The seat or weight aid is probably the most important natural aid, as it is the aid that is in the most contact with the horse. Unfortunately it is also the most likely to be misunderstood. Before we can do anything in motion we must be able to sit in balance. Becoming aware of how your body is aligned will help you develop the correct muscles and allow you to stay balanced over the horse's center of gravity.
My first lesson with every new student begins with the "plumb line" This refers to the alignment of the rider which can be seen from the side. The plumb line checklist is as follows... Ears over shoulders - Shoulders over Hips- Hips over Ankles - with a bend in the knee. Everything drops straight down in a line. If your feet are sticking straight out in front of you, your upper body is going to come back behind the motion of the horse. If your legs are too far behind you, your upper body is going fall forward. When the horse feels this, he will move to correct it.
Once we have mastered the plumb line it is time to move on to our seat. Side-to-side balance means that you are sitting with your weight distributed evenly with equal pressure on both seat bones. What if you can't feel your seat bones let alone discern one from the other? This is where our friend Mr. Frog comes in.
Initially Many people have trouble finding what is referred to as the "neutral position" which is the equal weight on both seat bones, no weight on your crotch, with your pelvis open, and with your lower back flat. In order to find your seat bones in the saddle grab a hold of your strap or horn and slowly draw the knees upward until you feel both seat bones against the saddle. Once you feel them slowly bring the legs back down trying to keep that feel. Then you may proceed in the warm up: lifting both legs together, then lifting alternating legs side to side at the walk, isolating each seat bone independent of the other (If you are an inexperienced rider do this only while on the lunge line or supervised at the walk.) You may notice your horse begin to slow or attempt to transition from walk to halt as you perform this exercise. This is a normal response as the horse begins to feel the weight of your seat.
I am amazed at the number of riders I see who are already a year or two into lessons and have not been taught the value of understanding how to use their weight properly. When you are balanced
over the horse’s center of gravity and following its motion, any weight
shift creates the feeling in the horse
that he needs to re balance himself.
Using your weigh distribution as an aid naturally influences the horse to create the shape you desire. Like leg aids, weight aids can be applied bilaterally or unilaterally. For example, to turn the horse to the left,
you simply shift more weight on your left seat bone and the horse
automatically feels like stepping to the left to keep you centered over
his center of gravity. It is important to remember the rider’s upper body position should
not change. It is a common flaw for the riders to do too much when attempting weight aids by leaning or collapsing at the hip. Its just a matter of developing the right feel and the right muscles. Balance is something that both horse and rider will revisit many times as they advance in training.
One of my students' least favorite warm up exercises is dog position. A bit crude but the name of exercise is meant to resemble a dog lifting his leg to uhhem... do his business. This uses the abductor muscles to pull the thigh away, stretching your hips and loosening the thigh. Yes it hurts a little... but its a great way to help cure the grippers.
Thigh muscle suppleness allows you to wrap your legs around your horse's barrel The adductors are located inside the thigh and they do allow you to squeeze and grip the saddle to stay on in rough situations. However used in a prolonged contraction, they can immobilize your pelvis and lift you out of the saddle. Tightness in the thigh causes a chain reaction down the leg that also influences the position and effectiveness of both the knee and ankle as well as upper body position effectiveness. This in turn causes more concussion of the seat and upper body making it difficult to stay in the motion of the horse. The abductor muscles (outer thigh) and the adductor muscles (inner thigh) should work together with the hip flexors and be evenly strengthened bearing weight with little force while you are in the saddle. The inner thigh and knee should remain soft and relaxed in every gait.
There are a number of exercises that riders can use to help themselves develop the “muscle memory” they need to stay in balance with their horses. Muscle tone and rigid strength are two different things ... Think ballet strong, swimmer strong, martial arts strong... Flexibility and fluidity are essential parts to becoming a strong rider. Off the horse exercises and stretches can be equally beneficial. Here are a few of my favorites