Just started taking lessons last month.. Teacher hammers home and yells and yells that when something bad might happen, always always lean back and heels down. Today my horse tripped and of course, I went to lean foward. I notice that when a horse I'm riding either makes a sharp turn, or a change that catches me off guard, I feel that I am slipping a bit out of the saddle and I move foward and not back. So, I know to lean back, etc. MY question is, when making turns, etc, is it normal to feel movement in the saddle or should I feel glued to the horse as if he isnt turning, et?
You will feel the horse turning, so I can't say it's the same as going straight, but you should feel centered and balanced with him while that happens, not like you're about to slide off the side like the teacup ride at the fair. Part of the difference is learning, and teaching your own body and muscles to move in time with the horse so you're synchronized (on the same page, so to speak) while he turns and moves. If you're not moving in time, you're going to feel put off balance or unsteady.
Leaning forward is something almost everyone has to fight when they're first learning, and lots of us still fight that bad (but very natural) habit, especially if we're tense or nervous.
Sharpie pretty much nailed it with this one. Falling forward in the saddle is a very common mistake when learning to ride, mostly because your muscles are used to it and haven't gotten used to the balanced seat yet. But this is also why your trainer yells about heels being down (though politely reminding is always nice too) as this position also helps set the rest of your leg and seat deeper in the saddle for a more balanced overall placement.
I'm not an expert but I've been taking lessons for a while. I can tell you, you'll instinctively want to lean forward or drop your shoulders when you turn...there's a lot of things you want to do instinctively that you'll have to relearn in order to ride.
Riding isn't a person on a horse. Riding is you AND a horse - meaning you're not a single person when you ride - you are the top part of the united two of you. Try to find a book about CENTERED RIDING = there are a number of mental exercises you can use when you ride - like seeing your legs as roots that go down and link you to your horse, that give you stability. Also telling your horse with your mind by visualizing the perfect gait. How that works is horses are incredibly sensitive animals...they are annoyed by the feeling of a fly on them, so any movement or subtle shifts in your weight is a means of communicating with them.
Try to wrap your calves down and around your horse's chest, heels in - not kicking or pushing but in contact, toes at appx 30 degrees. You and your horse are one unit, not two. At some point when you ride, you'll think and your horse will respond. It's not magical and it's not perfect. But there are rare moments when it really is magic - but you have to larn to sit in your saddle, to let your hips open and join with the saddle and become one with your horse's gait. It will get easier the more you ride.
It's normal to feel movement in the saddle at your level of riding.
Riding is one of those things that takes a long time. Eventually, you'll get a feel for the movement and when the horse moves you'll move with it.
As far as leaning back - chances are if you were to see a video of yourself when you "lean back" you're actually pretty straight. It's natural for new riders to ride leaning over a bit, if you were sitting on a stationary log or something it would make sense - moving into that position would probably be the safest. However riding a horse that moves you need to learn to adopt the upright position that will not only be more secure long term, but will allow you to communicate with your horse.
Put your feet shoulder width apart with your feet flat on a level surface. Put your weight in your heels with your knees slightly bent and your shoulders upright. Move around a bit in your hips and upper legs. Notice how your feet stay still? In order to keep your shoulders somewhat still, your core is also likely doing some work--just as it would on a horse. Your ankles, knees, hips, and core are absorbing all the movement.
Now bring your shoulders forward and your bum back into a two point or jumping position. Did you go up onto the balls of your feet or onto your toes as you tipped forward? Did you feel the muscles on the front of your shins working? If you are like most people, you did.
Go try it beside your computer before continuing to read. You need to be honest about what you feel when you do these things.
Now do the same, but have a friend give a gentle forward or sideways tug on your arm or a (soft!) push on the bum. Did you fall forward or step to the side?
Here's the thing, though--you want your weight down in your heels. Tipping forward is the problem. Go forward into that jumping position again, this time concentrating on having your weight falling down your back, over your bum, the backs of your thighs, and into your heels. Keep your knees over your toes, not in front of them. Keep your chest open. I feel like there's an anchor coming from my spine and dangling from my bum if that helps. Think proper squat (watching squat videos on youtube can help).
Do you feel how your lower leg is completely stable and solid and holding your balance? As long as your weight is down and back and your core strong, you can do whatever you want with your arms, head, and upper body. Get into that position and have your friend give a tug on your arm or soft push on the bum. Did you stay mostly in position or at least find it easier?
When you next get on a horse get that feeling of sinking down. You will feel the difference and it will feel like it would take an atom bomb to remove you!
From your other posts, I gather you are riding western. When you are starting, it is normal to move around some in the saddle. It takes time and practice for your body to learn to move with the horse. The video below is my favorite video on cantering (or loping). A lot of it also applies to sitting a trot, and even walking - it is just the movement of the horse's back is easier to notice at a canter.
Leaning forward tends to put weight on your thighs and make your seat light in the saddle. That is a good thing if you want your horse to go fast in a straight line. It hurts if you want your horse to turn sharp, or if you want your horse to calm down after something goes wrong.
Before the video is a picture of a western cowboy from the early 1900s. It isn't a style seen a lot now, but it has some advantages. What I like about it is it shows how moving your hips can allow you to move with your horse, even when you are way back in the saddle:
This is what we've done with my 9 year old that is a beginer rider. Try sitting on a large exercise ball, shoulders, hips & heels in a straight line. Bring your toes up and slightly turned out & balance on your heals. Granted, he's probably a lot shorter than you are, but it has helped him learn to find balance & not lean forward. If he leans forward, the ball shots out from behind him