Yesterday I re-discovered my riding seat!
Yesterday I re-discovered my riding seat! I haven’t suddenly, or miraculously developed the perfect riding seat – indeed, there’s still a lot of practice I need to do first in order to refine my seat (it would seem that habits may take a long time to develop but they take an even longer time to break!) That said, following my private mentoring session at Student of the Horse yesterday, I was introduced to the notion that the primary aid of the seat (and all other aids for that matter) can be just as effective when they are not being applied, as when they are – and thus I found true softness in my own seat.
For a couple of weeks now I’ve been working on forward down with Harper. Encouraging a dorsal stretch, and elongation of her spine from poll to tail, whilst also nurturing the idea of lateral flexion and staying soft in her way of going. Being part Iberian though, she doesn’t naturally find forward down easy, and this genetic obstacle coupled with her slightly anxious tendencies means that this is an exercise that we’ve been really struggling with recently – hence my enthusiasm to work on our forward down during the private mentoring session.
However, Harper had other ideas! Strong wintery winds and a bout of separation anxiety meant that she was in no mood to concentrate on being relaxed and soft. During the in hand session, she only seemed to really engage with the forward down exercise when she was in close proximity to me (or I to her), and it seemed as though she was glued to my hand. So my first lesson was to un-glue her from my arm and get her walking forward down on her own without me as a prop. We were still able to remain connected, but through our primary aids rather than with the reins. At the halt we practiced forward down using body language, and at the walk we started to find the beginnings of self-carriage – or more accurately the type of self-carriage where she can walk forwards without becoming out of balance or using her human as a prop!
However, it was in the riding session that I really felt my academic understanding of riding really expand. The idea was to progress the forward down into ridden work, however it was soon noted that I could not stop without the use of the reins. I understood that my seat was my primary aid responsible for change of gait or change of pace in the gait, and so I put our inability to stop down to Harper not listening to my seat due to whatever reason I could find – the wind in this case. But, and this is where the true revelation occurred, I was never taking the aid of my seat off – or in other words, it was always ‘on’. And because of this, Harper couldn’t tell the difference between on and off. Hence the trouble we have to come forward into a halt from the seat.
I had to really listen to my own body. Relax my seat. Not do anything until I had to. And this is something that I usually find difficult – not doing anything. But through really making sure that I maintained the nothingness when she was walking forwards nicely, a relaxed yet strong core, I was then able to apply my seat to come down into a soft halt, or up into trot. A tiny change to make to my way of being, but with huge implications for our ridden work.
Over the course of just one session, I have become far more aware of my own seat, its influence on Harper’s way of going and as a primary aid to communicate to her. I still need to develop my seat, and encourage myself to break from my old habits, but I am so much more aware now of what it should feel like. It’s like I’ve just found the translation book for riding with your seat, now I just need to learn the language!