Most riders dream about riding in perfect balance, rhythm and harmony with their horses. Use these exercises to become mindful of your body’s movements, to better co-ordinate with your horse’s motion and to help you develop a following seat.
When developing a following seat, the goal is to ride comfortably, communicate effectively and allow for the horse’s natural movement to flow freely beneath you. Sally Swift, the founder of Centered Riding®, has created many exercises to help riders achieve that goal.
To get started, try this sitting exercise
- Slide forward on your chair, so your back is not resting against it.
- Sit up tall and scan your body from the top down for tension.
- Does your neck feel stiff?
- Are your shoulders tense and raised?
- Is your upper body tipped left, right, forward or back?
- Is your lower back arched or tight?
- Is one seat bone heavier than the other?
Tightness, tension and imbalance restrict your body’s ability to follow your horse’s movement. The common postural misalignments you may observe during this exercise are prohibiting you from achieving the desired “following seat” on your horse.
A breathing exercise to help release tension and become better balanced
- Place an open hand just below your belly button and take a deep breath in through your nose. Feel that area expand as you inhale. This deep, correct method of breathing is referred to as “diaphragmatic” breathing.
- Exhale through your mouth and allow the breath to travel down your body releasing tension as it goes.
- Allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears and your elbows to hang heavily by your sides.
- Now bring awareness to your pelvis and lower back. Upon exhaling your next breath you will feel your belly soften, allowing your lower back to lengthen. Your pelvis will tilt back slightly into what I refer to as a “neutral” position. Riding with your pelvis in neutral frees up your body to follow the horse’s movement.
- Lastly, allow your body to melt down around your seat bones while still keeping your upper body tall and long.
For comparison, try this exercise:
- Arch your back and try to take a big, deep breath.
- Tighten and raise your shoulders, then try another deep breath.
- Clench your hands out in front of you, as if you were holding the reins tightly, and again try to breathe deeply.
You probably noticed that you couldn’t actually breathe deeply while holding any of these postures. This is proof that when we hold tension in our bodies (as most adults do), we are unable to breathe properly, making relaxation impossible.
Finding your following seat – synchronizing with your horse.
The steps below lay out an effective, mindful approach to helping you achieve the desired following seat, resulting in a more pleasurable ride for both you and your horse.
- Take a deep, cleansing breath before you mount up. Scan your body and release any tension you discover. Repeat it again once you are seated on the horse. This will help prepare both you and your horse for riding.
- Upon exhaling, allow your breath to travel down your body, releasing tension wherever needed, just like you did in the chair.
- Feel your lower back soften and your pelvis fall into a neutral balanced position.
- Keep your torso lifted, lengthen your spine and be sure your lower back remains soft.
- Prick your ears like a horse to rebalance your head and lengthen your cervical spine.
- Now that you’ve taken care of yourself, you are ready to go.
Ready to ride
- Quietly ask your horse to walk off, becoming aware of the rippling effect of muscles in motion.
- As you follow the motion of his back with your seat, imagine creating space for those muscles to move more freely beneath you.
- Try to follow the back-to-front movement of the walk instead of the side–to-side motion. This will prevent you both from wobbling or swaying sideways.
- Become aware of feeling for each and every footfall.
- Check in with your hips and seat bones. Allow them to be lifted, slid forward and dropped down, one at a time, in rhythm with your horse’s hind legs.
- Allow your thighs to drop down and follow the movement of each shoulder. Imagine you are walking on your knees as you follow the rhythm. This will allow your lower leg to fall back into its proper place below your hips, helping you achieve proper alignment so you can carry yourself.
- Receive and follow the horse’s motion with your seat while remaining tall, balanced and relaxed in your upper body. Allow your head to “float” as if suspended by a string on the back of your helmet.
- Riding bareback is a great way to develop a following seat. It improves your balance and sense of feel and offers you a chance to experiment with how subtle seat and weight aids affect your horse’s movement. You can also benefit from dropping your stirrups if bareback riding isn’t for you.
Riding horses can sometimes bring up feelings of anxiety, fear, nervousness or excitability. These feelings exacerbate the problem of tension and inhibit us from reaching our goal of riding with a balanced, relaxed, following seat. Breathing and releasing tension is the gateway to improving our riding. It clears our minds, creates awareness and re-balances us mentally, physically and emotionally.
Once you have discovered your following seat at the walk, then give it a try at the higher gaits. The same principles will apply, though the rhythm and footfalls are different. In the words of Sally Swift, “If you don’t have it at the walk, it won’t be there at the trot.” So take your time and remember that your goal is to remain safe, relaxed, balanced and centered.