How’s your derrière? Is posterior a more delicate word than rump? Our culture has a lot of fanny chatter: too flat, too round, somehow sagging. Riders should care less about the superficial “do these white breeches make my butt look big?” and more about how does my backside feel…to the horse, obviously. We aspire to evolve our seat.
The dressage master, Nuno Oliveira had what some thought to be the most profound seat on a horse. He rode hunched over during the last years of his life and yet he became a better rider, his horses were also more relaxed and brilliant.
A profound seat…rather than controlling his horse, it unleashed brilliance. What an inspiration.
Gaining skill as a rider starts with acquiring some level of relaxation in the mind and then allowing that to spread through our body, eventually starting to put positive energy in the seat area to work toward a deeper seat.
A more sensitive seat is the crucial step between being a dominating rider and a perceptive, communicative rider.
We all start riding by wanting to make the horse do something, even if it’s only walking away from the herd. We have a picture in our heads and we go to work–pushing, pulling, kicking. Maybe you think you are a quiet rider, whose hands don’t jerk but instead you just pull, adding a pound of pressure as your horse does, until it’s a full-out tug-o-war. Even if your pressure is passive aggressive, it’s still adversarial. About then emotions get involved and things get worse. We are so focused on having our way that we don’t listen. That’s what domination is.
Listening to a horse, to be literal, does not involve your ears. Yes, they may snort or blow, but the larger area (no pun intended) of communication is always through the part of us most connected to the horse; our seat positions us spine to spine with the horse, nervous system to nervous system. In order to evolve a deeper, more aware seat while in the saddle, a rider must quiet the mental chatter, relax the actual gluteal muscles, and become internally aware of how the horse physically feels between our legs.
Put delicately, riding is the process of getting our brains out of our heads and into our behinds. It means less brain-thinking, even if it’s about hand position and cuing transitions. We are searching for feel, for finesse, and that’s a sensual awareness, not an intellectual opinion.
A mentally dominating rider uses a horse like a dirt bike, revving the engine and slamming the chassis to and fro attempting to meet a requirement. The rider is talking with herself about how to make the horse do something and leaving the most important thing out–the horse. Whether the rider is angry or just quietly frustrated, it’s still a fight because it starts with two sides, each alone and distanced. It’s like trying to learn the tango by counting the beat and looking down watching your tense, reluctant feet. When the dance happens through mental math, there is no fluidity. No romance.
Dressage riders can appear to have a glazed look sometimes. While a jumper is turning and looking for the next jump, a dressage rider seems almost in a trance of mental stillness, even as the horse performing shoulder-in or flying changes. They glide along effortlessly with no resistance. The secret is that the more intense the work gets, the smaller the cues become, so the horse and rider seem to move as one.
Disclaimer: Moving as one sounds mystical, but it isn’t. It’s a give and take of perception between partners. It isn’t about right or wrong, but rather a physical awareness of a small tension in the neck, or a slight lean of a shoulder. It could be either the horse or the rider, but when noticed so early, the partner’s response can be a small, subtle suggestion–peaceful and rhythmic. In other words, it looks like a dance. Maybe when our lumbering and hyperactive brain gets out of the way, our soul can come forward to elevate the connection. You know this is right because horses don’t inspire our minds, but our hearts. It’s where they live and we have to make our way there to be a partner.
Remember, the only means horses have of communicating with us is through their bodies. We are too quick to judge their actions negatively. We correct them when they tell us how they feel. Their feelings are not any more open to debate then ours are. They are eloquent and honest, but our seats must learn to listen and become more responsive. That desire for an enlightened kind of soulmate connection with a horse is never a mental transaction. It’s beyond pretense and words, deep in our spines, where truth and spirit are all that matters.
A deep seat means that physically we aren’t stiffly perched, but rather relaxed and plugged in, responding fluidly to our horse. Beyond that, deep also means thinking less and feeling more. It’s being introspective, discerning, esoteric, and if you rest in that silence long enough, even profound.
My first trainer, who absolutely hated dressage, always told me to “take a deep seat and a faraway look.” It’s cowboy talk for the same thing.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.