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

Lauren Woodard

You canít buy an independent seat. Not only that, just because you ride doesnít 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 theyíre 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 donít tumble off when your horse spooks. It means you never clutch and grab the reins to keep yourself on. It means youíre 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 youíll be able to ride out most bucks and spooks because youíll go where the horse goes. If you feel you CANíT 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 donít just cart off with no preparation. Itís 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 canít 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, youíre on your way.

From your horseís point of view, consider how much theyíll appreciate a rider who doesnít yank their mouth every time his rider loses his balance, someone who doesnít clench their heels in the horseís sides while jerking a rein. Consider that if you lost your balance cantering while the horse wasnít doing anything wrong, youíve just jerked him sideways and told him to go much faster. Now that wasnít really your intent, but that is whatís going to happen because thatís what your signals said to do. So now your horse is taking a sharp right, real fast. If you donít have a good independent seat, youíre not staying on or if you do, youíve caused your horse some pain and are totally out of position and unable to control yourself or your horse. Basically, itís 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 donít feel safe bareback, use a saddle but donít use your stirrups. There are various other ways to work on your seat. Safety and confidence equals a more relaxed and fun ride whether youíre 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