Does YOUR Seat Relax? And When?
My lesson this morning included really working on soft hands, arms, elbows. This led to a segue into other bits and pieces relaxing for responding to the aids.
One of the websites my trainer directed me for learning how to release when my horse responds, was eurodressage.com. There were some very interesting articles on the art of release. So, taking some of this information from the article, I began to pay attention to what my seat/buttocks do while I'm riding. To my (horror) surprise, I found that even while just sitting on my horse listening to my coach, I was holding mild tension in my glutes.
Earlier in my warm up at the walk, I was feeling pretty tuned in to how much tension I had in my glutes. For example I'd compress my seat and he'd halt immediately, I'd then relax the muscles of my hip/butt. As the lesson progressed, all this attention to the muscle tone went completely out the arena, I'm always concentrating so hard.
I'm still in learning and experimenting mode. I would love to hear more about just how relaxed I "should" be. And how much is too much? TIA.
I can relate to this post on so many levels! I too tend to "brace" my glutes, especially if I don't like what's going on (trying in vain to sit a working trot, etc). I literally think constantly about sinking my body into the saddle and relaxing from the waist down. I haven't been taking lessons lately, but the other day my horse was acting up and I (without thinking) relaxed my lower body and sat his movements pretty darn well! So it does pay off if you keep at it and just constantly think to exhale, relax your glutes and "sink" yourself into the saddle.. :)
I'm interested to see what others have to say about this, and I'll check out that website!
ETA: If you really want an exercise in relaxing your glutes, trot without stirrups and resist the urge to post--instead relax your glutes and seat as much as possible to slow the horse to a comfortable cadence. This exercise really showed me how tense my seat was!
Think of it this way, smile with all your cheeks and you'll relax, maybe even start laughing.
I do my best to keep my seat relatively relaxed. Just enough to allow me to sit up in a good equitation position while still moving with my horse. Any seat tension, for my horses, is a half halt. If they get going a little too chargey, especially on my barrel horses, I'm going to go from just moving with them to a little tightening of my thighs, seat, stomach muscles, and hands. If I need to, I'll use my outside hand as well but that is rarely needed now. Just a little bit of resistance until they come back to me then we go back to softening.
I really think this is a feel thing. It comes with a lot of time in the saddle. However I've observed the same thing with new students who ride with more tension, their horses do not move as freely or will not go forward. My mare as well will let me know if I'm not riding softly for some reason, she'll get very tense underneath me.
My "challenge" 100%, except in addition to some hardening and tensing in my glutes, I really tend to harden through the lumbar spine! Relaxing my buttocks and low back is extremely difficult since we've realty begun working the canter, and at this gait primarily this occurs (though it was a mild problem when I began working sitting trot a lot as well). I don't have any clue why it is that by the fourth stride of the horse's canter, I've gone from relaxed and moving with her fairly well in a following seat, to this stiffness which I cannot, yet, for the life if me seem to control! I am not afraid of falling, of being run away with, of anything that I can consciously put a finger on. I naturally have a realistic amount of trepidation, (I'm on a swift moving, large animal, and I'd be an idiot to have no sense of self-preservation need!), but it certainly is not an overriding or even a mild, conscious "fear"...nonetheless, "something" is causing me to tense up.
My husband believes it's subconscious memory related to my fairly severe back injury suffered as a kid, after landing on a jump when my lesson horse ran out on a line... I don't know if it's that, or possibly his other theory. Her believes since it is exactly that area (my lumbar spine) which is compromised due to these two now degenerated disks (one is totally gone and not even fragments are visible on MRI, while the other looks like a mess of chunks between two vertebra), therefore, I already am used to holding my compromised areas rigid, and during the canter, I get more "protective" of my spine.
Either way, if I am going to be fair to the horse I ride, as a primary concern, and secondarily, if I'm going to improve at riding the canter, I HAVE to sort out this rigidity issue. She certainly cannot free and lift her back if my body is pounding on her with every stride.
What occurs is that as soon as I feel myself doing this "tightening up", I slow her (if she hasn't slowed herself already!) so I start over again, same thing occurs, and I never really get to practice loosening and relaxing.
Tis a tough situation, and if you find the solution, please, let me in on it! :0)
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I am with you. I find it very hard to relax my "seat". I think it is, then when I purposefully relax it, I realize how tight it was, even when Iwould have said it was relaxed.
I think I am really struggling with this nowadays becuase my lower back is causing me pain a lot, now, so I have my whole body from belly button to butt button, closed and hard, bracing to protect my spine.
I was telling my trainer how nicely my seat was moving forward/back on our recent trail ride. Um. She immediately reminded me it's not forward and back but left hip right hip - one hip forward at a time. When I next rode I saw a big difference in my assumed perception. She said, - if you follow with your seat forward and back, it can look like a pretty awful pelvic thrust!
I have discovered my seat is far more relaxed on the trail. It seems to be because I am/we are focused on moving forward. In the arena, there are always rails and corners to deal with, and I seem to over compensate my horse cutting corners by over using my bum aids. Then I forget to release them, argh! One more thing to remember to do while riding!!!
It helps me to just do walk halt transitions using my seat, then relax my aids. Then get used to the feeling as we move to the trot walk transitions and then the same for canter. I am always needing to pay attention to my butt now!
Hopefully I'm not to late to comment but generally to get myself to relax and to let out stress in my seat I always let my legs stretch down when im first walking laddy around in the warm-up out of the stirrups. I just let my legs sway and doing that tends to get my tension all out of my lower half. Also when I was riding around the other day at the trot when I found myself tensing up (since Laddy was being his general crazy arab self when he goes a couple days out of work going way too fast, hollowing, and leaning on his inside shoulder) I thought of letting my hands stay stationary and letting my seat go to jelly and having my upper body pulled up like it was on a coat hanger. For some reason when I set my mind to doing that and started focusing on my breathing I was able to relax my seat really well and give a really effective half halt by just sinking into my saddle down to my knees. It was amazing though how much good just relaxing my glutes did to the way he was acting after I did that we had an awesome ride because I lost all my stress. I will say with Laddy he is really seat operated. :)
Remember to smile with both sets of cheeks.
I think cross training helps. It helps build body awareness.
I do a lot of Zumba and dance (belly dance), so I have decent awareness of when something is tight and how to force the muscle to relax. This is vital for belly dancing to get your movements fluid and big. That knowledge translates well to the saddle. If my horse isn't acting the way I'm asking, I'm better able to feel what I'm doing to cause it (I'm far from just doing the right thing automatically!). I'm also better able to make specific adjustments to my position when I'm in lessons (things like drop your left hip more or lean back with your right shoulder more for example). Anyway, my point was that the cross training helps me to be able to realize what my body is doing when I am trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong.
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