Riding in a correct dressage seat is one of the most important things in dressage because it allows you to balance your horse properly, and deliver the aids needed to give the right instructions to your horse.
I grew up in a horse family, so I’ve always ridden, but I’ve not always ridden quite like I do now. In fact I remember when I was a young boy, I overheard a conversation between my parents. It was in the lead up to a show in which I was to ride in the Boy Rider class, and they were talking about my riding style. My dad was saying ‘I just don’t think he’s ever going to get it’! I guess after a while I did get it, but perhaps this goes to show that I’m not a natural, but I have been practising a long time, and in fact I continue to refine my dressage seat every day.
Each time I get in the saddle, I like to work through a series of ‘checks’ to ensure I’m in a correct dressage seat. It’s ideal if you have mirrors to get immediate feedback, but if not, you’ll need to get creative. Use a friend, a video, or any reflection can help.
1. Check you’re in a place in the saddle in which you’re the easiest load to carry for the horse, and where your aids will go on properly.
I like to make sure I’m sitting on my seat bones with my knees in front of my chest. If I let my chest come in front of my knees, my lower leg comes back and then I end up leaning over the wither of the horse, and we don’t want to do that.
2. Try not to have tension in your thigh. As soon as this tension creeps in you’ll find your lower legs come off the horse and you’ll start to get pushed up out of the saddle.
3. When it comes to your upper body, firstly try to figure out where your body naturally wants to be. My tendency is to get a bit hollow-backed, and some people are the opposite, in more of a ‘chair’ seat.
Once you know what your default position is, you can begin to correct it. When I think about correcting my hollow back, I think about pushing my belly button up, without tightening or clenching. If you’re a chair-seated rider, you’ll want to try to sit a little taller and almost ‘hollow’ your back a little. Always try to keep your chest up and keep your upper body behind your knees.
4. With your reins, I think it looks best to have your hands in front of the saddle and just above the horse’s wither. Everyone has different length arms, though, so you may need to let your upper arm come forward to achieve this hand position, or if your arms are long enough you can keep your elbows bent at your side.
5. Try to ride as relaxed and loose as you can. Ride balanced and supple through your hips and lower back. Let your legs hang down around your horse. And lastly, your stirrups are not there to give you balance, they are purely to hold your toes up.
Also check out this quick video I did for Jarrett Arena Mirrors a few years back, focusing on how I establish a correct dressage seat.