Knowing how to balance correctly on your seat bones can be tough for new or inexperienced riders, but it’s important to learn. As the old rhyme goes, the seat bone’s connected to the leg bone; the leg bone cues the horse and the horse responds.
“There is a time and a place to sit with more weight on one side than the other, such as lead departures or if you are asking for the horse’s hip in,” says Beth. “But I teach my riders not to consistently sit heavier on one seat bone than the other.”
Claire, one of Beth’s students, tends to sit on her left seat bone and put more weight in her left stirrup. When Claire sits too heavy on her left side, her horse, Plain N Simple, drops his shoulder away from the weight, turns his head and pushes his rib cage away, making his movements awkward. Claire has been working to sit far to the right to understand where the normal and balanced position is in her saddle.
Beth says that you may notice one of your feet slips out of the stirrup more often than the other, even if the stirrup lengths are the same. That is one sign that you may sit heavier on one side. Other signs include the horse always drifting one way away from the heavy pressure.
Here are Beth’s helpful exercises to sit straight so your horse can perform to the best of his ability.
1. Standing Balance
Beth has all her riders stand in their stirrups and push down through the heels before staring a ride. The exercise stretches your muscles and works on core balance. Your navel should be centered in line with the saddle horn but not pushing against it.
When you try this for the first time, Beth says to do it at a standstill. Then work up to being able to stand in the stirrups evenly at a walk and trot.
“You can warm up with the horse walking around while standing up,” she says. “It’s a good way to prepare for the ride and find your center of balance.”
If you fall back, you need to push your legs further behind you; if you fall forward, you need to bring your legs forward. Your leg position shouldn’t change when you sit back down in the saddle.
2. Lifting Knees
Riders sometimes have a hard time understanding what it means when a coach that tells them to sit on their seat bones. This exercise will help you find and feel your seat bones so that you can better utilize that pressure.
“By lifting one knee, Claire can feel the seat bone push down against the saddle seat,” Beth says. “Start with both legs in the normal position and lift one knee. Your weight shifts back a little bit and onto the seat bone of the lower leg.”
Before trying the exercise for the first time, Beth says to have a handler hold the horse. This helps in case the horse moves off or you lose your balance. To advance the exercise, try it at a walk.
3. One-Stirrup Balancing
This exercise strengthens your legs and core muscles. Beth says that riding with one stirrup is more difficult than riding without both stirrups.
“You can see that Claire is working to balance, and when she strains to balance, her leg kicks away from the horse,” Beth says. “My riders do this at the walk, trot and lope, and even the posting trot. Claire has a problem with her right side, so we mainly work to drop that stirrup. But riders can do the exercise by alternately dropping either stirrup.”
Starting out, you may fall forward or to the side without the stirrup. Eventually you will ride centered when your balance improves.
Beth warns that these exercises should be practiced on a horse that understands what the rider is doing and not a young horse that can be spooky. Most of your concentration is on your position, not your horse, and some horses can take advantage of that. She says that doing the exercises on a longeline and allowing someone else to control the horse can be helpful.
These exercises are a fun way to improve your balance and become a better rider. When you can find your seat bones, all the bones that connect to it can be better used to communicate with your horse.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!