And now we make it to the final discussion on the rider’s body parts. So far the legs, hands, arms and head & neck have been covered. The torso is the part in the middle of all these and so is quite literally the central component of any rider. A well balanced, centred torso is fundamental for the effective use of all the other parts.
The easiest way to describe the desirable position for the torso is to divide it into two sections. The upper torso is from the riders centre (near the belly button) upwards. It is vertical and relaxed with the shoulders rolled back and down and allowed to drop, opening up the chest. As with all the body parts while we want the torso to be vertical it needs to be relaxed and soft, not like a tin soldier. It’s important that the spine is straight. This allows the motion of the horse to gently massage the vertebrae, which is beneficial to the spine. If the back is rounded (hunchback) or hollowed (lower back concave) the vertebrae are not aligned and this can cause back pain when riding, plus other riding issues. The upper torso belongs to the rider and is isolated from the lower torso (as in belly dancing). It remains still and lifted as the lower torso moves.
The lower torso is from the belly button down. The main parts of the lower torso are the hips and pelvis. We want the seatbones to be heading straight down into the saddle or just slightly forward, this allows them to rotate backward and forward with the horses motion. Unlike the upper torso, the lower torso (the seat) belongs to the horse. When we sit on a horse our first job is to fit ourselves into the horses motion. Once we have achieved this we can then ask them to fit in with our motion. The seat needs to be relaxed and given to the horse, without turning into a sack of potatoes. Some muscle tension is required to maintain your position, but within that the hips and pelvis must be relaxed and allowed to follow the feel of the horse.
So that’s the overall picture with the upper body light, lifted and still, the lower body relaxed, given to the horse and moving. As stated in previous articles if any part of your body holds tension this will transfer to the horse and make your aids stiff and less effective. Relaxation is the number one place to start with for both horse and rider. Horses cannot learn or perform well unless their minds and bodies are relaxed and humans cannot ride well unless relaxed.
The torso is used in your riding in a number of ways, it is central to all the other parts so if it is not balanced and centered your leg and rein aids will also be unbalanced and less effective. Also a centered, balanced seat means we’re more likely to stay on if our horse moves suddenly.
The weight and movement of the torso is used as an aid. Placing more weight on one seat bone indicates to the horse to turn in that direction, as does a rotation of the whole torso. Look where you want to go and rotate the torso. This gives multiple direction cues through your whole body to the horse and is one of the best ways to turn your horse. Ensure this is a rotation, not a lean. You can think of it as ‘pointing the hips’ in the direction you want to go. If the horse is falling in on a circle the weight can be increased on the outside seatbone to steady them.
Pushing down and driving forward with the seat indicates to go faster. If you move your pelvis backward and forward faster than the horse is moving in the walk and canter, this indicates to go faster. Posting faster than the horse in the trot indicates to go faster and vice versa.
If you move your seat slower than the horse then you are saying slow down. When you want the horse to halt, take in a deep breath and as you let your breath out, sink into your seat bones, stretch the upper body up a little, stop following with your hips, stop pulsing with your legs and let them stretch down a little and stop following with your hands. Your horse will feel the cessation of following movement and will halt. If you stop all movement in the seat this indicates to the horse to stop and once your horse knows this aid it’s the best way to stop your horse.
Some riders have a naturally ‘hot’ or ‘stiff’ seat. The first is where a rider is so loose in their pelvis that their seat is constantly driving the horse. This type of seat can make some horses very nervous and toey, hence the name hot seat. A rider with a stiff seat is the opposite, their pelvis hardly moves at all, resulting in a horse that can hardly move at all. Both of these problems can easily be worked once they are recognised.
One of the best ways to train the seat is to be lunged as this allows you to free up your lower back and hips without having to worry about controlling the horse at the same time. But lots of relaxed, flowing riding will also achieve the same result. Try transitioning up and down with the seat first before applying any other aid. If you don’t get a response follow up with the hands or legs as supporting aids. After a while your horse will be responding more and more to the seat aids and require less and less hand and leg. This can only happen if the seat aid is applied first.
Riding with your seat will give you a much smoother, flowing ride, looks better to a viewer and is much nicer for both you and your horse. If you want to be one with your horse this is the way to go and is a natural progression for anyone wanting to improve their riding. It starts with you first of all learning how to fit your body to the horses and ends with the horse fitting their body to yours.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Ph: 0401 249 263
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