...I challenge you to try posting for 45 minutes, doing one-stirrup or no-stirrup posting, while you do serpentines or other patterns, and tell me you don't feel you got a workout. Is it necessary? Well, maybe not, but I want to be able to do it...But yes, there is a difference between passive riding and active riding in my humble opinion.
And although I agree that staying on is a pretty important part of riding, it's not all there is to it...
Gotta admit, I've never been tempted to post for 45 minutes, let alone do no stirrup posting. If you wish to do so...fine. But that hardly demonstrates a difference between active riding and passive riding, nor is it a requirement for good riding. After all, lost of folks don't even post...but that doesn't make them passive riders. In fact, Caprilli (and Littauer) rejected stirrupless riding as building bad habits.
A passive rider is like a dead weight being hauled around. They don't anticipate the horse's movement or attempt to match their balance to the horses. They expect the horse to do all the work. They are...passive. One can post passively. It is often taught - to let the horse's back thrust you out of the saddle. That is passive - letting the horse work harder so the rider can work less, instead of actively anticipating what the horse will do and matching it.
An active rider, to me, is one who is aware of what his horse is doing and what he is about to do, and then using his body as a rider to set the horse up for success. Here is a picture of my wife and I riding...one passive, one active:
The experienced little BLM mustang my wife is riding is quite content to be ridden passively. He'd greatly prefer that to being tightly controlled! An active rider can get a better performance out of him, but active in that sense refers to active balance.
There is also active riding mentally. Horses don't talk because people don't listen, and people don't listen because they don't particularly care what the horse is thinking - the "Just do it" school of riding. I believe one deals with a spooky horse by actively riding its mind. That means being aware of your horse's concerns and dealing with them in a way other than "Just do it!" An active rider learns to defuse the bomb before it explodes, although trial and error means one will need to ride a few explosions to learn the warning signs and how to manage the tension.
That requires very active riding, but not complex physical riding or extensive cues. It is also IMHO a specialized subset of riding and many won't need to do it.
As I said before, "If [really riding] is...competing at a high level in any equine sport, then "really riding" is obviously very hard and only a few will ever be good riders.
" If "really riding" means actively moving in fluid balance with your horse and motivating him to listen to his rider
- which is how I would define it - then really riding IS within the reach of most riders who care.
As for staying on, it seems to be a much underrated part of riding. After all, one ceases to ride the moment one comes off, and it is very hard in particular for an older beginner - like me starting at 50 - to be confident if learning riding must include falling a lot. I don't think it does. But I do think a lot of riders learn how to ride a predictable horse and never learn how to adjust their position, balance and control to deal with an unpredictable horse. I think too many instructors say "you need to fall XX times to become a good rider
" to cover up their own inadequate or false riding instruction.
Here is an example of what I mean:
It seemed to me in 1933, when this book appeared (and I haven't changed my mind since), that if the rider's position depended primarily on firmly fixed knees then he was greatly hampered in the use of his legs. For, as long as a strong use of the legs releases the wedging of the knees, it would seem that the rider's position would be weakened every time he had to control the horse forcibly. Of course, on perfectly schooled horses, such moments may occur very rarely and don't have to be considered seriously; but a perfectly schooled horse is far from being a general case in this world, at least today.
I am also against gripping strongly with knees alone because as a result of abrupt movements of the horse which the rider has not been able to follow rhythmically he often loses his position by pivoting on the knees, usually landing on the horse's neck or beyond. All of us have seen this happen to such riders during unexpected refusals or irregular take-offs for the jump. Obviously, gripping with the lower thighs, knees and upper calves is stronger than with the knees alone.
Furthermore, a strongly fixed knee interferes with the flow of the weight into the stirrups and stiffens the knee joints, thus greatly diminishing the amount of spring in the rider's body. This spring, which is rarely mentioned by other schools of forward riding is to me a very important element in a good, effortless forward seat.
And last, but not least, I am quite certain that a hard grip stiffens a beginner and, once in the habit of being stiff, some never relax in their lives. So how am I to produce relaxed riders (not merely sitters) if my teaching from the outset is to be based on a fixed knee? Thus, with great regret, I had to reject for my work this part of the Italian method, of many principles of which I personally am so fond. - Common Sense Horsemanship, VS Littauer, Chapter 5
There are videos on posting that say the knee should be a fixed pivot point and that you should post by pivoting the thigh around the knee. Heck, practicing posting without stirrups seems to me like it would REQUIRE much of that, since without stirrups no weight can be supported below the knee. I've tried both with an explosive horse, using my Australian saddle. And a soft knee with weight flowing into the stirrups is what stopped me from slamming into the poleys.
ANY fall has the potential to kill or cripple a rider, and thus the former military safety officer in me believes all falls should be examined to determine what went wrong and how to break the chain of events leading to the fall. Like plane crashes, prevention starts by taking them seriously. No student can be promised they WON'T fall, but every fall has its root in some error - tack, poor teamwork between horse and rider, bad position for that specific moment, etc.
Staying on is certainly not the height of good riding, but it IS its prerequisite! And having started at an age where my bones break easier and my body doesn't bounce as well, staying on WHILE learning is pretty important. I've had one fall during a dismount. My error. It caused m 9 years of pain. It still limits my riding. Perhaps those years of pain made me more aware of why falling is serious. Particularly for those of us long out of our teens...