Exercises to help rider develop a light, secure seat?

I’m a dressage rider so my default seat at canter is to sit too deeply when riding to jumps. What are some helpful exercises to help me develop the light seat so I don’t drive my horse towards the jump in stadium, but is also not a full on two-point? Any exercises or visuals that have helped you would be greatly welcome!

From my experience a half seat worked against me. The best way I felt to make it lighter was coming completely out of my seat (almost two point) and then sitting lightly for a bit, as I got heavy I got out of the saddle a few steps really stepping into my heels and then lightly sat back down. Working on keeping my balance in the center.

A suggestion. Take your horse out to where it can gallop - a proper gallop, not one with the handbrake still on - and play around with your position. As the horse is moving forward freely the easiest seat will be light, balanced, weight more or less over the withers, with your legs firmly underneath you. Effortless and like flying. I’m sure people will disagree with me here but I can still remember my first long gallop (40 + years ago) because that is when I began to really learn about the influence of my position in the saddle.

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Longeline.
Takes away your reins, so you learn to balance strictly with your seat.
You can be longed over ground poles & small Xs too.

Long ago trainer had us knot our reins, then go through a small gymnastic - arms out to the sides.
We had mirrors down the long walls in that arena & he’d direct us to check our position over jumps as we went through the gymnastic.

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Do a lot of trot two point on trails to get the thigh and ab muscles. In a jump saddle. Go for the burn. That might not be your end goal, but until you can hold yourself up there almost indefinitely you don’t really have the strength for the gallop light seat.

Been there. It’s great exercise!

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Probably an unpopular opinion, and you may not have access to one, but a GOOD hunter/jumper trainer with a strong background in the American forward seat can work wonders. I had a very defensive, driving seat from riding stoppers, and riding with a trainer who had a strong background in hunters, where you ideally never touch the saddle, as well as in pure show jumping, really helped me develop a much more nuanced and flexible seat on course.

One thing she drilled into me is that you only want a three-point, sitting seat when you are driving on purpose (ie to a spooky jump) OR if you’re in a tight turn. Similarly, I’m only really in a true two-point/galloping position on course if I’m galloping for the timers or I’m booking it through a big turn. Otherwise I’m in a light seat, which can vary from just touching the saddle but no actual weight on the saddle (like in the last few strides to the jump when I want to steady and support), butt 1 inch above saddle, butt 2 inches above saddle, etc. I don’t even really think “sit” on course because then I sit deep and drive - I just think “touch the saddle” if I want to steady my horse to the jump or through the turn.

I don’t think of a jump seat or light seat as one seat - it’s a whole spectrum between three-point (sitting) and two-point (galloping position) and you need to be super comfortable with every variation between those two seats, and know instinctively which seat you need at the particular moment in the course. It does eventually become second nature, but for me that only happened after years of a trainer telling me “touch the saddle for the corner… lighten your seat here… sit a bit to the base…”

Are you incorporating different seats into your flatwork at the canter? I like to do a few laps in a two-point to help the horse warm up their back. Then you could canter half the long side with your butt just grazing the saddle, canter the rest of the long side with butt 1" from the saddle, circle and sit in a true three-point, and repeat. Touch the saddle and collect a bit, don’t touch the saddle and extend a bit. Try butt just touching the saddle, butt 1/2" above the saddle, butt 1" above the saddle, butt 2" above the saddle, etc. Just play around, see how your horse responds, and try to get comfortable with it. Would be interesting to video it, too! When you think “butt above saddle” does your horse get all strung out? When you’re trying to just skim the saddle with your seatbones, are you actually driving more than you think? Can you half-halt off your core and back, without sitting down on the saddle?

It also might be useful to watch videos of American show jumping riders brought up in our classic equitation system: Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Jessica Springsteen, etc. You will see them all continually using the seat as an aid but very rarely using a true driving seat.

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@173north

That’s a really good explanation, more nuanced than I could provide. I would just add that these variations on half seat all require being able to keep yourself up out of the tack without bracing on the stirrups or standing up in the stirrups. For someone from dressage there will be a fitness and strength component first.

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I completely agree but also want to add that the balance of your saddle will make a huge difference in both the ability to maintain 2-point and to have good seat control. I spent years thinking I just wasn’t fit enough because I could never hold 2-point for as long as instructors wanted me too. Eventually, one of them mentioned I was fighting my saddle (god only knows why no one mentioned this earlier…including this particular clinician who I’d ridden with multiple times before he mentioned this revelation!!). I got a saddle with the correct balance and suddenly I had plenty of control over my seat and could easily hold 2-point as long as needed/requested!!

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@leheath

Yes, the saddle matters a lot. I think there’s a reason a top quality jump custom saddle can cost up to $10,000 :slight_smile: . And you really cant do two point that well in a dressage saddle. Well maybe if you really shorten the stirrups, and if there’s enough forward flap for that. But mostly you end up flopping around if you try to get too much out of the tack in a dressage saddle.

On the other hand, lots of h/j riders struggle to sit the canter in a dressage saddle :). Especially if they have the wrong saddle!

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Definitely true - I’m not a dressage rider and I know there’s a lot of core strength involved there, but riding is so complex and I am sure the core strength and muscles to sit a big trot on a dressage horse (which I definitely… could not do) are different from the muscles used to be able to control and change your seat while out of the saddle jumping a course.

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Very different. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to jumping but I really like training in both saddles, and my mare likes the change of balance and tack too.

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Thanks everyone for your suggestions! I think I need to get in my jump saddle (Antares Spooner) more than once a week and practice cantering with various degrees of lightness as @173north suggested. I’ve ridden dressage for so long that my vertical back is my secure place, so closing my hip angle AND keeping my balance feels very foreign. Add to that I just got a young horse who has a very elastic stride and jump = defensive riding when she’s been nothing but a saint. I’m only doing BN and N, so nothing too technical or high, but I want to be as supple and balanced as my horse vs going against her. Thanks and keep the suggestions coming…

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Ride in your jump saddle every day for a week. Do trot two point no hands on the neck until you can hold it indefinitely. When you’ve got that nailed you can practise on the canter. I think that trot two point is probably more work so better exercise, but feels less out of control than canter two point if you aren’t used to it.

You want to be sure you can hold the two point at canter, aren’t just being knocked in and out of the saddle thump thump :slight_smile:

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Definitely want to echo the bit about your saddle having a major role in the security of your position. I leased a schoolie from my trainer when my horse was injured last summer. Super sweet horse, easy jump, but I could not stay over his jump for the life of me. The saddle he went in just chair seated me horribly and made it so much harder to get my hip in line with my knee and heel. It constantly felt like I was flinging my body forward trying to get over my legs because the saddle pushed them so far forward. No amount of two point/ no stirrups work/ blood, sweat, tears could fix that.

Got into my new saddle when I bought my new horse and went “Ohhhh, this is what it’s supposed to feel like to be able to get over my leg and really sink into my heel.” My position over the fences felt so much more solid after that, even on my new green bean OTTB.

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Sidetrack and really dumb question, but where are you supporting your weight in two-point or even light or “hovering” seat if not in your stirrups?

I find that my weight in these seats is on my middle and lower thigh and the top of my shins below the knees, just like it was when I did two-point when riding bareback oh so many decades ago (NOT gripping with the knees) or when I did a posting trot either bareback or when I rode without stirrups.

Toned leg muscles doing frictional grip reduce the force of my body going down into the stirrups, much to the relief of the horses I ride when I post, do a half-seat or two-point.

I think it should be your core, glutes/posterior chain, quads and to a certain extent calves. For me, it’s mostly my quads but I’m very quad-dominant. When I work a lot on core & glute strength I find my thighs are less sore after jumping lessons and I have less knee pain.

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Thank you both, My sense of proprioception is terrible – but given how long I’ve been riding, and the hundreds (probably thousands) of lessons I’ve taken, I would hope that when I post I’m not just standing in my stirrups, because some trainer, somewhere, would have corrected that. Or wouldn’t my horse be miserable?

Well, some of the weight is obviously in the stirrups. Most of us can’t post or do two point as well without stirrups. But the idea is to get it coming from the thigh as much as possible. Then your lower leg stays quiet.

My sense of proprioception is truly horrible at times since my case of MS has truly messed up my brain and the rest of my central nervous system.

When I got my first lesson from my riding teacher I told her that I NEEDED her to be a “position Nazi” for Forward Seat riding, and I told her exactly what she should be looking for (as well as lending/giving her a few Forward Seat/US Cavalry books with plenty of pictures.)

She is not a natural position Nazi, but through the decade she has patiently told me when my body decides to do something else. I did NOT expect her to already know how to deal with a rider with MS or no proprioception, and a lot of the position remedies were ones I found through deep reading of equitation books (mostly Forward Seat, some dressage) and the invaluable book “Horse Brain, Human Brain” by Janet L. Jones, PhD.

And my riding has improved greatly this past decade because of my riding teacher’s good eye, patience, persistence, and willingness to learn new things.

It is because of my riding teacher and her lesson horses that I can still walk on my own two feet.

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