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Saddle Work: Foundation of the Classical Seat

I am a firm believer of the classical seat in any form of horsemanship riding. The classical seat is a balanced, centered, riding from the core seat. Once a rider has a firm foundation in the classical seat they can adapt it anyway they want to for any discipline of riding.

However I see many riders who did not learn the classical seat when they first learned to ride. I see many Western Pleasure riders who ride only a relaxed seat with the fads found in the show ring. When these riders are faced with a challenge or even something out of the norm, they lose all confidence because they get “left in the dust” so to speak.

I see the same thing with the Hunt Seat riders only in reverse. They are taught the forward seat and many are muscled into a certain posture. The forward seat creates exactly what is described, a forward moving ride. The horse then gets pushed to move out more under the riders position and speed increases on the horse to almost out of control. Then the rider relies on their hands and bit to slow the horse and when that no longer works, the confidence flies out the window again.

I am one of the forward seat riders and have been working with every ride to correct this. It’s getting better with each ride but if something does shake my confidence I find myself in the forward position again. It will be a lifelong battle most likely because this is what my first real foundational riding was taught on.

The Importance of the Classical Seat Foundation

To understand the importance of a correct foundation in the classical seat you have to understand human psychology and reaction to fear. I have told multiple riders that the first thing they need to overcome to become an effective rider is their reaction to fear. A rider’s first response in a situation that builds a sensation of fear is usually to “hang on” and for us western riders the best way to hang on is the horn.

I was at the Iowa Horse Fair this past weekend and watched Chris Cox work with a rider on overcoming a fear. He worked with the horse first and then put the owner on it to ride. One of the first things he asked her was when she gets afraid how she holds the horn. She grabbed it and he pointed out to her that she grabbed the front of the horn and in grabbing the front of the horn she pulls herself towards it, which brings her body forward.

What happens when the body is brought forward? It transfers the balance from the seat to the shoulders which then act like a leverage to pull you out of the saddle. If you are riding a horse that feeds off the riders emotions of either fear or confidence and you go into this “fetal” position in the saddle in response to your fear you then just create a bigger storm. I have seen many horses take off with their riders hanging on for dear life to that saddle horn, leaning forward trying to make the horse stop. Unfortunately their body language, and perhaps their voice also, is screaming go faster to that horse. The cycle just continues.

As Chris Cox continued to work with this gal every time she would grab the horn he would tell her to not grab the front of it but push off the back of it. What did this do? It transferred her weight from her shoulders back down to her seat. This then grounds the rider in the saddle and they can gather themselves better and slow the horse.

When Chris worked the horse previous to the owner getting on him, he talked about riding with his core. This is the center of the body where the abdominal muscles and lower back are located. This is where he finds his balance when he rides and uses these muscles to communicate with the horse. As he rode the horse he rode it without a bridle in the round pen. He had this horse walking, trotting, loping and going from one gait to another using just his seat, which is attached to the core.

Sally Swift in her Centered Riding teaching explains it as having a ball sitting in your core. The way you position your body places this ball in different places. For instance if you relax altogether the ball with sit fairly balanced and centered in your pelvic. If you sit forward it will tip the ball forward and throw your balance off. You can also sit back and throw your balance behind you. Sally’s method of teaching riders is to use breathing and imagery of your skeletal system to sit correctly and overcome your fear.

Teaching may be different, but the foundation is the same

Both Sally Swift and Chris Cox were teaching the same principles; they each just presented them differently. These same principals are the same of the Classical Seat. You must first learn to ride balanced from the center with your core. This seat is most notably found in the Dressage discipline which non-coincidentally happens to be the foundation of all disciplines found with horses.

The first record of horsemanship was written in about 350 B.C. by Xenophon from Greece. The most world renowned school of riding is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria which in a worldwide view is not too far from Greece.

In Europe riders are started on horseback at the end of a lunge line with no bridle and no stirrups. What does this accomplish? It forces the building of the Classical Seat because you must have balance to ride. Riders in Europe spend approximately 140 hours learning like this before they are given either stirrups or reins. I think us Americans would be much better riders if our first lessons started out like this rather than at pony camps.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24

These were the words of Jesus at the end of his Sermon on the Mount and these are words we can apply to our lives in the saddle and out. We must build on a firm foundation and in horsemanship that is a Classical Seat in the saddle. In life this rock is Jesus the Christ.

Have you learned the Classical Seat to give you the utmost balance? Does your riding instructor or the clinician you follow teach the Classical Seat? It is vital to a rider. You can take the classical seat and transfer it to a forward seat for riding Hunt Seat over fences. Or you can take it and adapt it to a relaxed seat for Western Pleasure or simply riding down the trail. Even Society riders ride with a Classical Seat.

The same goes for the word of God. We must have our foundation in the teachings of Christ who taught that the greatest commandment was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and the second like it in that we are to love others as we love ourselves. He finished these commands by saying that all of the laws of the Prophets hang on these two commands. This is our Classical Seat in life. From it you can go into the entire world and preach the Good News no matter your field. Mine just happens to be the field of horsemanship.

We are his house, built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:20

This is the Cornerstone Farm verse.

May the grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, be upon you, Greta