Dressage Tips: How to Use Your Seat
In dressage, the seat is a very important aid. Learning to use your seat correctly and create an independent seat will open a whole new door to your riding. If you think of western riders particularly reiners, they do these amazing sliding stops right under their hind end. You don’t see them pulling on the reins, but rather ‘giving’ the reins into the stop. All too often especially with newer dressage rider they tend to ‘perch’ in the saddle much like a jumper rider. Dressage is about submission. How much the horse is engaged and through over its back is related to your seat and how you use it.
We want the horse to engage their hind ends. First of all we need to make sure we are sitting in the right place in order to achieve this engagement. If you are too far forward, or too far back, you are not balancing the horse in the way we needs to in order for him to be able to engage himself. Your seat allows you to ride his hind legs under and then balance him in that position. A good way to start to learn about this is to start in rising trot. This way if you are not too secure in your seat you can still get a feel of what it should feel like. So say you are going large around the arena, come out of the corner in a forward or lengthened trot. In the middle at either E or B try stopping your posting almost in mid air. Tighten your core and feel like you have frozen in time. Feel how the horse responds to your lack of forward motion. You don’t have to do too much with your hands. Just think stop posting, and go really slow. Feel your muscles in your core tighten as you do this. That could be the beginnings of a half halt.
Learning the half halt is one of the biggest mysteries in dressage. There are a million ways it is taught and a million ways it’s executed. I think of it as using my seat to push the horse’s hind quarters under my seat while gently restricting them in front with my reins. I push my seat to my hands, tightening my stomach muscles against the movement of my horse, not my hands. This should happen in one stride and if it doesn’t come through that is ok. Repeat. As soon as you feel the horse come back underneath you, release. Timing is important here as is correctly using your seat and making sure that is it not all coming from your hand and reins.
This is a classic example of how important it is to use your seat. This is what is going to separate the ok riders from the great ones. It will help you gain control, execute perfect transitions, set you up for lateral work, flying changes, pirouettes.
I try to get the feeling like I am climbing up a mountain. My horse is up and in front of me, his shoulders are up, his hind end in engaged and he is light in the front and in my hands. Have you ever driven up a steep hill in a car? It feels a little bit like that. You are still sitting up in your seat, you are not leaning forward to help the car up, you just sit back and enjoy the ride.
It really helps to get lots of lessons with a good instructor who helps you and encourages you to sit correctly in the saddle. Rent videos of WEG, or the Olympics and watch how the top riders sit and then get a friend to video you and see how you look in the saddle. Try to mimic what they do. It may feel funny at first, or when you sit in the right spot you’ll probably notice how your horse suddenly starts to move freely under as you are riding him forward off your seat and not down into the ground. Most importantly Keep at it and practice a lot because it can take years to develop a good seat.