University of Vermont AAHS

The Goal - Part III

by Jan Dawson
AAHS President

[reproduced from Caution: Horses, Vol. 3, No. 4, Winter 1998]

In the last Issue of Caution Horses we explained the first five skills involved in developing a Secure Seat (sm).   Now we will finish it.

Correct riding is safe riding.  If we pay attention to the rule books for the various associations we see that each suggests “the seat” as it is to be judged at the various shows.  The seats described are essentially the same and they are not the equitation whim of a few show ring zealots.  The body alignment is the ear, shoulder, point of hip, back of heel in each one.  This is the classical “balanced seat.”  This is the only way to sit on a horse and be in perfect balance so that the position is maintained by balance and the legs and hands are free to communicate with the horse - or to fight off the hundred guys in hot pursuit with sabers drawn as in times past.

The balanced seat not only allows the rider total communication with the horse but it also allows the rider to make the horse comfortable, and a comfortable horse never hurts anybody. This is true because we communicate with the horse by means of slight interferences with his balance.  In the optimum situation, in a properly functioning horse-rider partnership, we change our balance slightly and the horse re-positions himself in response.

Yes, it is possible to teach nearly anyone to ride with a soft natural seat.  It is also possible to teach nearly anybody to teach the soft balanced seat. It can and should  be taught to beginners from the very beginning. It can be as easily taught to experienced riders.  It is our belief that in order to achieve the most subtle communication with a horse one must first be able to sit without interfering with the horse.

The Secure Seat(sm) method of teaching will not only result in a soft balanced seat but also in the seat least likely to be lost due to the sudden movement of the horse, hence the name “Secure Seat”(sm).  The most efficient seat from which to communicate with the horse becomes the safest because it is the seat least likely to allow the rider to fall.

Secure Seat(sm) is not a seat in itself or a way to ride.  It is a way to teach or learn a soft balanced seat that is effective and comfortable for the horse.  It eliminates the guess work  on the part of instructors and allows the student who has learned a balanced seat this way to go back through the exercises and skills he has learned and tune himself back up on his own.  With this base the student can be trainer-independent for most of the basic things and the instructor can concentrate on teaching riding rather that having the lessons often marred due to position faults.

With the first five skills well in place, the most important being the alignment, the rider can move with the horse at the trot while in a fairly vertical light seat or galloping position.  He can post at the trot.  He can also take the lateral movement of the horse at the trot and sit the trot while allowing the movement of the horse to move up through his body.  He may have already developed the ability to keep the movement of the horse in his pelvic girdle while leaving his shoulders still.  The important thing is that the rider does not shut the movement of the horse down when he sits by either locking his lower back completely or mistakenly translating the movement of the trot as an up-and-down rather than a side-to-side movement.  This, along with the loss of alignment, are the most common teaching faults that we see across the country.  They are serious faults and one only has to watch a horse at the trot when the rider does not move with him correctly and then begins to move with him to see the effect.  The difference is often amazing.

You can test this yourself just by standing and letting the horse rock you from side to side then stop the rocking. (Hint:  Some horses have been locked for so long that the rider will have to begin the rocking by stepping into one stirrup and then the other with the motion of the horse.  The difference here will be great.)

The last step is to put all three positions together and rotate them with each seven steps of the horse:

Seven steps rising trot, seven steps two-point (as vertical as possible), and seven steps sitting.  This is done over and over, without regard for diagonals,  until the exercise can be performed indefinitely and through the school figures as well.  By that time the rider and the instructor will know when the legs are out of position and in which direction.  All unnecessary upper body movement will be gone and the horse will be moving freely.  At this point the rider will be unsatisfied with any other position as other positions will cause the rider to feel out of balance.

Also at this point, the instructor knows that the student is ready for a cavaletti, the trail, and cantering.  If any of the preceding is done before the 777 exercise can be performed the instructor should know that he is putting the student at risk as the position is not stable enough.  The legs are not stable and the upper-body is not quiet.  To proceed anyway saying that that is just a stage that beginners must go through is to admit to teaching by guesswork.  If this is not accepted the beginner will have to do what most do, which is learn the wrong way over and over and then correct it.

It is easier to learn it right the first time.  It is faster and the instructor will find that it is more profitable for her as the rider will arrive at the point where he should have his own horse must faster.  Furthermore, if anything were to go wrong when the instructor had ignored these steps the rider would likely fall and the fall is foreseeable (the lawyer’s magic word). If the fall is foreseeable we must take steps to prevent it.  Not easy when one is sending a beginner over cavaletti before the rider’s leg is stable, let alone jumping.

The Secure Seat(sm) method is so easy and reliable that it has been used successfully for several years at many children’s summer camps where the teaching situation is not always the best.  Camps participating in the testing are reporting that the kids are learning to ride correctly and are advancing in much the same way as kids taking lessons at  better riding schools.  If  it works at camp, it will work anywhere.

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