I was watching a Western Dressage video, and one of the comments was that the rider has a 'chair seat.' What exactly is a chair seat? I've heard it a few times before but I never really knew what it meant.
The ideal rider position is to have the shoulder, hip and heel aligned, so that if the horse were to suddenly disapear from under you, you would land on the ground perfectly balanced.
A chair seat occurs when the riders legs (heels) are pushed forward in front of their hip and seat bones, which usually is tied in with the rider also leaning backwards to compensate for the lack of balance in this position.
It's not a great habit to have, as you lose your driving seat, you cannot apply any kind of effective seat aid including half halts, and you are forcing more weight down onto the horse's back than your need to.
I'll disagree with Kayty here, although it is something I just thought about this week. Look at the photo below:
Historical note - the rider there was later killed in a gunfight in a saloon. Don't know if he took offense to someone calling his riding a chair seat or not.
But while his heels are forward of his hips, that is NOT how someone looks sitting in a chair. Now compare my youngest daughter and I:
She has a chair seat. Her thighs are almost parallel to the ground, like sitting in a chair. In her case, it is caused by her insisting on riding a saddle that is too big for her. My heels are a bit in front of my hip, but my thighs are about as vertical as the saddle will permit (and parallel to the poleys).
There are a couple of important differences. When your thighs are parallel to the ground, you aren't using them to glue you to your horse. They are mostly sitting on top of the horse, like a piece of luggage. They also mean your center of gravity is higher, and the higher your CG, the easier it is for a fast turn to dump you. If your horse needs to spin, your legs are getting in the way, and your weight is like being in a chair spinning around with your legs out instead of in - you spin faster and better if your weight is carried in a vertical line.
My heels may be forward, but most of my weight is being supported by my thighs. The friction of my thighs helps when Mia goes from trot to the "OMG Crouch" - like today, when she saw an ENVELOPE sitting by the road! OMG! Keeping more of my weight lower on the horse helps when she jumps sideways. But heels forward also helps me get my thighs down. My hips won't spread far enough to allow me to get my thighs down if my heels are under my hips. Instead, that forces my crotch out of the saddle. And that hasn't changed any in 4.5 years of riding. Heels a little forward also help me get my heel down, which is good, and to do it with a relaxed leg, which is good.
If a chair seat is defined as 'heels in front of hip', then I will always ride with a chair seat. But I think a better definition is that a chair seat is when your thighs are parallel to the ground, like they are in a chair. THAT is harmful to riding no matter what style of riding (except racing horses, where you accept it in exchange for getting every bit of speed from the horse).
My daughter can get away with it because she ONLY rides a forgiving and very good-hearted gelding. If she tried it on my mare, she'd be dumped. In fact, she DID try riding Mia once for a lesson, and Mia threw her a minute into the lesson...
My daughter still doesn't listen to me about riding, though.
Western maybe a little different - I've seen a lot of photo's of western riders in slight chair seats.
But for Dressage, it's a no no. With the heels in front of your hip, you start to lose the ability of the pelvis to absorb motion - try sitting trot on a huge warmblood with expressive hock and knee action. Everyone wants to lean back - but as soon as you lose the alignment of the shoulder - hip - heel, your pelvis starts to jam and you are bouncing on the saddle.
Yes I agree with Kayty. I'm not sure about the western thing, but for sure in dressage a chair seat will not be tolerated. And like she said, its not only about looks but also about how it affects your seat in the saddle. If you aren't sitting correctly aka in a chair seat, you cannot use yourself very effectively in the saddle. Even just having your lower legs slightly out in front of you will make it difficult to sit the trot or do any number of things. It totally changes the dynamic of how you are sitting; the horse can feel that you are off balance.
...Even just having your lower legs slightly out in front of you will make it difficult to sit the trot or do any number of things. It totally changes the dynamic of how you are sitting; the horse can feel that you are off balance.
Completely untrue. How you best can ride a collected trot is your business. But it simply is a false statement to say that having heels in front of the hip means you cannot sit the trot or that "the horse can feel that you are off balance". Sorry, but I ride this way daily. And the cowboys who rode like that would have been risking their lives if they rode in an unbalanced way.
Cavalry were taught to ride with their feet in front of their hips, and the cavalry of the 1800s rode distances and under circumstances that almost no modern rider ever attempts. If you ride 200 miles in 4 days, and finish with a charge where you have to go over terrain you've never seen before with a saber in one hand and folks doing their best to kill you - well, you wouldn't do that in a way that put you off balance.
It is easy to sit the trot this way. I did it a bunch of times today, even with a stiff back. It does NOT affect your ability to move with a normal horse's motion. And unless your hips will spread enough, it is NEEDED to get your butt into the saddle. Maybe not for most women, but I'd bet I'm not the only male rider who can't do splits...
Hey I'm just saying what I know to be true. A while ago, I was starting to develop a bit of a chair seat, where my lower legs and heels were out in front me a bit too much. A dozen lunge lessons later, and I was back into alignment. My heels are now underneath me and in my opinion, since then I am ten times more effective in my aids. I don't ride western, and I'm sure that to an extent there might be something to do with the saddle. But my dressage saddle encourages a long leg that is directly underneath me. I feel more centered and balanced there. And you can't tell me that isn't the truth because I can feel it and it makes a real difference.
Since I don't ride western, I don't really have much of an opinion on that. But I do ride dressage and yes I stand by what I said. Besides, there is absolutely no way I could ride a decent medium trot, sitting in the saddle, without me sitting in the correct position.
I'm not saying that you cannot do it, I'm sure it could be easier especially in a Western saddle...in fact its generally considered easier to ride in a chair seat. But nevertheless it is considered incorrect.
And yeah I can't do splits either, but I don't have an issue getting my butt down into the saddle;)