If we believe in the Classical System of training, which puts the well-being of the horse first and foremost then we must make an effort to become better riders. The seat of the rider comes first.
The process of attaining a classical seat is the same as that of the classical training of the horse. It is a journey that has no end. You will grow and become a better person during your travels.
I will not go into all the details of the classical seat because this has been done quite effectively in former issues of this publication. I will touch upon things that I have discovered during my never ending journey.
I have found many books and DVD’s that show and explain the seat, but one really needs a trainer that understands the process. This isn’t easy to find in today’s world of “I want it now.” There are some clinics that one can attend that focus on the seat, but most clinicians understand that this is not something that can be changed in a forty-five to sixty minute session. They may point out some things but feel that this is something that your regular instructor should be helping you with.
We, as riders residing in the USA, do not have many good role models to emulate. Most of our publications are filled with photos of very incorrect riding posture. This can then become the image we hold in our minds. These people are also winning, so many students feel that time and energy spent on the proper equitation is not important. I feel that I was quite lucky to have an instructor that was a very correct and elegant rider. I used to watch him ride for hours after my lessons. I would try to copy how he looked. I also studied photos of many of the old masters in books. I know we all learn differently, but this was of great help to me.
It is my opinion that longe work is the best possible way to attain the classical seat. When on the longe, the rider can leave the control of the horse to the person on the end of the line and concentrate on their body. This can be difficult, because as riders, we have to put aside our natural instincts to pitch forward (fetal position) and fix things with our hands. Think about how strong a small baby can grip one’s finger. It takes time to re-route the brain and substitute a completely different response from what nature intended.
When I could balance and influence the horse to the extent that I could do transitions between and within the gaits while on the longe, I still lacked what was needed. When I see old videos of myself I am unhappy about how much movement there was in my body. I did not have the core strength to control my movement and it was upsetting to the horse. It wasn’t until I retired from full-time work and could ride more than one horse per day that I attained the strength to keep my posture. Knowing this, I am always advising people who can’t ride more than one horse or can’t ride everyday to find a non-riding activity to help. There are many available such as Pilates, Alexander, and so on.
Once the above came into place, I could really start to feel what is going on within the horse’s body. We can start to have some harmony with our horse. I also feel that in order to attain harmony with our horses, we have to be in touch with ourselves both mentally and physically. A bad day can change the dynamics. If we have tension or pain (mental or physical) our horse is the first to know. We have to be the first to know and do something about the situation. We can change our routine, sit down, clear our head and put problems on hold. Don’t take your problems with you to the saddle. I find that if I can’t put things aside, I will not have a good ride.
Since this is a journey, we become older as we travel. Our bodies have a way of sneaking in little changes. We gain a few pounds, are not as agile and little aches and pains creep in. We also may have incurred some injuries. We must become aware of how these changes affect our riding. I find that I have a tendency to think that I can still do everything I could do when I was in my twenties. I have to remind myself that it just isn’t so and that I have to work harder in some areas.
Then there is the ever ongoing problem of our brains not telling us the truth. We swear that we are sitting up straight, when in fact we are collapsed in one direction. Our bodies seem to want to return to their comfort zone. This comfort zone may not truly be what is best for us but what we are used to. Have a ground person monitor you as often as possible. For me, I found out that I carried my right leg too far back no matter the direction. I wasn’t aware that I was doing this. It came about from a knee injury. Once it was pointed out to me, I could work on the correction.
Watch your posture off the horse. Next time you are in a restaurant, watch how people sit when they eat. Many are slumped over and leaning on the table while “shoveling it in.” We are not a culture that seems to be aware of proper posture. Watch how you sit while driving, working at the computer, watching TV and so on. It will pay off and become second nature to sit tall.
If you are one that truly wants to attain and maintain a classical seat, you must become aware of all of the above. It is hard work but the rewards are tremendous. It is that wonderful feeling of being so in touch with your horse that is the reward. When you are sitting correctly, balanced, straight, and supple; you can influence the horse with very little effort. For me, it was such a wonderful experience. I wanted more with less. I can see this in some of the students I teach. I can tell almost from the beginning who will continue on the journey and who will go on to something different.
Keep in mind that we are all not going to look like Arthur Kottas or his daughter Carolyn. That does not mean that we can’t be correct in our classical equitation. It is the feeling that is important. I truly believe that one can’t reach the height of feeling for what is going on in the horse and how to interact with this to produce the correct response without a correct classical seat. It is this seat that gives you the tool and the freedom to reach such heights.
In closing, I would like to share with you my “Body Awareness Check.” If you have a mirror in your riding arena, that is a help. I start with my head and move down to my feet checking to see if all are in proper alignment. I then start checking for the necessary amount of suppleness and relaxation necessary in all joints. Don’t forget your breathing and soft eyes. Last but not least, get in touch with yourself and turn off the cares of the day.
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