[Reprinted from Caution: Horses (Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 1998)]
Over a decade ago I represented a client who happened to be a world champion junior bull rider. I had several occasions to watch him ride horses and although I was not impressed with his philosophy of riding or his methods, I had to admit that he sat a horse better than I or any of my friends did, He rode with the deepest, most relaxed seat that I had ever seen. His legs were never out of position and no matter what the horse did, he just followed with his seat as if he were on the nicest pleasure horse or perfect ladies hunter. How was he able to do this? We all had dedicated our lives to learning to do what he took for granted.
I began to think and I began to go to rodeos and watch carefully. I had two I questions: first what had to happen for a person to fall off, and second, how does one avoid failing off. What follows here is a brief explanation to what I discovered.
In order for the rider to have the best chance of staying on and to always be in a position to communicate clearly with the horse the following must always be detectable:
The feet must always be as close to the ground as possible; the spine must always be relaxed: and the weight must be evenly distributed on both seat bones or in both heels for jumping. (There are times that weight will change to communicate something to the horse.) The weight of the rider must cause the seat to easily follow the horse without any stiffness appearing in the rider's spine. In order for the feet to remain as close as possible to the ground, the legs must fall directly under the mass of the rider's weight. For a seated rider this results in the body alignment seen in all the books: The ear, shoulder, point of the hip, and the back of the heel must be in a line vertical to the horizon.
In order to accomplish this I discovered that there are certain skills that are indicators of a exceptionally deep and relaxed seat. These skills will only lead to the "Secure Seat"(sm) if they are learned in one order. If they are out of order, the rider will be loose and will never attain the tight, deep seat desired. This is what is happening when riders "plateau" and do not seem to progress for a while. There is a problem in the progression of skills. In fact, the rider will be completely unable to gain the skills if the underlying ones are absent or have been inadequately learned. What makes the "Secure Seat"(sm) System especially useful is that if one goes slowly, it is possible to learn this on one's own in your own back yard. An instructor is always better, but we do not all always have that advantage.
It is also necessary for the rider to ride with the reins in two hands, but most modern western trainers ride two-handed at home anyway.
The skills are as follows:
1. Correct alignment - if this is lost at any time, it must be regained or the
rider will not go any further:
2. Lower center of gravity to drop the weight as low as possible.
3. Unlock the lower back to give flexibility to the spine and softness to the seat.
4. Leg must learn to protect upper body position, not the reverse; the rider must learn to move the upper body over a correctly placed leg and not use leg movement to compensate for an out of positions body. THIS IS HOW MOST FALLS OCCUR.
5. Moving with the horse at the trot.
a. posting trot.
b. 2-point position
c. lateral motion of the trot carried to sitting trot
6. Stabilize lower leg
If each of these skills is learned to the point that is becomes a natural, and confirmed part of the rider's position on a horse, the rider will not only have a "Secure Seat"(sm), but will also have an elegant seat that is correct in any discipline. The basic position will be there so that the trainer or instructor will not have to make the rider re-learn everything as, unfortunately, usually happens. Each of these skills can be self-taught by using a series of exercises designed for that purpose.
It has always sounded funny. Everyone always thinks it is a joke, but all you have to do to avoid falling off is to keep one leg on each side of the horse. Learning these skills in this order will help one do just that.
What "Secure Seat" can do for you. JP Paddock's story of his daughter.
Well known bullrider James "JP" Paddock told the following story at all four workshops on the Navajo Nation:
JP and his youngest daughter were out riding one day. It was the little girl's first day on a big horse instead of the pony she had been riding. The horse walked down a dry arroyo, but cantered suddenly up the other side. The little girl lost her reins and her upper body at one time was almost flat over the rump of her horse, but "her legs never moved and she was stuck like glue until I could reach her reins," says JP. "If this had happened six months earlier, before she had done the exercises she would have fallen off for sure," And, yes, she was wearing a helmet.
Next issue: How to learn the skills.
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