By Jennifer Klitzke
I’ve been an avid dressage student for a quarter of a century. Within the details of a rider’s position is the rider’s seat, which for decades I had understood as the being the three seat bones that come in contact with the saddle. That’s partially right, but it’s more than that. Recently I have learned that a rider’s seat is from knee to knee and everything in between, especially the snug connection of the inner thighs with the saddle that help distribute the rider’s weight along the horse’s long back muscles. I’m sure this expanded concept of the rider’s seat had been taught over the course of the last 30 years, but it hadn’t clicked until now.
This knee-to-knee concept reminds me of my first riding lessons. I was instructed to grip with my knees as a means to hold myself in place while the horse moved. Then a few years later I began taking dressage lessons where the focus changed from gripping with the knees to balancing a top of the three seat bones that contact the saddle and learn to move with the horse in a relaxed fashion. I had completely thrown away the connection my thighs and knees had with the saddle in thinking this was “tension.” So for decades I flopped around loosely on a bouncy horse and believed this was the correct way to ride!
My riding concept was challenged last November when I audited a Mary Wanless biomechanics clinic. Mary talked in detail about riding with stillness and achieving it through a snug knee and thigh connection with the saddle and a “bearing down” of the internal anatomy. It takes great isokinetic effort to ride a moving horse with stillness, yet it is possible to ride relaxed and with high muscle tone (as long as you remember to breathe). Stillness and tension are not the same thing, just as flopping around on the saddle and relaxation are not the same thing.
This knee-to-knee-and-everything-in-between riding concept was further reinforced when I listened to gaited dressage clinicians Larry Whitesell and Jennifer Bauer at the Minnesota Horse Expo. Larry explained that the rider’s seat includes the three seat bones a top of the saddle and the use of the inside thighs in contact with the saddle to distribute the rider’s weight comfortably alone the horse’s long back muscles. It is sobering to think that for all these years I had been placing three heavy pressure points on my horse’s spine which encouraged hollowness. When the rider’s weight is distributed alone the horse’s long back muscles through the use of the thighs, it helps the horse lift and round its back.
While driving home from the Expo, I reflect on this knee-to-knee-and-everything-in-between rider’s seat concept, and I wondered if it would have an impact on helping my Tennessee walking horse move with more forwardness.
Indeed it has! As I ride Makana in this riding position, I feel a distinct difference in her flat walk when I snug up my inner thighs against the saddle as compared with sitting passively on her back as I had. She feels more powerful from behind, grows taller in the shoulders, and moves naturally more forward with less prodding on my part with my calves.