Riding

Five Exercises to Improve Your Riding Seat and Leg Position

Develop a balanced seat for horseback riding with these tips from the AQHA international horsemanship camp in Sweden.

The first day of AQHA international horsemanship camps usually consists of observing the riders and evaluating what they need to work on. A step the clinicians usually start with is working on the riders' seat and leg. As most of us have experienced, this is something we can never get too good at! This is a key component to building a strong foundation and applies to all riding disciplines.

Listed below are a few simple steps the international participants went through to strengthen their seat and leg.

Starting at the walk, participants walk in a circle around the clinicians. Something to remember when doing this is to not pull on your horse's face to balance yourself. When going up and down, it is important to keep your hands in the correct position and not worry about the horse's face. Working on the horse's flexion and body position can come at a later time when you are not working specifically on your body.

1. The first step in the series is to rise up in the two-point position. The phrase "two-point" comes from the two points of contact the rider should have when in this position. A two-point contact lifts the rider's weight off the horse's back and puts it down into the rider's heel and stirrups. The body, by leaning slightly forward, somewhat lightens the weight on the horse's back and allows the balance point to shift toward the forehand. At this moment, the two nominal points of contact between horse and rider are the rider's legs. Riders should not be standing up in their stirrups or using their stirrups to balance off of. This is simply rising out of the saddle while tipping the pelvis forward and using your leg strength to keep yourself up in this position. This helps riders find their balance and stay in the middle of their horse. Use this exercise to drive down through your leg and into your heel. Keep in mind, this does not mean to shove your hands forward with no contact with your horse. This is quite the opposite. Riders should shorten their reins to maintain the same contact they had while sitting in the normal position.

2. The next step is standing straight up in the saddle to drive your heel down. This exercise strengthens your thighs and improves balance. The ideal line you should be striving for is a straight line from your shoulder to your hip to your heel (demonstrated in the picture). This is important to maintain anytime you are riding, because it allows you to maintain a consistency in how you ask your horse to perform. Also, it is imperative for horsemanship and equitation riders to keep this position, as these are classes judged on the rider's form and ability to perform.

3. The next exercise requires riders to drop their stirrups. This allows rider to freely feel what their leg is doing without the aid of the stirrup. Clinicians first ask the riders to point their toes down. This may seem contradictory at first, but there is a method to their madness! Stretching the toe down helps strengthen and utilize tendons and ligaments in the front and back of the foot.

4. After feeling your legs with your toes pointing down, riders are asked to bring their toes up and stretch as far as they can down through their heel. When doing this, your toes should never be turned out. Turning toes out can leads to gripping with your spurs and creating a constant grip on your horse that is detrimental to teaching your horse a variety of maneuvers. It can also open your knee and thigh, leading to a weaker seat and leg.

5. Keeping this position, riders are then asked to pick up their stirrups. All previous steps should be kept in mind and riders should continue sitting in the correct position with the ideal straight line being drawn from the shoulder down through the hip and heel. After continued practice, it will become natural to feel right where your leg and seat should be at all times.