Do you often hear the term ‘electric backside’ being used to describe you when you ride? Perhaps you have found that usually docile and ‘laid back’ horses become a little more, well, lively when you are in their saddle? Have you ever considered that perhaps you don’t realise just how much you are communicating to your horse through your seat…
When I first heard the term electric backside I had visions of lightning bolts shooting out of a riders backside, through the saddle and straight into the horse! Now as strange as this sounds, the reality of having an ‘overactive seat’ has a very similar effect on how your horse behaves while being ridden.
When we learn to ride, we very quickly begin to notice that how we sit and move influences the horse and how he goes. This awareness is one of the most important parts of developing ‘feel’ and becoming a good rider. however merely knowing this is not enough. Controlling this important aid in the saddle is, for most riders, a little more difficult to master.
Being able to influence your horse using your seat is one thing, but knowing how to shift between ‘stop, go and neutral’ and all the important subtleties in between, is quite another.
For many riders this is where the problems begin to arise. Riders discover that they are ‘over sharing’ when it comes to communicating with their seat aids. The result is often that the rider is driving with their seat all the time.
Before we go any further, it is important to recognise that there are certain situations and scenarios where, yes indeed, you will have to drive your horse forward with your seat.However we are speaking here about riders who have incorporated the habit of scrubbing with their seat, like they are trying to polish the saddle or rub a hole in their horses back with their backside, as the status quo. It becomes their modus operandi or ‘go to’ method for riding their horse.
This can result in a few things happening. Usually their horse becomes increasingly hot and lively, or their horse begins to ignore their aids completely.
After all it’s not much fun being shouted at all the time, and constant driving with your seat is the equivalent of roaring at your horse – the whole ride!
Think of your seat as being similar to the gears of a car. You can transition up and down gears, however there is also the all important neutral. And to begin really seeing results in riding you need to be able to do all three of the above.
Knowing how to disengage your seat or, in the case of the car gears, find neutral is vitally important to becoming more quiet and subtle in how you communicate with your horse.
In my experience, the canter is very often the easiest place to being noticing if you are indeed being a little over enthusiastic with your seat when in the saddle. When you are really driving your horse with your seat in the canter, the horse may begin to hollow his back out from underneath you. This can often be felt rather than seen when in the saddle. However, unfortunately the tendency is there to only focus on what you see in front of you – your horse bracing against your hand. But if this is looked at from the ground, it quickly becomes very obvious that the horse is bracing his whole body away from the rider.
Constant driving with the seat leads to an often epic battle between horse and rider. Your horse does not have to be galloping or even cantering for this to happen. It occurs in all gaits, however (as mentioned above) it is usually easiest to spot in the canter. The overuse of the seat, hips and pelvis in the canter often causes the riders shoulders to begin to ‘swing’ in the canter as well.
Another way this can show up is when the horse begins to hollow out from underneath the rider through the actual trot to canter transition itself. We often hear about ‘scooping’ the horse into canter using the inside seat bone. If you are prone to being a little heavy-handed with your seat to begin with, that same ‘scooping’ can quickly become uncomfortable for you horse. The result is often that the horse will strike on the incorrect lead.
However, perhaps the most obvious, is the horse who starts out quite relaxed in the canter, however due to the riders continuous driving, soon becomes tense and rushed. What began as a good quality canter rather quickly turns into something resembling the final furlong at Aintree!
Now, we know that we cannot effectively communicate and ride our horses if we just sit in the saddle completely stationary. We realise that we have to move with our horse when in the saddle.
But moving with the energy and driving the energy are two very different things.
When we learn to canter, we are often told that we must ‘roll’ our hips with the motion of the horse. When I am explaining this in the arena I will often use my wrist and hand to demonstrate the movement. The normal canter will be, from the elbow, my lower arm horizontal to the ground moving up and back, followed by forward and down in an almost circular rotation. As my arm completes the ‘down and forward’ part of the circle, my wrist will flex slightly down, causing the back of my hand to become a little more upright. Then as my arm begins to lift up, in order to come back closer to my body, my wrist will flex up, allowing my hand to become more horizontal again.
When a person drives with their seat, the circuit is the same, however as my arm is moving forward and down, the heel of my hand is pushing forward as well. This causes the back of my hand to strain at an almost 90 angle to my wrist. Then as my arm raises up to come back, the action is no longer fluid as my wrist relaxes again.
I mentioned earlier how an overactive seat is a little like shouting at your horse all the time. Good riding is an holistic practice; all aids are involved when communicating with your horse. In order for your horse to hear and understand all the different aids, they must be subtle.
So what can you do if you in fact have lightning bolts shooting from your backside when you are in the saddle. Well the first thing is you need to start learning to follow. Now you are probably saying, “Yes, I do follow – I just follow awfully well!”
If this is the case I would hazard a guess that you are doing less following and more leading. I suggest going back a few steps initially with your riding and focus on allowing your horse to move. Let any movement happening in your seat to be guided by your horse.
Start with walk initially and think about doing as little as possible, while still allowing everything to happen underneath you. This is neutral. When you can find neutral and begin getting used to how this feels, you can then begin working on shifting to first gear and so on.
It is important to keep in mind that neutral and ‘heavy’ are two very different things. Heavy does not ‘allow’, it rather blocks the flow of energy underneath you. Neutral is being carried along, understanding that you still have the responsibility of carrying your own body.
Unfortunately a lot of riders, once they commit to becoming more ‘quiet’ with their seat, begin slouching through their upper body. Doing this will definitely cause less movement with your seat, but it will also make things uncomfortable for your horse and cause you to become even less effective in the saddle!
Rather think of elongating or lifting your upper body off of your hips. This does not mean that you ride with your shoulders around your ears, but rather carrying your ribcage, so to lengthen the space between it and your pelvis. Doing this will result in your hips and seat being able to move with your horse, in neutral. From neutral, you can begin experimenting with how you can use your seat to encourage your horse to move forwards.
From here, you can begin to work on this ‘allowing’ in both trot and canter. Keep in mind that doing nothing is one of the most difficult things to do on a horse, but in order to break that ‘driving’ habit, it is often the very thing you need to learn!
Your seat is possibly the most important and effective tool you have when riding your horse, however cultivating that all important ‘feel‘ will take time. Learning the difference between enough and too much is important – and very often you have to go right back to basics in order to do so.
If you are interested in taming your seat in the saddle, there are a few resources I have that may help you. Firstly, you can join the FREE 30 Day Rider Fitness Challenge. Over the course of the 30 days, you will strengthen your core, which will allow you better control over your body in the saddle.
You can also join Daily Strides Premium, where you will find a whole ‘collection’ of audio horse riding lessons on the seat aids, as well as lots of other collections to help you with your riding. All the lessons are available for you immediately when you join, and it’s as simple as downloading them to your phone, popping your phone in your pocket and off you go! A riding instructor with you in the arena. You can find out more when you visit www.StridesforSuccess.com/join/
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