thank you for the responses!
I do agree that I need to do some stirrup-less work, next time my trainer is able to come out I'll definitely ask her about it. As it stands, I ride in a large field without a fence, so I am a bit worried about doing stirrup less work on my own, which is why I asked about longer stirrups!
Part of the Dressage seat is learning how to use the stirrups, like how in a forward seat you art pushing weight into the heel to stabilize yourself. In Dressage the stirrups should serve to aid the leg in conforming to the barrel of the horse while allowing it to remain "breathing". I like to think of having the feeling that my entire leg from seatbone to ankle is about 1 mm from the horse.
From there using the leg is very simple if you are able to isolate each part. An aid with the thigh serves to straighten or bend the horse and with the calf to emphasise a seat aid and the heel as a correction. The leg should however always feel like it is cascading down the horses side directly from the hip. This is why a good saddle is the best foundation to learn on.
Before you can have a stable leg however, you need a strong seat. This is where the no stirrup work can be a good tool but you still need to be able to use your seat with stirrups.
Very informative! Thank you! I'll try to remember all this next time I ride! Are there any exercises that you know of or have used yourself to learn how to isolate certain portions of your legs? I think with me, the problem I have is that when I try to use one portion, the muscles above it tend to tense up, my calf is the only 'independent' muscle that I can manage.
It sounds as if you need first and foremost to learn to follow the horse's movement. Think of it this way; you and your horse are dancing the Tango or some other slinky Latin dance. Think of the way good dancers follow and mirror each other's movements and how their bodies move together. Imagine that your hips move with your horse's hips. As his right hind leg reaches forward, your right hip moves in concert with it. Feel how his belly sways back and forth, right and left as he steps. Feel it with your seat and roll with the horse's movement.
This is another thing I have to work on, thank you for mentioning it! I can usually move with him at the walk when bending, but in the trot or canter, or on a straight line, I have troubles with staying in rhythm with him.
Horses, especially sensitive ones, find tensed seat muscles either irritating or constricting. Some will "run away" from a tense seat & thighs, others react by shutting down and slowing forward movement, as if the tight seat is a straight jacket.
although my horse will keep working with a tense rider, he stops moving over his back when my seat tenses up. He has stiffness problems with moving his body around at times, so before I point the finger at him, I would like to give him the most freedom in his movement as I can just by learning to how to ride and use myself properly. If that makes sense?