“But, don’t you just sit there?”
I think we have all heard this response from a non-horsey person when arguing that equestrian IS actually a sport!
And, if you’ve clicked through to this article, you definitely know that you don’t just sit there, and there is a particular way you need to sit to be an effective rider.
But have you ever noticed how talented riders seem to have the perfect seat balance when riding? Their pelvis seems to be at one with the horse, what is their secret?
Maybe you have a chair seat where you sit in the back of your saddle and the feet are forwards.
Or perhaps you are the opposite in a fork seat, where your weight is forward and your lower back is arched.
We all dream of having the perfect seat connection with our horses. So how do you get it?
It starts with getting really clear about exactly how your seat should be, and developing your body awareness so you can find it both on the ground and in the saddle.
Let’s start by understanding some terminology that is widely used amongst coaches/trainers/physios etc.
Your Seat, Hips, Pelvis, and Seat Bones are NOT the same thing.
To put it simply, the ‘seat’ is a vague, umbrella term for the contact your body makes with the saddle/horse. Think of your seat as the whole area that contacts the saddle when sitting on a horse- this includes your pelvic area, bottom, and inner thighs. It’s really not a very specific term, yet it is referred to a lot eg. Seat aids, using your seat, seat connection etc. Understanding the correct terminology and breaking down how to use these parts of your body can really help demystify the seat!
The pelvis is the name for the large bony structure that joins your legs to your spine. When you “put your hands on your hips” what you are really doing is putting your hands on the top of your pelvis.
The hips are joints (more accurately called the femeroacetabular joint) where your femur (thigh bone) meets your pelvis. It is a deep joint because it is covered by a lot of muscle. When you sit down and form a crease in the frony of your breeches, it is the hip joint that produces that movement. You can and should be able to move your pelvis independently of your hips, and hips independently of the pelvis.
More accurately your seat bones are your “Ischial Tuberosities” – which are the pointy parts at the bottom of your pelvis. Ultimately you balance on your seat bones (and the muscle/flesh underneath it) in the saddle.
Now that you know the main definitions around a rider’s seat, let’s discuss the ways NOT to sit on a horse.
The “Chair Seat” is where your pelvis is in “posterior tilt”. The pelvis rotates backwards, your seat bones move forwards, and your weight and balance is in the back of the saddle. This often brings your legs forwards of your pelvis, causing imbalances and difficulty in the rising trot (plus increased pressure on your horse’s spine).
If you were to image your pelvis with a bucket of water inside, in a chair seat (posterior tilt) the water would tip out the back.
It is sometimes referred to as a C spine posture as this is the overall shape your back makes when adopting this position.
The “Fork Seat” is the opposite of the chair seat, where your pelvis is in “anterior tilt”. The pelvis rotates forwards, your seat bones move backwards, and your weight is in the front of the saddle (and often on your crotch!). This often brings your legs back, your heels up, and causes difficulty stabilising in the saddle. You are also in a vulnerable position should your horse spook or stop suddenly. This posture also encourages your horse to be on the forehand (travelling with more weight on the front legs).
Then there are variations of seats that involve different asymmetries which can affect your balance and uneven loading on your horses back.
These asymmetries include:
Transverse Pelvic Rotation, and Lateral Pelvic Tilting can be cause by structure abnormality (ie. Scoliosis or abnormal curvature of the spine) or a muscular compensation (a combination of asymmetrical tight, weak, and strong muscles causing the pelvis to be out of alignment).
These asymmetries will cause saddles to slip one way, increased difficulty on one rein compared to the other, difficulty picking up one canter lead over the other, uneven loading through yours and your horse’s bodies, and also encourages crookedness in your horse (our horses are our mirrors!).
Now you know how NOT to sit on a horse, let’s discuss the ideal pelvis position: Neutral Pelvis.
A Neutral Pelvis is the pelvis position that best support the natural curvatures of your spine, and is the position of minimal stress to all muscles, tendon, and ligament attachments to the pelvis.
It is also the most efficient and effective position for your pelvis to be in for the lower and upper body to function well.
A neutral pelvis allows your spine to absorb the impact of the forces produced by the horse and gravity when riding.
More specifically, the pelvis is considered in neutral when specific bony landmarks of the pelvis line up.
They are when the ASIS, PSIS, and the pubic bone (see image below).
Don’t stress too much if you don’t have an understanding of what these bony landmarks are- it’s not necessary to know this terminology in detail, but as long as you understand that there is a specific position that is considered neutral pelvis– you just need to know how to find it!
Now you know what the best position is, how do you get it?
There are two ways I like to help people find and experience neutral pelvis.
First, it can be helpful to find where not to go- because usually the mid point between the two extreme ranges pelvic anterior and posterior rotation is your neutral pelvis.
Step 1. Sit on a yoga ball or saddle chair (a normal hard chair is ok too).
Step 2. Roll your seat bones forwards but squeezing your glutes (bottom muscles) together as if starting to get the motion on a swing. If you are on a yoga ball, the ball should roll forwards. Your weight will move backwards onto your coccyx/back pockets. With the risk of sounding crude, this is a thrusting type of position! You might notice that your lower back rounds.
Step 3. Now do the opposite. Roll your seat bones back out behind, arching your lower back and contracting through the front of the hip. Your weight will move forwards onto your crotch or front zip area of your pants.
Step 4. Practice going to these extreme ranges and notice where the mid-point is between them, this is where your seat bones will be pointing straight down.
VISUALISATION: You might like to visualise headlights on your seat bones!
When in a posterior pelvic tilt (chair seat) your headlights are shining forwards.
When in an anterior pelvic tilt (fork seat) your headlights are shining backwards.
When in neutral pelvis, your headlights are shining straight down through the horse.
Next I want you to physically feel your seat bones in neutral pelvis.
Step 1. Place your hands directly underneath your bottom cheeks. You might joke that you can’t feel any bones underneath your backside but I assure you, even on large bottoms you should be able to feel the seat bones through your flesh!
Step 2. Move into the anterior and posterior tilts as outlined in the above exercise. When you are in anterior pelvic tilt your seat bones will “disappear” backwards. When you are in posterior pelvic tilt your seat bones will “disappear” backwards. When you pass through the centre you will feel an increase pressure on your hands when your seat bones are pointing directly down. This moment is your neutral pelvis! See if you can move in and out of it a few times, until you can consistently find neutral pelvis.
Now that you can find it off the horse, now practice it on the horse, beginning at the halt, then walk, trot etc.
I hope having read this article, you now have a better understanding on how to sit correctly on your horse. Here’s what you can take away from this article: