, and do it as much throughout the day as you want. This is a very small, simple movement.. but some of you may find that it takes more concentration then you’d think it would. This is a rebuilding exercise to get your brain reconnected to controlling those muscles, from there we can begin to build stability in the shoulder.


My next favourite exercise to teach riders about postural stabilisation through movement in the lats and arms is called a Wall Angel. For this, you need a wall. Start in a half squat position with you back against the wall and feet slightly in front of you. Now, flatten out everything from the pelvis up to the neck/head against the wall. This may be the most challenging part for some. Many riders like to hinge from their mid back, and this can often be a source of pain or instability within the spine. Getting into this “flattened against a wall” posture brings us back into a neutral posture and allows us to begin rebuilding stabilisation (using the lats and other shoulder stabilisers) through the torso and upper body. Now that you’re in that half squat against the wall with every part of your spine against the wall, or as close as you can get, bring your arms up as you see them in picture A. This is the second challenge. You may find your back now wants to pop off the wall, or that your shoulders are too tight to bring back to the wall. If the latter is the case, some pectoralis major stretches may be in order for you. If you can’t get the arms so they are pressing flat (or close to) the wall, instead bring them in front to a similar position to the retraction exercise we discussed earlier. Now, back pressed flat, neck straight and head against the wall with arms up and also against the wall, you are going to slowly slide them up as far as you can keep them flat, and then back down to the start position.

wall slides

Repeat this between 5-10 times, a few times a day. I like to have riders do this before they get on their first horse, in between horses, and after their ride to encourage that tall, strong posture. This also helps to teach activation of the lats, strengthen all the postural muscles in the upper back, and build postural awareness.

Fitting these into your daily routine is a great way to begin rebuilding your ride in the saddle. I also like to have my riding clients ride with their inside hand behind their head, pushing their elbow back. This creates a tall posture, and encourages activation of the lats to stabilise in the back, and the shoulder stabilisers in the upper back through movement on the horse. Try it out next time you’re on and see what it does to your position!

  • Kathlyn Hossack has her BSc. Kinesiology and is soon to be a certified Athletic Therapist. She started Katmah Training (www.katmahtraining.wordpress.com) to help equestrians train and move like the athletes they are. She consults athletes and riders at all levels on position/biomechanics, injury recovery, strength and conditioning, and improving their movement to better their performance. 

Gain control over your leg position, joints suppleness and weight distribution through the seat

You will need fluffy socks for this one.

It was Mariana who first shared this exercise with you on here and ever since I’ve been looking forward to trying it with a suitable “rider-subject” 😉 It’s ingenious in its simplicity as it simply takes rider’s awareness of the stirrup iron – ball of foot connection to the next level.


You might think, stirrups are not that important for the good seat, but there is this curious desire in many riders to let that very seemingly unnecessary stirrup dictate their leg position.
When the rider becomes tuned in to the placement of the stirrup iron, they can in turn dictate the position of the stirrup leathers and the iron through small changes in weight distribution through the thighs and lower leg.
The other benefits include improved suppleness through ankle joints and a better command of the foot in general.
I loved the effect this exercise had on my rider.

Genius and simple.

If you do try it, please share your observations – there are many little aspects of joint use that become apparent in this exercise 🙂 


Sitting to the trot, sitting to canter – 5 min exercise for riders who block the movement through lower body [video]

exercise loose stirrup

Elastic, sympathetic and effective seat – who wouldn’t want one! Today I would like to show you a simple, short awareness exercise that is very easy to do and can make a big difference to the way you feel horse’s movement and are able to join it.

I chose to video one of my riders with ankle stiffness issue so the video below is a very real, true representation of this problem.

Why this exercise can help you? 

Good seat is about relative stillness i.e. the ability to stabilise ones body in motion. This means that it requires constant, supple, consecutive, elastic micro movements through every joint in rider’s body and continuous interplay between many muscles surrounding those joints. I do like how contradicting this is 😉 As long as we are in motion that mimics horse’s motion, we appear still and graceful…Perhaps that’s where comparisons to dancing with a partner is so apt. Any blockage,stiffness,motion avoidance will result in further seat discomfort and lack of effectiveness.

The loose stirrups exercise engages the rider into creating a motion pattern in the leg that is similar to one created by the horse’s movement. As a result, the rider is able to start feeling that movement and allow the joints and muscles to embrace it.


How to do it? 

You can do it at home first with a rope/towel – create a sling. bend one leg and then rest the ball of the foot on the sling. It helps to keep the leg up in the air for a bit to tire the muscles so they really want that rest! Allow the weight of the leg to drop into the heel (your arms muscles should feel that weight now). Lift and lower the rope/sling to create up/down motion that requires flexion through hip/knee and ankle. Start from big movements and follow up with tiny, barely visible lifts and drops so you just feel your joint opening and closing in millilitres rather than inches. Allow the joints in your leg to be fully moved by the sling.

Structure your training 

If you have issues with sitting to trot or canter and generally would like to improve suppleness through your seat (or perhaps you get lower marks in dressage test due to lack of suppleness?) I would suggest doing this exercise for 5 min (2.5min or so on each leg) after your warm up walk and before you start your trot work. You could have a loose, old stirrup leather handy (with or without stirrup) in the arena so there is no need to remove your stirrups on/off. This exercise is about creating awareness and perception so it is best done with the actual stirrup.


If you have this issue and you are going to try this exercise do share your results! Feel free to tweet me your pictures at @AspireAcademy or post on Aspire’s Facebook HERE. I believe it is a super easy and safe exercise but if you are at all unsure/have serious orthopaedic issues then by any means consult a professional physio before attempting it.

With many thanks to Moira on Aspire Foundation Programme for taking part in the video! 🙂 

All the best,


A small detail with big impact on your seat…

Have you ever struggled with correcting “chair seat”? Does your lower leg swing forwards and you are often told to “keep your legs back” in your lessons? If so. let’s have this quick chat!

Stirrup bar placement determines the position of the stirrup leather and the stirrup and as a result, the placement of your leg…

Any knowledgeable horse owner who has ever tried to find a well fitting saddle for their horse will know that coming across one that sits perfectly on horse’s back, allows the horse to move freely and doesn’t ruin the bank account is not an easy task.
Equally challenging is finding the saddle that fits the horse as well as the rider. Today, I would like to draw your attention to a small element in saddle structure that can seriously influence your balance and that’s a stirrup bar placement.

The placement of the bar determines the position of the stirrup leather and the stirrup itself. If we are to sit comfortably with that hip/heel alignment giving us a feel of control over our own balance, we need the stirrup to hang underneath the deepest part of the saddle where centre of our seat is supposed to be.

Many riders sit well without stirrups but the moment they re-take them, their seat loses its centred quality and they tend to struggle with positioning of the thigh and lower leg so that they support their own weight rather than sitting as if in a chair.

The placement of the bar and individual built of the rider (length of thigh and lower leg) has a big impact here and so I have listed a few interesting resources below that are well worth a read:

1. Leg Length – How it influences your Position!

2. Male and Female rider vs stirrup bar position

3.Stirrup Bar Position – “Why do some saddles put you in a chair position”

What’s your saddle like? Does it help or hinder your position and effectiveness?

#NoStirrupsNovember with a difference!

No stirrups exercise

Just a little video exercise for you today! It helps with mechanics of rising trot, with rider’s balance, stability, core strength, symmetry, independence of stirrups in case of loss of balance/loss of stirrups to name a few benefits.

If done correctly, the rider should not grip with the thighs. Thigh muscles remain snug against the saddle but don’t exert inward pressure. It’s the outer thigh muscles that are the dominant stabilising muscles.

It can be done on a quiet, well balanced horse on the lunge but I really like doing it on a simulator because rider’s struggles have no adverse effect on the horse 🙂

How to do it: 

1. Start in sitting trot without stirrups. Make sure you sit in neutral pelvis position with your spine just naturally elongated and core muscles engaged appropriately to your horse’s trot movement (flat moving, smooth trotting horse doesn’t require much effort from core muscles of the rider but big moving, happily swinging horse will give a rider a run for their core if they are to look as if they are doing nothing)

2. Starting from your knee, move your lower leg too far back from it’s normal position. Feel as if you were kneeling on the imaginary stool, one under each knee (your seat weight should feel nicely distributed into left and right thigh i.e. evenly onto horse’s ribcage)

3. Start rising 🙂 It will feel very alien at first but try to simply use the bounce of the trot, the leverage of your thighs and up-forward movement of your hips to maintain the rise.

Emma rides on Aspire’s Development Programme and makes this exercise look easier than it is for a beginner or novice rider but rest assured, it can be done by all levels of riders with great results 🙂

Happy practice!

The language of aids – are we making things unnecessarily difficult?

Just a quick-ish post today on something that I’ve been pondering on for the last few years when analysing different teaching methods and tweaking my own.


I am going to hazard a statement that the only truly difficult and time consuming skill of all the riding skills is the development of a functional and horse friendly seat. Once the rider sits well (not just visually well – although let’s not discount that – but functionally well), the rest is down to hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks and years upon years of patient and well directed practice of imagination, understanding of horse’s locomotion, common sense and body awareness in motion.

My image of technically good seat is like a well put together watch where all the turbines and screws do their work as if by magic. From my experience and observations riders become frustrated most often by an inability to perform certain movements well or get certain amount of effort out from the horse. It’s not so much that they don’t know what to do…sometimes they even know vast amount of theory on exactly how to do what they want doing.

To make things picture rich, let’s assume a horse has that “seat” to master too…the horse’s seat (way of carrying oneself, way of shifting weight from side to side and from front to back) also develops over time and is most difficult skill for him. Not the moving away from the leg, not halting square, not stepping under upon leg cue. It’s the “seat” – the basic ability to remain in own balance with rider’s weight on board in all gaits, all turns, all circles – that’s potentially most difficult skill.


The issue arises when the rider (or horse) attempts something they have no turbines and screws for in the first place – in own seat and also in horse’s “seat”…Putting together the latter takes time and in horse riding language that equals hours in different saddles, on different backs, on differently pushing hindlegs. Similarly, the horse develops his posture through being ridden by rider with a better and better seat, the weight he carries becomes his best and intricate balance indicator rather than a burden. Eventually, the horse can potentially achieve better precision, rhythm, cadence, quality of steps with the rider than without one…

You know the old dealer trick that rider can make any horse look lame (er) or sound (er)? If we agree that skilled riding was about precise and effective weight shift, the rider’s ability to create (or damage) certain movement pattern shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Language of aids

All that seat development is like nursery, pre-school and primary school put together. Rider and horse work on their “seat” in similar ways to us learning to write letters, then sentences. From time to time, there would be a child out there who writes beautiful poems, play extraordinary music, wins professional golf tournaments and maybe even writes stories at the age of 9. However, we wouldn’t change entire schooling system to match that benchmark…From time to time, there are riders and horses that seem to flow together without apparent effort, time investment and long practice. Should this mean that hundreds of other riders and horses ought to jump the 2-3 or so years of decent seat development?

As riders and instructors we can make things very difficult both for our horses and our pupils by asking them to speak a language they have no words for. We can also make things extremely frustrating for ourselves…

Seat differences

Sometimes I am asked what I think about that and this riders’ seat and although a beautifully sat rider with even body proportions might always look nicer on a horse than one with very short legs and long torso, it’s not that visual seat development that I am chatting about here.

bridle and gym ball

Some people have terrible hand writing yet write beautiful stories…Some have incredible calligraphy that never produces more than a pretty looking word…Good seat and language shows in the quality of work of the horse and in the harmony between horse and rider.

We might have different levels of that work and different levels of that harmony from a beginner to an advanced professional but when I start teaching someone I look at building those words first (seat skills) rather than ask for essays. This means I like to explore many avenues of skills acquisition and I might ask more experienced riders to do seemingly unrelated exercises but it’s really interesting to see the results of well thought out play 🙂

So, how’re your aids’ language skills? Do you know why some riding sessions are frustrating for you? 

All the best,



Mixing Disciplines to Improve as a Rider

Kate racing2

We often say that for a horse to be athletic, healthy and interested in his work he needs variety in his training. However, we don’t always apply this to ourselves as riders and tend to carry a label of a “dressage rider”, “jumper”, “eventer” (the latter having probably most varied training routines from all) and stick to certain schooling patterns.

I have experienced the benefits of cross training myself having tried different disciplines and riding styles so I am very keen on developing my courses in a way that allows for many different elements to be included. Ever since Pippa joined me to work with me I knew I wanted her to bring in her racing experiences and knowledge into our training mix. Race riding requires fitness, balance, stability and mobility all in one and when done within reason can have a fantastic results on riders who struggle with the above in their usual discipline or riding style.

mixing disciplines
Pippa demonstrates different variations of racing seat on a cantering simulator

In the same way in which we can’t improve a horse’s trot or canter by simply trotting or cantering more, in the same way many aspects of specific ability needs wide lenses and multidisciplinary approach when planning improvements. It makes learning fun, interesting and challenging – both for riders and for the instructors 🙂

What discipline do you focus on? Do you mix and match different ones to develop as an all round capable rider?

How to “Sit Deep In the Saddle” – Part 2: Weight Transfer and Body Integrity

Part 1 here: How to “Sit Deep In the Saddle” – Part 1: A simple, magic stretch


Let’s continue the chat about this elusive skill of “deep seat”…The fact how the same words can be understood completely differently by different people has always made me think about how best to describe the feels we are after when riding.

We’ve talked about the upper leg and pelvis position and their importance in synchronising oneself with the movement of the horse. Now, let’s look at the weight distribution and the ability to keep ones body “together” and how those two elements determine rider’s effectiveness and depth of the seat.


We are able to stand, sit, dance with certain ease thanks to intricate influence of gravity on our bodies. It’s a pretty useful force that we often forget to use when riding…

Our weight transfer downwards through our body as long as we let the gravity play the game with us. Our head as the heaviest part is crucial here and I have seen a horse visually changing the level of his uphill posture simply by the change of the position of the rider’s head. The weight distribution is powerful because it is a very natural and instinctive for any living creature to seek balance.

Now, over to the saddle. In my teaching and riding I follow the thought and feel of “dropping the weight of upper body into rider’s thighs” in a pretty similar way to that employed by a skier. The ability to drop the weight of upper body into ones thighs in riding position (i.e. ability to use gravity in the economical way) is one of the elements that transforms a wobbly rider into a stable one.

But that’s not all. The second element here is what you could call body integrity i.e. an ability to maintain whole body control whether in or out of balance…ability to keep all body parts together yet remain relatively relaxed.

One of the best exercises for awakening the feel of this is to me a good old “catch me when I fall” play 🙂


On the slow motion video above you can see 3 riders being pushed between two people. The task was to remain as easy to push as one managed and this was only possible when keeping entire body aligned, connected yet relaxed. You can see that the smallest rider (grey jumper) is actually the most difficult for the “pushers” to manage because of the lack of connection through her body.

The same lack of connection (or core strength as some might prefer to think about it) is also making it difficult for her to “catch” other 2 riders who do maintain good body integrity.

The interesting part here is that it is pretty impossible to keep your body “together” while collapsing in any body part or generally allowing some larger weakness on one side or the other. I like to think of the energy being bottled in, nothing is allowed to leak.


I would like to really encourage you to have a go at the pushing exercise with your friends at the yard/barn. Clock in that feeling you get as you receive the push but do not yield into it…just remain DEEPLY ROOTED RIGHT DOWN INTO YOUR FEET with your energy enclosed in your own personal capsule… Don’t “help” the pushers by trying to use your legs or arms, help them by remaining integral throughout. Experiment too – do help by pushing off the ground or collapse in your waist or yield into their hands as they push – ask your pushers when it is easier to maintain momentum and pushing rhythm…

Then when you ride try to notice how many times you try to help your horse by yielding into his issues (leaning forward when he goes on the forehand, losing upper body balance when he drops his shoulder, losing your pelvis alignment when your horse pulls on the reins…etc etc) and how many times you actually try to help him by remaining integral and relatively unchanged.

Feel how maintaining consistent, gravity driven weight transfer through your whole body right down into correctly functioning thighs requires that exact muscle/spine/joints integrity – once you get that feel you will also have felt the “deep seat” 🙂 At first it might be for one stride, then for two, three, five…

That’s when you need a level of flexible strength – to remain in your spot when the horse “pushes you about” until your stability/deep seat gives him purpose and rhythm.

But about that, next time 🙂

As always, do let me know if you try these exercises, I would love to hear from you!

All the best,