I used to really, really dislike saddleseat riding. But, I hung out at a saddlebred stable in SC and learned some things and figured out some others.
The saddle is further back allowing the horse's shoulders to move more freely. The horses are trained and exercised in a way that has them in shape for that style of movement. The right muscles have been developed.
I compare it to a gymnast or perhaps a ballroom dancer. Those people have focused on specific muscles to get the movement they need for their activity.
The rider is placed further back than say someone riding a forward seat saddle, but they still bear much weight through their legs and feet. They are not so far back to be on a sensitive part of the anatomy and generally aren't thumping around back there like a sack of flour.
While that style doesn't work in my world, I do give good saddleseat horsemen respect for training well and caring well for their horses.
I don't understand the purpose of it (hell, I've heard at least three different names for it).
See links above.
I don't really like how it looks;
I don't like the way a lot of other equestrian disciplines look. That is why I ride what I like.
the reins look too tight,
Our horses like and seek contact. In a good rider, there will never be any pulling or hanging on a horse's mouth. A great rider was taught on the ground, using tissue paper reins how to stay light in a horse's mouth. Some do abuse the reins and abuse the contact, but that is prevalent in any and all riding styles.
the head looks too high,
If it were any other discipline, you would be correct. As it is, this is saddleseat, and that chess piece head carriage is bred for. So is the high motion.
and the saddle looks too far back. What is the purpose of that?
As stated above, to free up the movement of the shoulder. Any interference with the movement of the shoulder will negatively affect the horse's comfort and motion.
Do the riders have a way to avoid hurting the horse in that position?
Yes, it is called posting. It is the art of moving with the horse with a rising a falling motion so that the jarring gait of the trot is more comfortable for both horse and rider. I
A couple of thoughts. Placing the saddle behind the shoulder slightly is for all saddles (esp the more modern extended padding dressage types). That said, the horse has NO collarbone, so only a sling of muscles keep the chest and withers lfited. The (excessively) high/short carriage is what often causes the chest/withers/back to drop (as in the morgan pix early on in the post)...the horse must be kept slightly longer. This causes atrophy of the back muscles (esp when the horse 'parks out' (hindlegs way behind the croup in halt). It is a negative of poor methods.
It's the #$$& judges who have CAUSED ALL THE DISCIPLINES to DERAIL.
Ss saddles have always been flat/further back. But the sway back is the too high head and the training. They need to be longer and slightly lower...and ridden with clearer principles. The modern ss is painful (and I do not care for the longer feet of five gaited either)...jhmo
No, swayback is a conformational flaw known as Lordosis. It is seen in saddleseat breeds(mostly saddlebreds, though I have seen a few others), but it is most definitely NOT bred for. We work with it when it happens, but it is neither desirable, nor sought after. If you would like, I can get you some research papers detailing the genetic cause of lordosis. Funny thing is, some horses can have the gene and not show it. Some are situational caused early in development due to some trauma, though those are rare.
A lot of times, if a horse is going to have lordosis, you can tell LONG before you ever lay a saddle on it.
The high head and high motion and placement of the saddle does not cause it. If so, every single saddleseat saddlebred would retire with lordosis.
Agreed, there are (genetically) swayback horses from birth, and there are swayed (dropped) backs from training methods which hollow the back (ie the pix at the beginning). Both can be influenced by getting the horse to seek the hand/carry properly with the top line.
When the horse is sustained TOO high (or too low) and compressed it will change how the hind leg work, ie they only push the load. That drops the chest. I deal with those two rider induced actions all over the US when teaching. And the placement of the saddle (too far forward or back DOES affect the back muscles), just as the rider leaning forward or back does also. So many ss/parkseat morgans/arabs I see have virtually no muscle development behind the shoulder blade (which keeps the saddle in position) as well as no development from the shoulder forward which are part of self carriage. This is a (lack of physical) development which has become endemic in the last 40+ years.
For what it is worth I think all young foals tend to show this freedom as youngsters, which makes the riding of western pleasure horses all the more disgusting (I yes I showed all the seats nationally....its the riding against the nature of the horses that makes me #*$(&$ )
Which is why you have a balanced training program. A great deal of saddlebred's at home training is not constant up up up, squish, compact and up some more. I can't say much for morgans or arabs, but I do know saddlebreds. Believe it or not, most successful Saddleseat Show barns do know a bit or two about proper muscling and conditioning for the task required of them. Not to mention, our horses are conformationally different from most other breeds. If I ever sought to make a TB or QH carry himself like Imperator, I can only envision pain and failure on both sides. Heck, if I tried to make a Saddlebred born with a lower head carriage carry himself in a way he was not capable of, yes I can see how he would be hurt.
How far back do you believe our saddles are positioned? In my experience our saddles are not placed any different, but built to better accommodate the horse's motion as well as the required rider position. I often see western riders weight placed farther back in a lot of situations than saddleseat. When I ride, I am not a foot back from the horse's neck.
I keep waiting for my show horses as well as those of my many friends to develop any of these maladies outsiders believe are common.
LadyD, I do like traditional ss/saddlebred training (ie Helen Crabtree) and my mom even rode a top horse back in the day (Sweetheart's on Parade!). And it is where I started (as did many of my generation...ie Bill Steinkraus/Wofford/etc).
That said, I have rarely seen anything but 'trussing them up' in the last years, often with overchecks, draw reins (esp at arab shows) and marionette straps. That makes me sick. Look at the video, imho that is horrid muscling and full of tensions.
A higher open outline comes over time from riding iFv/actively with good half halts. The carriage of the horse has some to do with where the neck is set in, but it has a lot to do with training/engagement/etc. I have never met a horse which cannot piaffe, and for that it is necessary for the horse to function as they do in nature (like the foal pix).
Certainly ALL horses can seek the hand forward/down/out as they do in dressage tests. It simply takes more time/tact with horses with thin throatlatches (ie arabs/saddlebreds/friesans/some tbs) as they offer precipitous flexion (close their throat latches) too easily.
Interestingly enough there is little difference in the alignment of the different seats (if the rider is riding according to the rules). And there was even a rider in the 60s who won 2 of the 4 medal classes, and was second in one of the others.
All right, where are the experienced SS members here. I know we have some on here and they know exactly how to train properly. I feel like you two are making some assumptions without knowing how it truly works. That rider is actually quite good especially in comparison to some country pleasure riders I've seen.
Also, Dressage people say they just use the harsh bit for competition, and softer things for training and practice. It may be just me, but I'd want to keep something soft the whole time. You would think using something harsher would feel like 'punishment', and teach the horse to loathe showing. Of course, a bit's harshness depends on the rider, but with a harsher bit, a slight mistake with your hands (that anyone can make) will be more noticeable to the horse. That's the way I see it at least
The double bridle is for finesse so they don't have to make an exaggerated cue with a softer bit. Yes some riders abuse the weymouth, but that is why it is only supposed to be used at high level competition where only the best of riders and horses will excel. I'm sure the many dressage riders on this forum will be able to give you even more information as several of them are competing at mid to upper level dressage or at least aiming for it.
The saddle is further back allowing the horse's shoulders to move more freely.
No horse needs to use their shoulders more than a jumper, and the saddles they wear are very forward. High-stepping is the result of the shape of the horse's shoulder and forearm, not the placement of the saddle. Saddleseat riders sit further back because it makes the horse bring their hind legs further under them but without raising their backs like they would in dressage. Is it good for the horse? No, but then all disciplines put strain on the horse in some way.
I don't find sadddleseat to be an attractive form of riding but then I would say the same about Western pleasure. Again the problem is showing in general.
A horse going over a fence DOES need shoulder freedom in order to have a nice bascule (lift the forearms/closed the angles), and the saddles are NOT more forward but rather have a stepper angle (because the stirrups are shorter in order to have much shorter stirrups and be able to stay over the center of gravity which is further forward with the increased pace (canter/gallop).
Often times the higher stepping is weighted shoes/long feet the weight of which CAUSE higher mechanical actions. Saddlebreds ridden as dressage horses do not show the mechanical movement.
Horse is piaffe/passage show this same height of movement, but it is because of the shortened base of support and COMPRESSION of the hindleg joints being released into energy.
SS riders really do not sit further back per se, they rather are in a different balance (than light seat of hunter riders/etc).
The hindlegs really do not bring the legs any further under per se. Always look to the 'fall line' from the flank to the ground. Does the horse step beyond this? How? Over tempo or swinging back?
A horses can raise the back in two ways: 1 stay up and open and active and over time compress the hindlegs because they take hh/etc in which shortens the base of support/lifts the chest/ raises the withers/lowers the croup (which used to be traditional for ALL types of horses) or 2 be leveraged into over flexion in which case the chest is loft but the belly is tensioned and the lumbar back is lifted (which is forced submission).