Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
We want legs that grip, but not like most people think. Grip does not equal squeeze. Squeeze tightens legs muscles and makes them hard, and gives you the grip of a pine board. The 'grip' should be more like a sponge, enveloping and embracing contact with relaxed muscles. When I started a couple of years ago, I thought 'weight in stirrups' meant pressure in stirrups, so I tightened my legs (making them stiff) and pretty much rode the stirrups instead of the horse. I'm beginning to think the stirrups are there to keep your toes from dangling.
I'm guessing there are times when stirrups do much more (jumping), but that should be a variation only taught after the student learns to relax into the saddle. IMHO as someone still struggling to learn to relax on a horse, I think the focus should be on teaching how to sit on a horse. I think a lot of skilled riders don't realize how difficult it is for a beginner to relax onto the horse.
From the perspective of a beginner, I think folks try to prep us for future sports without understanding that the things you do in specialized sports are counterproductive to developing your seat, and your seat is what everything else will later depend on. It is like trying to mix a bit of calculus in while teaching algebra, when the algebra needs to become instinctive before calculus can make sense. When I taught my kids to drive, we didn't start on the freeway.
I only took a handful of lessons 30 years ago, and then didn't ride for most of my life. When I started riding again, my kids took lessons so my impressions are based on how I was taught 30 years ago (briefly) and what I hear when my daughters take lessons or what I read in books.
My impression is that instructors try to teach too much too soon. Eyes here, hip bones doing XYZ, feet here, etc - you cannot ride with your conscious mind directing things. Sally Swift's discussion of bones is fine for someone who already has a good seat, but was and is way beyond what I can think about at my level of riding. I wish I had learned to ride at 7 instead of 50, when you focus on having fun and don't try to ride with your conscious mind.
I've spent 2 1/2 years fighting the horse's movement instead of enjoying it. I was taught to post 30 years ago more as a way of avoiding the sitting trot than as a refinement of it, and that put tension and tightness and stiffness into my legs - and that destroys the seat. I now think - and the experienced riders can say if I'm wrong - that posting applies rhythmic moments of tension so you can be gentler on the horse's back. It is something you can do while having fun trotting, rather than a method of surviving the trot.
Sorry for the long discourse. The horse lifts you rhythmically while you have fun trotting. At the top of the rise, you rhythmically apply a moment of tension to pause and then slow your return.
The independent seat isn't something you learn as an improvement to riding. It IS riding. For me, a guy learning in his 50s, it means I need to stop thinking about riding and concentrate on smiling, talking, and doing other things while I ride at a walk and trot until my seat is independent of my thinking mind. I need to regress 45 years until I'm happy and relaxed on a horse. I need to get my head out of the saddle and put my butt there instead! Only then will I be ready to progress.
How do you make your leg stay put? You don't. Gravity does. If your leg doesn't stay put, then you are messing with it and riding your stirrups instead of the horse. Get off the stirrups and on to the horse.
But I'm a beginner myself, and trying to learn myself. Maybe I have it all screwed up. If so, hopefully someone with more experience will correct me.