Riding Back to Front, Part III
Using correct form is extremely important to communication with your horse.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm | December 5, 2009
This is the third in a three-part series by Lynn. Click on the links to view Part I and Part II.
The importance of correct form and how it relates to communication with your horse cannot be emphasized enough. If your horse is not performing up to expectations, the first question you ask should be, “How is my position?” Correct something in your position and see if that improves your horse’s performance. If it doesn’t, then slightly change something in your communication and see if that works.
Your seat is the foundation of your position and your main source of balance. It is also used as a communication aid to increase or decrease speed within a gait or during a change in gaits. These changes are called transitions.
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How does your seat work to control speed? When you are in correct position and your seat is the main source of your balance, your pelvis should be slightly tilted forward. As the horse moves, your pelvis moves backward and forward, following the horse’s motion. This is very obvious at the walk and canter. At the trot, it may feel more like an up and down motion, but the pelvis still moves backward and forward but in a quicker motion with the two-beat gait.
When you want to use the seat as an aid to go forward, you move your pelvis or hips in a quicker action than the action of the horse’s movement, supporting the horse with a light contact of your leg aids. This is your “go forward” cue.
The cue works on the horse because more action or movement of your pelvis gives a signal to the horse’s back and acts as incentive to go forward, while at the same time, it goes to his mind as a message to go forward. Your seat’s movement on the horse’s back also sends a signal to his hind legs to engage and step deeper as he goes forward. When you move your hips more quickly, your shoulders have to come backward slightly, which puts more weight in the saddle and on the horse’s back. Weight on the back gives the horse more encouragement to balance from behind and engage the hind legs underneath his barrel. Once the horse initiates more forward momentum, then the seat slows down and follows exactly the horse’s motion, and the leg aids become supporting aids to whatever you are doing with the horse.
To slow the forward movement of the horse, your seat works in the opposite way. You stop the motion of your pelvis against the horse’s movement. To do this, tighten your lower stomach and rump muscles, and that will stop the action of the pelvis. You need to keep contact with your leg aids on the horse’s sides without any squeezing or tension and support this by closing your fingers on the reins (with your hands in the correct position) to slow down (always less leg and hand support from trot to walk than from canter to trot).
Your seat and leg cues to slow down work because your seat and leg aids control the horse from wither to dock (top of tail), with the hips and hind legs being the motor of the horse. When you stop your pelvis and it works against the motion of the horse, it again registers to the horse as a slow-down action. To establish this, apply more weight in the saddle. Move your shoulder back slightly to keep balance and alignment of position. Both actions will encourage the horse’s hind legs to engage underneath him (again, it is important to maintain light contact with leg aids). This will enable the horse to slow down from behind and will translate to a quicker and smoother downward transition. This is an important action for both rider and horse for future collection.
Use simple transitions as an exercise to teach yourself and your horse the seat as an aid: walk to slow trot then back to walk; lengthened walk to trot then back to lengthened walk; stop to trot and back to stop. Do the upward transition in a straight line and the downward ones on a curve.
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When using your seat as an aid in your canter training, there is nothing that changes in the downward transition. However, in the upward transition, the timing of the seat action is important as you must ask for the transition when your pelvis is moving forward. This action is similar to “pumping” on a swing. When you want to go higher, you push your seat forward while rising. This is the same type of action you want your pelvis to do in lengthening trot to canter, walk to canter, or stop to canter. You should train lengthening trot to canter first, and then walk to canter, and stop to canter last because it is the most difficult upward transition. The horse is supported by light leg aids for upward transition. Upward and downward canter transition are best practiced on a curve, as it will be easier for you to keep your horse’s balance and body position during the learning period.