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Equine Partnering: What is an Independent Seat? Why Do I Need One? Where Can I Get One?

Lauren Woodard


You can’t buy an independent seat. Not only that, just because you ride doesn’t mean you have one. You could ride for 20 years and still not have an independent seat. All the parts of a saddle that you think help you stay on, actually help you catch your balance, not teach you to HAVE balance.

So what is an independent seat? This means that your seat stays where it belongs in relation to the horse NO MATTER what your hands and legs and head are doing OR where they’re going, or what the horse is doing. It means you can maneuver the horse, accomplish various movements, shift your balance, look in different directions while the horse is moving at ANY gait and keep your seat still. It means you don’t tumble off when your horse spooks. It means you never clutch and grab the reins to keep yourself on. It means you’re not holding on to the saddle or horn while your horse is moving at ANY gait. Sure there are occasions where the horse is bucking or something like that where good sense says put a hand down in front, (not grabbing the reins),but if you have an independent seat you’ll be able to ride out most bucks and spooks because you’ll go where the horse goes. If you feel you CAN’T ride without reins in your hands, you need to work on your seat. Interestingly enough, riding without reins, bareback is the fastest way to get an independent seat. Why would you want to ride bareback with no reins? To get your independent seat of course. Now, you don’t just cart off with no preparation. It’s best if you start in a small round pen or on a 22' or so, line with a friend or instructor at the other end. This way the horse can’t get going too fast for you. Start at a walk and practice letting go and moving arms, legs and body around while maintaining your balance. Eventually move to the trot and canter. When you can walk, trot and canter with your hands on your head without clenching your legs, you’re on your way.

From your horse’s point of view, consider how much they’ll appreciate a rider who doesn’t yank their mouth every time his rider loses his balance, someone who doesn’t clench their heels in the horse’s sides while jerking a rein. Consider that if you lost your balance cantering while the horse wasn’t doing anything wrong, you’ve just jerked him sideways and told him to go much faster. Now that wasn’t really your intent, but that is what’s going to happen because that’s what your signals said to do. So now your horse is taking a sharp right, real fast. If you don’t have a good independent seat, you’re not staying on or if you do, you’ve caused your horse some pain and are totally out of position and unable to control yourself or your horse. Basically, it’s dangerous to ride without developing your seat. The more you develop your seat the safer you will be and the more you will be able to accomplish with your horse, no matter what discipline or reason you ride. If you don’t feel safe bareback, use a saddle but don’t use your stirrups. There are various other ways to work on your seat. Safety and confidence equals a more relaxed and fun ride whether you’re on trail or working on show aspects or just popping around. You and your horse will have a much better time and be better partners.

Lauren has been teaching and training for 30 years from hunter/jumper and dressage to living on a 1000 head cattle ranch. She teaches equine partnering now and is committed to helping people expand their awareness of and respect for the intelligence and gifts the horse has to offer. Lauren can be reached at 480-951-1546 or lmbcej@prodigy.net