Tag Archives: rider’s seat

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

SONY DSC

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

piriformisIf 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.

SONY DSC

  • 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,

Wiola

A Peak Into 11 Weeks of One Rider’s Adventures on Aspire START Programme

I am preparing a short video spanning 12 weeks of one rider’s training on Aspire’s START Programme and I thought I would give you all a little preview 🙂

This rider purchased the 3 months of training which is the time frame of the START Programme if the rider wants to cover all planned lessons and elements of training. Her last lesson of the course will be on the 16th of February after which she will officially progress onto Foundation Programme. I will put a video together some time after her last START training session.

Hope you enjoy the photo snippets 🙂

the road sneaky peak

About Stability (Core, Pelvis and Thighs Connection) in The Rider and Why To Work On It

How do I get my horse to move “more forward”, how do I get him to have “better impulsion”, how do I keep my lower legs from swinging forwards/backwards, how do I stop my horse from “falling in or out” through the shoulders and have a better balance – all these questions are some of the most commonly asked ones among many riders and so today I would like to chat about an important element riders might need to work on before being able to solve those issues. 

STABILITY – THE MAGIC OF EFFECTIVENESS. How to Improve It…

Our stability in the saddle or in other words being independent of horse’s actions yet harmonious with them, is probably a single most difficult and most important skill to acquire for anyone who wishes to school/train horses. It also determines how effective you will be on a horse that is already well schooled.

up and down 2a
Sometimes up…Sometimes down…The balance of the horse changes from stride to stride and even within the stride…as a rider, to be effective, we need to remain constant and not “allow” the horse to adversely affect our own balance. If we do become overly affected, we lose our ability to improve the horse’s balance. Photos from my own training. Portugal. September 2012.

When in the summer of 2011 I tried to ride a series of 7 one tempi changes across the long diagonal of the arena for the first time, I felt like I was competing for an Olympic Diving medal. My usually ok stability of the seat proved useless as the physics put the horse more and more downhill with each change, our line reminiscent of slalom giant and the reins going form lightly connected in canter to having stupid amount of weight attached to each. It took me several goes on that day to even complete the task in semi-acceptable manner without hitting the ground with our noses but as soon as I was off the horse I knew I needed to up the strength in my seat if I was to help the horse.

Several weeks of everyday focus on my stability on and off the horse helped me improve both my own and horse’s balance and we could do the changes with the mare staying lighter on the bit, happier and more relaxed. She was a schoolmistress and knew the job, it was up to me to work on myself so she could do the movements better. If I was to teach her those lines of changes, I would have to work much harder on my own skill at the time.

I tend to think that without stability, there is no true relaxation (try standing on a tennis ball on one foot with the other in the air…with practice you can relax the “redundant muscles” and only use the ones you really need to maintain your balance on the ball but at first you will very likely be employing way too much tension and effort. Once you can relax some muscles and only work the ones you need, your balance will feel much more effortless) .

Without relaxation there is no greater balance. Coming from this belief it is no wonder I put a lot of emphasis on seat training in all the riders who come to me wanting to improve their effectiveness.

How stable is stable enough?

You might ask, why do I need this hard earned, fantastic stability if I am not interested in ever riding movements that require high degree of coordination and balance from the horse? You will be right, you don’t need such a degree of it at all. If all you want is a healthy balanced horse doing low level dressage or jumping or hacking, you simply need to acquire enough stability to match requirements and needs of your horse.

Start and Foundation Level

For riders on my Start and Foundation level programmes (beginner to intermediate riders who work primarily on own skills rather than those who learn to school a horse) I focus on developing a thorough basic stability.

I do this by working on:

1) Core muscles: major and minor deep muscles of the torso and pelvis. There is so much about it all over the internet I won’t go into it now (but if you want me to do a post specifically on how I work on rider’s core muscles please let me know and I am happy to do so 🙂

2) Identifying and using rider’s thigh muscles correctly in order to:

a) be able to start using the thigh position and inner strength for maintaining own balance

b) teach the rider the meaning of the “seat” (core + pelvis + thighs)

Here’s my teaching routine: 

First of all I ask the rider to sit as relaxed as possible with their legs loosely dropped from their hips. This allows me to asses the natural tendencies in the rider’s body like perching forwards, leaning back, collapsing one way or the other, gripping etc It also gives me a chance to relate the rider’s built (like the length of the thighs, the proportions of their bodies: upper body to lower body etc) to the horse’s conformation, the saddle, the position of stirrup bars etc All those details will influence the rider’s position and later the way they influence the horse.

Once I have an idea about the above I ask them to find neutral pelvic position. I don’t think there is a text book image of this as everybody is different so the rider has to find its own neutral spinal alignment. I use posterior and anterior pelvic tilt to give the rider an idea about the two extremes, then help them find the one in between.

I then ask the rider to sit with what they perceive as a relaxed but toned upper body posture (when possible we practice this off-horse before moving on to the saddle), elongate their spine and maintain slight abdominal muscles engagement.

Then we move onto identifying different muscles around pelvis and thighs….

finding the muscles that stabilise1
On photos above you can see me helping the rider isolate different muscles so they can stabilise the leg (in this rider’s case, she needs to find the muscles that will stop her going into “chair seat”).

On photos above from left to right: I put my hand behind rider’s calf asking her to push against it as if she wanted to move my hand backwards. Then I draw her focus to the feel she gets when she pushes my hand back and how it engages her thigh muscles. I then place my hand in front of her toes and ask her to push against my palm again. These muscles are often much stronger than the latter. Finally, I place my forearm against her lower leg lightly and ask her to push against it with her lower leg outwards as if she wanted to take her whole thigh away from the saddle. This gives her feel for yet another set of muscles..

The muscles that I really want the riders to find are those that will almost instantly give them control over thigh position...Here is how I do so in the saddle: I ask the rider to palpate their hip bone and then slide their fingers to the side of it where they can feel a little dip/shallow shape. They are to keep a couple of fingers there. I then press my hand against their lower leg (as on the big photo on the collage above – excuse the quality, it’s taken from a video) and ask them to rotate their thigh bone inwards just a fraction and push against my hand outwards with the whole leg starting at the hip. This action moves whole thigh away from the saddle for a moment. Then I help the rider to achieve the same while keeping their legs gently touching the horse’s sides.

Sometimes it takes a few goes to do it right but when done correctly the rider can feel a tiny muscle belly popping up underneath their fingers. Once they can feel it, there starts the game of using those newly find muscles in motion 🙂 This little change brings huge results when it comes to rider effectiveness…

[I was taught this method by a Centred Riding instructor in 2003 and in 10 years I have been teaching this I am yet to meet a rider who, when corrected this way, did not improve their seat effectiveness and posture dramatically]. 

From my observations of riders learning to develop their seat as well as from analysing my own riding, no matter how strong the core muscles are, if we don’t use our thighs correctly (both in terms of position and muscle use) and then connect both the core, pelvis position and thigh use, we are going to struggle with seat effectiveness and stability.

Development and Performance level

For riders who school own horses or those who want to test themselves more, I work on dynamic stability more extensively including regular off-horse exercise routines. Even when done once a month by fairly leisure riders, they do bring very visible results!

stability1annette
Movement of the horse always unbalances the rider. It is up to us to what degree we will become unbalanced. Jumping, especially at speed (like XC), requires the rider to work on coordination, reaction time, independence of horse’s mistakes (a trip, left leg etc), confidence in own balance. All of these can be worked on off-horse to speed up the learning process…

My off horse workshops on very simple rider bio-mechanics games are designed to awaken rider’s balance skills. Apparently, and I quote a professional physiotherapist here, balance skills are one of those every single one of us can improve. Some of us have it naturally better developed, some less but they are not static in their status!

Below is an older video I took of two riders on Aspire Development Programme during their pre-XC work out on balance and stability. How we position each part of our bodies matters. The riders are playing and experimenting with different angles of their upper bodies and learning to remain in a “kneeling down” or “skiing” position at all times in order to maintain their independence of horse’s problems as well as to absorb the horse’s movement to the best of their abilities.

As you can see, it’s not easy 🙂

More experienced riders will appreciate how connecting their core use to pelvis stability to thigh use expands their feel and control of horse’s movement. How it helps improve throughness in the horse, this elusive big goal many dressage riders strive for.

One rider after she first tried it described it to me as a “feeling of all the insides of the horse” 😉 To me it feels like I could pick a horse up or place it left or right by their ribcage and guide them wherever I need them to be. It’s the feeling of control over impulsion in the horse, over own body parts, over contact…It’s the most incredible feeling as it allows you to be light yet shape the balance of the horse. It comes and goes and it doesn’t appear from nowhere. It takes a lot of work. Independent, supple and stable seat used with empathy is to me what makes a good rider.

How do you work on stability of your seat, core and thigh use? Do you? Do you think it matters? 

Until next time 🙂

Wiola

2014 Aspire Coaching Services HERE

Sitting Trot Case Study (plus a Blogger Weekend Challenge!)

Sitting trot. How do you fare in it? One of the issues we are filming for Aspire Equestrian Video Library is a process of improving a rider with good lateral stability (left to right) but comparatively weak front to back stability resulting in, what in layman terms we could call a “wavy upper body”.

The rider in our Case Study below mainly jumps and rides with short stirrups in a forward cut saddle. In the video below, as an experiment for the footage, I lengthened her stirrups 3 holes from her usual leather length. I also applied slow motion effect so those of you who are just learning to analyse own videos can spot the problem – it’s not always easy to “see” what’s happening so it’s important to train your eye (especially if you are an instructor-to-be).

 

For this rider, the issue with stabilising own upper body in the right position in motion (that is, one which effectively helps the horse with his balance) comes with several unwanted by products, some examples include:

Continue reading Sitting Trot Case Study (plus a Blogger Weekend Challenge!)

“SITTING PRETTY” – is that really the point? Pondering on body position vs body use

A few days ago I received an email enquiry from a rider interested in my lessons. I read with interest about issues the rider has with her horse and then I arrived at the sentence concluding the enquiry. The person writing had heard I work a lot on the rider, their position and way of riding and wanted to make sure this wouldn’t be the case with her as she wanted to work mainly on the horse.

Pauline3
Photo taken during Aspire Coaching weekend at Cullinghood EC

This email made me think of other riders who perhaps think the same so I would like to clarify a few things. Although I do put a lot of emphasis on rider’s seat it is not at all to achieve a pretty picture. In fact, my increasing interest in posture and seat of the rider has very little to do with visual outcome. My greatest fascination with rider’s biomechanics is due to an incredible effect a correct body use can (and does) have on communication with any horse.

Continue reading “SITTING PRETTY” – is that really the point? Pondering on body position vs body use