The Seat (or why does my horse veer to the left?)

Have you ever wondered why your horse veers to the left (or right) when you ride up a centre line in a dressage test or thought your horse was being naughty when he doesn’t hold a straight line as you approach a jump?

If you find that you constantly have to use one rein more than the other or are forever having to use one leg more, it may well not be that your horse is playing up; it may simply be that you aren’t sitting in balance!.

The way we sit is really important to the way our horse goes. Our seat is the ultimate aid and we want to be able to communicate through our seat with our horse. Our seat should be able to communicate the direction we want the horse to take to the horse, and our horse should be able to communicate where each of his feet are and if he has any blockages or tensions in his body though our seat to us.

For our seat to be effective, and be able to receive and give information, we need to be able to sit with a neutral pelvis in true alignment, with both sides of our seat equally weighted. If you imagine that your body is made up of a set of boxes, we want each box to be stacked neatly on top of the other.  So our rib box sits squarely on our hip box, and our head and shoulders box sits squarely on our rib box. The sides of our imagined boxes need to be the same height too. The front of each box should be the same as the sides and the back. If the sides of our boxes aren’t the same height then we are either leaning forwards or backwards or more to one side than the other.

If you sit more heavily to the left then your horse will drift to the left, fall in on a circle to the left and fall out on a circle or turn to the right. Basically, this is simple physics or more correctly bio-mechanics. To see how this works, try carrying a really heavy shopping bag in one hand and see how hard it is to still walk in a straight line – you’ll find that you will want to drift to the side that you are holding the bag.

If your horse has a tendency to rush, particularly with upward transitions, the chances are that your horse isn’t balanced sufficiently and is on his forehand. However if your weight is too far forward as you ask for the upward transition it could be you that is upsetting his balance. Again you can experience how weight can affect your horse by trying this experiment. Stand with your feet together approximately a hip width’s apart and then lean forward from your hips. You will find that you can lean just so far and then you will have to put a leg forward to stop yourself falling on your face!

So how do you go about checking if you ride in balance, sit more heavily to one side than the other or lean forward or backwards? The easiest and most accurate way of doing this is to book a Posture Analysis session on PI (the electronic posture indicator horse). PI’s sensors will show you exactly how your weight is distributed, whilst the cameras will analyze your alignment and whether your boxes are stacking correctly!

If you live too far way to book a session with PI the next best thing is to stand in front of  a friend (or a mirror if you want to do this by yourself) and ask her to check if your boxes are level. Firstly she needs to check if your ears are level, then whether your shoulders are the same height? After she has checked your shoulders, she needs to check if your elbows are level. If you find that your left shoulder is lower than your right, for example, then the chances are you are collapsing slightly to the left and weighting your right side slightly more.

Then you need to check your hips. Firstly you need to look to see if your hip bones are the same height as each other, or is one hip is held higher or further forward than the other. If one hip is higher or held further forward than the other, then your pelvic girdle is unlikely to be level and you will weight one side of your butt more than the other. Finally you need to check your feet, are they both pointing forward and is your weight equally distributed over the balls and heels of both feet? Or is one foot turned out more than the other? If your right foot turns out more than your left foot then there will be more weight on your left side.

So now that you have checked yourself out, we need to look at how you can start to correct any discrepancies once you are sitting on your horse. Remember that we initially said that our boxes should be equal on all sides. So if your left shoulder is a little lower, lower your right shoulder until it is the same height. If one elbow is higher than the other, lower it until it is at the same height as the other. It will feel strange at first but the more you correct yourself the more natural it will feel. Check that both your feet are pointing forward, then check that your ears are level by lining up the peak of your hat so that it is parallel to the rails or kicking boards, finally check that you can feel equal weight in both seat bones and now try riding up the centre line!

Once you can adjust your pelvis so that you can have it truly aligned when you want and need it to be, you can start to use your hips and seat as an aid. You will find that by adjusting one hip forward and down (think of taking your hip knobble forward and down) you will be able to ride a perfect circle, by tilting your hips to one side you’ll be able enlarge a circle, and by adjusting your hips fractionally you’ll be able to ride shoulder-in or haunches-in!