Ever looked at top dressage riders and been envious of that long leg and deep, secure seat? They look like they’re glued to the saddle and move effortlessly in the hip and lower back as the horse floats underneath them. Getting that deep seat is the result of years of training, developing their feel, and working on an independent seat.
But there are some steps you can take to fast-track your journey to a deeper seat and improve on what you have at the moment. Even if you might not be mistaken for Sabine Schut-Kery right away 😉
How A Deep Seat Is Created
The beautiful deep dressage seat is a byproduct of other aids. Essentially, you can’t create it by itself – forcing a deep seat will simply not work! In order to sit as one with the saddle and horse, you need to develop an independent seat. That’s because a deep seat is actually just an independent seat, which allows you to mirror the horse’s movement of his back and stay in tune with the rhythm and balance of the horse.
When you have a secure, deep seat it means you are in close contact with your saddle. It allows you to refine your seat aids and also means you can lengthen your leg and use it to create a better way of going through half halts, bend, and precise leg aid applications.
But to get that seat, you’ll have to work at it! You need the ability to wrap your legs around the horse and use your core muscles without gripping, tightening, or using the reins to balance yourself. Though people often think they need to “sit deep” it’s actually more like sitting tall and with good posture. Sitting deep often makes you rock your pelvis too far back, and puts you behind the vertical in terms of posture.
Of course, huge leaps and bounds in posture and seat are usually developed over time. With the help of a good instructor, you’ll gradually improve your feel and balance. With plenty of guided practice, a better position will slowly become natural.
In the meantime though, there are exercises and tricks you can try to help speed the process along.
Ride without stirrups
As always, dropping your stirrups is helpful. It’s a tried and tested rider position fix for a lot of issues. Why? Simply because riding without stirrups helps you to get closer to the horse and takes away a common brace point: the stirrups themselves. If you push too hard into your stirrups, you’ll find yourself in a chair seat where you can’t get your leg underneath you for that long, deep seat. Without stirrups, you’re also forced to sit into the saddle, have to use your lower back more, and can’t push off out of the seat and hover above it by slightly standing in your stirrups. Essentially, it improves your feel.
One word of warning when it comes to riding without stirrups: be sure that your horse is ready for you to drop them, and build up slowly. If your horse is young or can’t work through his back yet, dropping your stirrups isn’t fair to them as you risk hurting their back. It’s best to start in walk and canter before moving to trot where you’re most likely to bounce. And, make a mental note to relax your inner thighs so you aren’t gripping for dear life and losing the benefits of stirrup-free work!
Lunge lessons are another common way to improve your seat. And more often than not, they’re combined with riding without stirrups. They allow you the opportunity to focus solely on yourself and not worry about the way your horse is working.
Doing lunge lessons with an experienced instructor is best, so they can help isolate your problem areas and fix them. If you get a friend to lunge you, you run the risk of making something worse unless you have excellent feel – you might lean too far back to try and sit the trot, for example, instead of learning how to mobilize your hip in neutral position.
Legs away exercise
The legs away exercise is as simple as it sounds. At the halt or walk, drop your stirrups and let your leg drape around your horse. Lift both legs outwards and away from the saddle by using your hip rather than your knee or thigh. Make sure you don’t tip forward or back (you can place one hand on the cantle and one on the pommel if needs be). Hold it for ten seconds, then release and repeat.
Other variations of legs away include:
- Bringing your heels up to wither height with bent knees and holding your legs away from the saddle.
- Lifting your knees up and away from the saddle, then slowly extending your leg backwards towards your horse’s tail while keeping your leg at wither/pommel height. This can only be done one leg at a time!
- Keeping knees only slightly bent, lift your leg away from the saddle before rotating your knees outwards and “opening” your hips as a result.
These exercises work the hip flexors, which are key to good mobility in the saddle. They’re also usually quite tight in horse riders, unfortunately! Stretching and strengthening them can help your leg to relax and loosen, allowing you to sink into the saddle and lengthen your leg without tension.
Work off the horse
When you’re off the horse, working on your core strength is key. Being able to make tiny adjustments and stabilize yourself in the saddle without gripping, pulling, or otherwise upsetting the horse’s balance comes mainly from core strength. This allows you to stay in good posture and balance, which in turns makes it easier for you to develop a long, relaxed leg and a hand which is following rather than pulling.
Strengthening exercises include things like Pilates, crunches, squats, mountain climbers, and more. Working with a personal trainer is best though, because they can make sure you’re truly developing core strength and not “cheating” on exercises.
Additionally, increasing your overall fitness and strength is always beneficial. If you’re tired and your muscles are shaking, it’s incredibly hard to sit in good posture with an engaged core! Making sure you have the stamina to get through a ride without compromising your position is vital to a great seat. Ironically, a great seat will also make riding less tiring!
These tips should help you develop a deeper seat and longer leg in the dressage ring. But as you can see, it doesn’t happen overnight and requires a great deal of feel, alongside practice and patience. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard for making your seat deeper? Share it with us in the comments!