The Importance Of Thinking And Feeling – Seatbones

Riding requires both thinking and feeling in equal parts. A rider who thinks too much quickly becomes rigid in their body and mind, and a rider who doesn’t think enough suffers from a lack of purpose in each ride. The former can lead to such things as impossible expectations, frustrations from both parties and a mechanical outcome, while the latter can result in stagnation of progress, wishy-washy execution, or a loss of interest from both parties.

Feeling alone can get a horse and rider combination quite far, particularly if the rider also has good general horse and riding instincts, though sometimes there is a lack of understanding why some things work and why others don’t that can stall progress. Knowing that something doesn’t feel right is part of the equation, but understanding why it’s not right requires gathering of data, thinking, and often execution of logical experimentation.

I want to focus solely on the seatbones, but not for the purpose of explaining how to sit on the seatbones properly, how to use them, or how to shift your weight on them. Google will have to be your friend for that information at the moment. My concern here is for the horse, specifically diagnostic purposes.

So, now that you’re sitting correctly on your horse for some flatwork, you’ve checked that your pelvis is level and you’ve not got a collapsed hip – and you are otherwise level in your ears and shoulders, and your upper body (including head) and lower body are aligned in accordance with your travel – pay attention to your seatbones and compare how the horse feels under each one, first at a walk in a straight line (both directions), then on a circle (both directions), then at the trot etc…

If you have any natural inclination to feel your horse through your seatbones you will immediately feel that the horse does not move under those seatbones equally. And that the difference can change depending on gait or direction of travel, EVEN IF you as the rider remain perfectly positioned at all times.

Those who have spent a lifetime of working (and feeling) to make their horse/s symmetrical; equally strong, straight and supple on both sides will know that any unevenness in their seatbones is wholly their fault. The rest of us need to figure out if it’s us or the horse, or both. The easiest way to determine which situation we’re dealing with is to have a person of superior riding skills ride the horse and tell you what they feel. Secondarily, you can employ a skilled set of eyes on the ground to correct your overall position of any significant unevenness/lopsidedness, while you concentrate on how those changes affect the feel of the horse under your seatbones. If, after fixing your position, the horse feels the same under your seatbones then you can logically assume the horse has a larger issue than just an unbalanced/crooked rider.

Certainly an asymmetrical horse can displace a rider’s positioning, just as an asymmetrical rider can displace a horse’s way of going. If it’s relatively minor in either case, then simple corrections can be made in the moment to even things out. Even long defined habits that have created uneven muscling can result in an immediate change if for just one or two steps both parties get on the same page. Obviously, it takes time to correct musculature unevenness, but it starts with just one step in the right direction.

For diagnostic purposes, the seatbone bone with more feel/horse under it is the more dominant/stronger/deeper stepping corresponding hind leg and is often accompanied by the haunch being carried to one side (to the side of weakness-being pushed over that way by the stronger and deeper stepping leg). If you can’t really feel either hind leg under either seatbone, rest assured the horse is hollow and trailing those hind legs. Of course, being able to know if what you’re feeling is really the hind leg requires you to have had the experience of riding a horse in a good amount of engagement on a prior occasion so you can make that distinction.

The biggest worry is going to be the horse that is consistently stuck under one seatbone, regardless of changes in rider, rider position, direction of travel, gait, or correcting/straightening exercise for that individual is surely unsound.

There are other points of feel that can help you determine what’s going on with the horse, but let’s just start with one point of reference. I now challenge all of you to go out, feel your horse under your seatbones and think about what you’re feeling and what it means for the horse.

(Suggested reading – this is a very technical book that covers rider from head to toe with such topics covered as how children, adolescents and adults learn about movement, physiology of movement, stabilzation of the body, gaining independence of body parts, coordination of aids, problems/causes/corrections for such things as asymmetry, stiffness, pain etc…  I also believe this comes in video for those who learn better through seeing/demonstration : Balance In Movement by Susanne von Dietze)


34 thoughts on “The Importance Of Thinking And Feeling – Seatbones

  1. This is good food for thought. When I ride walk / trot I’m fairly able to feel the horse under my seatbones. I can follow the movement with my hips at a walk and affect the horse at the trot, most of the time but I struggle to use my seat properly at the lope. As I’m attempting to ride inside leg to outside rein to maintain a slight bend and carry the horse on that rein, I find I use very little outside leg and that it gets ‘paralyzed’ as my hips rotate out. This then causes me to have more weight on my outside stirrup, my saddle slips a bit and I fight to stay to the inside. I focus on my inside seatbone but it’s a fight by that point and I get extremely frustrated. My horse’s best gait is his lope as he’s fairly well balanced and willing to carry himself more than at a trot. This baffles me, he has good cadence so there’s no excuse for my imbalance and the effect to him is lost to me. It used to be only to the right, now I’m struggling both directions. Any thoughts on what I can do to correct my imbalance?

    • It sounds to me as if the inside leg aid is being applied incorrectly, perhaps even being held, your knee is being pinched, thus lifted, in turn collapsing the hip and weighting the outside seatbone etc., etc.,

      If you’re currently riding in the western saddle, then you may also be sitting too much on your pockets and getting behind, which when you get weighted onto the outside seatbone will really lock you down and behind even more on that outside seatbone.

      Before applying your inside calf, you should stretch down into your heel. The lope/canter aid should be coming from your inside leg (not your outside leg back – which again can get you stuck behind and down) – and the ‘swoosh’ of the inside seatbone.

      You could try to exaggerate riding the canter with your inside seatbone, perhaps even lift your outside shoulder up (could even put the reins in your inside hand and raise the outside hand straight over your head to get you onto that inside seatbone.

      Play around with it, but I’m going with your pinching your inside knee and it’s lifting in your attempt to ride inside leg to outside rein – I have seen riding pictures of you, so it’s an educated guess. 🙂

      • this is the problem with riding, we just gave opposite advice on the seatbone, but essentially the same advice on the leg aid from the inside. Blondemare should now go experiment.

    • The best advice I ever got/heard on the lope was to remember to sit the outside seatbone, keep it in the saddle, it should have just a bit more weight than the inside seatbone. That was part of a larger bit of advice to always ride the outside feet on a bend (and the lope is the quintessential bend, horse can’t lope well if not properly on the inside bend-until you’ve reached the stage where the can carry balance in the counter-canter, but that’s a whole ‘nother level of achievement if done well). The weight difference is more a feathering, a thought, not rotating out your hips or letting the outside leg bear all the weight. Just look over the outside ear with your eyes, don’t turn your head, sit the outside seat bone, and release the horse, ie breath out, relax any holding in your body and invite the horse to step up and out, that alone should encourage a smooth transition up from the trot.

      Make sure your arms/hands are giving to the horse on the third beat as the head naturally goes down, many people end up backwards to the motions of the gait, giving way on the first beat when the head naturally comes up, and not giving way so they are pulling in the mouth at the third beat, loading the forehand. I did that until about my third riding instructor who noticed it and made me work to correct it. ;P

      Other things that might help, remember the aid for more impulsion is best done for the diagonal stride, ie, outside hind is grounded and can’t be affected, inside leg touch to get the inside hind more up and under, better bend and more impulsion, other strides, ie, grounded inside front foot, going into the suspension, nothing to be gained, coming from suspension, the outside hind is already up and under nothing more to gain, the diagonal is the stride you can best affect.

      • Maybe I’ve misunderstood her problem, but I thought she said she’s currently weighting the outside seatbone/leg/foot too much and it’s causing the saddle to slide?

        • yes and possibly no, she said she’s ending up rotated at the hips which is letting the outside leg slide back. If she keeps the outside seatbone on the saddle after correctly establishing her hips, she won’t be riding counter to the bend. Which means sitting on the seatbone, not sliding to the outside of the saddle and ending up standing in the stirrup on the outside, which means she really isn’t weighting the seatbone. It should unweight the foot, keeping it from swinging back and leave her inside leg unpinned (ie, knee pinching should go away as it is no longer holding her in the saddle so she doesn’t slide off the outside) and free to properly give the cues. The horse should respond by being more upright and not falling in on the inside, giving both of them a feeling of more security. I used to have a terrible time sliding to the outside until I learned to sit down on my seatbone.

          • Okay, well the problem seems to be that she needs to explain her situation more clearly and concisely so that we both understand the situation as being a certain way. *BEG*

            Definitely she should go and experiment and see which way resolves her issue and report back. 🙂

        • Ok, let me try to explain more clearly – assume left lead lope. Inside leg is at the girth encouraging bend but not held, I try to bump in rhythm and increase the pressure if needed without hanging. Release when he’s bent well but keep it close to his side. The problem is that as I use this aid I find myself weighting my outside stirrup more than inside as the inside leg is more active. This is 100% opposite of what I was taught….when I was reining we always had outside leg on the horse lightly behind the girth to keep the hips under the horse and inside leg occasionally bumped if needed when/if the shoulder dropped in on the circle. If, when my weight is going to the outside of the circle I take that foot out of the stirrup and attempt to have more pressure on the inside, I basically start humping the saddle (sorry, don’t know any other way to say it) and the whole thing falls apart. I have moments when it all comes together and at that point I am typically using both legs and up on my pelvic bones more than seat bones. As if I’m riding with a wider hip and getting deeper into the saddle. But when the weighting starts, the outside leg is too far forward, at the girth where it can affect nothing. I also wonder what the correct amount of pressure should be in the stirrups….just barely touching? Heavy on the ball to allow the ankle to act as a shock absorber in rhythm with the horse’s stride? (this feels more natural to me) I try to ride more on the inside seatbone but after what J posted, maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong?

          • Applying a leg aid shouldn’t change the weight in your seatbones. It’s a seperate action. But I do know that if a leg aid is not applied correctly it can cause a shift of weight.

          • The first thing I want to say is general, any aid applied ‘all the time’ be it leg or hand or even seat, becomes meaningless to the horse. I know a lady that rides with her spurs a half inch deep in her horse’s sides all the time. Poor guy has learned to ignore it and keep going. But the spur is no longer an effective aid. So the bump or touch and release for any leg aid is correct. Remember a leg on all the time is telling the horse to move a leg he can’t move, it is wrong at least half of the time depending on the gait, three quarters of the time in a walk, etc.

            Not quite sure what pelvic bones you are on, but if you have come off the seat bones then you are practically lying on the horse’s neck. Look at some diagrams of the ischium from the side on the internet, you can rock forward onto the pubis at the front of the pelvis, but I don’t think you really have. If you rock back, trying to look more like a rounded back cowboy, you are probably too tucked under. If you roll too far forward, that would probably feel most like humping the saddle. Western or english, you should be sitting on the rounded bottom portion of the pelvis. Sit on a hard floor or hardwood chair and rock back and forth, you should be able to begin to feel the bottom most point, between the upward curves front and back, after a few passes. That is where you sit.

            In the canter ( on the flat/ring work) the outside seatbone should always remain in contact with the saddle, not bouncing off or rising to a light seat, etc. The inside leg aid can be repeated every stride, to influence the diagonal stride. The outside leg should not be forced back to hold the hips someplace. The seatbone will hold the foot under you, the correct bend will keep the inside foot stepping up and under. The conscious effort of weighting and keeping the outside seatbone down is what is holding that outside foot under the horse and the ribcage bent to support the outside seatbone. The inside leg is the cuing leg for the inside hind on the diagonal stride. If your seatbone is down on the saddle and the outisde leg quiet, the horse will do its best to hold that weight up. This is not about leaning or standing on the outside leg, it is just a consciousness of the need to keep the seatbone down, which means you are weighting that seatbone slightly more.

            Try it on any circle or bending movement, ride the outside legs with just a touch of weight in the outside seatbone over the inside. Remember to use your torso in the bend and look in the direction of travel out in front of the horse. Inside leg aid creates more bend, the tighter the circle, the more the horse will need to stay off the inside hind and shoulder to circle freely and smoothly.

            As for your legs, you do not actively weight your feet, if you relax the leg (ie, do not actively bend the knee or pinch) , and let the weight fall down the leg, the foot should be weighted enough to stay in the stirrup. You don’t need more weight than that. The ankle should not need to a be shock absorber by flexing in the canter in normal circumstances on the flat

          • Thanks ladies. My boy had the day off but I hopped on one of my mares that I haven’t ridden in quite some time. I feel like a cheater analyzing on her as she’s such a smooth mover. What I did discover is that I trot on my inside seatbone and my outside leg is very passive except to use for impulsion. My inside leg is active. When I’m looking where I’m going (I stare at my horse – bad habit) my torso follows the circle. When I cantered to the right, I felt my outside seatbone more than the left….to the left I felt neither more distinctly.

            Honestly, I think my seatbones are quite pointy upon self examination! 🙂 I think I ride best rolled forward but this causes me to hollow my back and perch though my legs work more efficiently. Maybe my conformation just sucks.

    • You may have to work at retraining your feel so that you don’t roll forward. Women’s pelvic structure leans towards being hollow backed when riding, it isn’t a good way to ride, it takes away some suppleness, and as we get older, the more we need that to absorb the motion of our horses. Core strength exercises, yoga and/or pilates, dance, swedish medicine balls, can all help us relax the lower back without slumping into a C curve, which is also bad.

      If you’ve ever been a Sally Swift fan, you may want to revisit her work to help with aligning your spine correctly and getting your weight onto your seatbones and sinking into your legs.

      Seatbones do come more or less to a point, some of us just have lots of padding as well. *BEG* Nice full round gluteals (think Jennifer Lopez) would help.

      • LOL! J-Lo butt I have not. Though I had none for most of my life and what’s there perhaps makes sitting on bleachers a touch more bearable in my advancing age. I was taught to get off my seatbones and ride on my crotch – we were crucified for pockets touching cantle; inside leg on the girth, dropped down on the inside stirrup/bent knee, outside leg back. I rode with a bit of air under my crotch…we didn’t ‘sit’. Three decades later….trying to relearn.

        I rode my gelding today and focused on seatbones at the lope…I am stronger to the right than left. I rode on my outside bone after departure where I was on my inside bone. Merc’s right….applying inside aids with back of calf causes much of the weight shift…when I stretched down and used inside calf, the shifting stopped…BUT my horse more or less ignored my sad attempts at a squeeze and my hip screamed. So I think I found ‘it’ but can’t seem to use ‘it’! 🙂

        And men plop down and their pelvis fits tight and flat in the saddle from day one………

        • Carry a dressage whip and retrain your horse asap. I have always used a tap on the shoulder for ‘more forward/more energy’ and tap directly behind my leg for ‘move off that leg’.

          To relieve your hip, you’ll need to stretch your sartoris muscle. You can start by walking a bit pigeon toed (via rotating the entire leg in the hip socket). Carry that rotation into the saddle.

          And yes, men suck.

        • Unless your western saddle is a little small for you, or is one of those with the high rise in front that forces you into rolling back, the pockets don’t belong on the cantle, one should be sitting up, not rolling back (except on cattle, frequently cahnging between sitting more up and being rolled back is the only way to absorb the amount of momentum and stay on the horse in the quick stops and turns, but that’s a whole different story).

          And yes, turning the toe out and using the back of the calf is less effective then having loose hip flexors and being able to leave the inside of the calf on the horse. I stretch by using plie position like a dancer and switch to toed in. The sartorius muscle is how one moves the lower leg without engaging the knee (which is what pulls your leg up and gets you pinching).

          note the leg that is turned out with the sartorius with the arrow to it. The leg is turned out and the knee brought up, but note the relaxation of the other large muscles, such as adductors, they aren’t engaged. Compare it to someo of the other poses.

          Any number of sartorius exercises are available on the web to help stretch and increase your ability to rotate at the hip. Yoga will help with this as well.

          Remember that finding the feet and getting the timing right means needing less muscle in the aids. Practice at the walk. Find and influence each hind leg as it is taking flight.

          • not naked, he had that little supporter on ( amn thong for his schlong??). But how else to get people to actually learn about muscles than to appeal to their purient interests!

          • Once I got past the tight asses 🙂 ….what seems to hurt on me is my gluteus medius. I wore some form of hip stretcher as an infant and my gm sent me to the doctor, unable to walk acutely inflamed. When I ride and stretch down, the pain is right at the hip. Could it be the gm?

            New instructor today and I questioned her on my seat and she doesn’t believe I’m sitting on my pockets but that the width of my saddle is spreading my thighs wider than a dressage saddle would. Once again I’ve been encouraged to go the full monte and put the stock saddle on the shelf. I’ve had this saddle for over 30 years and it has become my ‘normal’. I’ve ridden in other saddles and the twist almost always feels way too narrow, terribly uncomfortable. My saddle is relatively flat in the seat – NO equitation hump.

            More homework……

  2. blondemare – try riding without the stirrups a while. Perhaps then the saddle won’t slide. Is it a western or an english style saddle? If English, try changing which girth strap(s) you use – you might be pulling the saddle forward without realizing it, causing the slippage.

    (lessons from personal experience here)

    • another thing I saw the other day from a saddle maker, since Blondemare rides quarter horse style horses mostly a down hill broadly built quarter horse should have a wide channel a the back to let the rear of the saddle conform more closely to the horse (but still not rest on the spine), that will aid with the saddle slipping forward so much. The uphill warmblood/riding horse type, should have a narrow channel at the rear to keep the saddle from sliding back. Again these wouldn’t be huge differences and no part of the tree/padding should rest on the spine in a correctly built saddle.

      • I ride in a FQHB saddle that has a relatively flat seat and wide set to it. My horse is built like a barrel with hair which doesn’t help matters. But I believe that a well balanced rider should never cause the saddle to slip to the side. (it doesn’t slide forward or back, just sideways with my step) The saddle is nowhere near his spine and I work him in an open spine pad most of the time to allow some air flow off his back.

        • no, we should be able to ride without sliding side to side, but I for one still find myself sliding off from time to time. We are all crooked unless we work like the devil on physical therapy.

          • It’s frustrating though….I can feel it happening and can’t seem to stop it. Getting older doesn’t help either, my hips burn like the devil………

  3. There’s a video from VonDietze as well for the more visual learners.

    The book is excellent and the ideas and many of the exercises are ones we can all experiment with, even if we don’t have well trained lunge horses to use as she does at her training barn.

  4. Mercedes, do you have thoughts on knee blocks in dressage saddles? I tried a saddle last night that had them and while my leg felt really secure, it almost felt TOO secure and less effective. I felt like my leg was sort of fixed in position, though not terrible it was odd. Are knee blocks a bad thing? What are they supposed to do, anyway? I figured it’s to keep your knees from pinching or creeping up, but it seems to me that having the correct length of stirrup would solve that.

    • My thought is that everyone is different, so will prefer different saddles hopefully mostly based on their own conformation and the rest based on personal preference.

      Knee and thigh blocks are indeed meant to ‘block’ that portion of the leg from getting terribly out of position and add security – good particularly if you’re jumping at speed.

      As Camille is finding out, some dressage saddles go entirely over the top with large blocks that really lock a rider into the saddle. I think that may have come about due to the general decline of correct riding practices – like spending as many months or years on a longe line without stirrups and reins developing balance, position, core strength etc..

      Lots of times when people ride in a dressage saddle for the first time, or after a long break from riding in one, they will feel overly held into position. Sometimes that’s just because they’ve been riding ‘out of position’ in their other saddle that doesn’t particularly promote correct positioning and using the wrong muscles.

  5. Ooo good question about the knee blocks! I don’t have much experience riding in a dressage saddle but I have many on trial this week( saddle fitter coming Tues) I keep getting steered to saddles with a deep deep seat and huge thigh blocks, but I hate that! I’m looking at dressage saddles Bc I did not easily maintain the balance and position my new instructor wanted, which when I got it made a huge improvement! ! But I have very very long legs and hate feeling ” stuck” in one position.

    • Fortunately there are a lot of dressage saddles to choose from including ones with seats that aren’t so deep, and either have smaller blocks or adjustable blocks.

      I too have long legs, but I do prefer a deeper, soft seat, medium knee and thigh blocks, a wide twist and just enough room to move around in, but not feel swimmy.

      As you get stronger and the right muscles strengthen, while others stretch and relax, you’re likely to feel less ‘stuck’…or it’s entirely possible the saddle is too small for you, or the blocks are not correctly positioned for your leg.

      • In dressage, the huge “lazy boy sofa” knee and calf blocks seem to have come into fashion concurrent with flash nosebands and tight crank nosebands, and very heavy hands forcing the horse to roll under. The knee rolls and calf blocks are necessary to keep the rider from being pulled forward out of the saddle, just as the crank and flash is necessary so it isn’t obvious the horse’s mouth is being wrenched open. If you are going to brace and take the entire weight of the forehand on your hands, then you need to brace against the knee rolls, which is how I do see a lot of people ride. I expect that if you had the saddle tailored exactly to you, the extreme blocks might not get in the way too much. But the other thing is, your leg position will change over time. As your riding advances, you will want a longer and longer stirrup. If you got extreme knee blocks for your starter leg position, it might be hard to develop a better leg as time goes by. In contrast, older saddles are flatter, until you get back to the 25 year old Passier Grand Gilbert dressage saddles that are basically pancake flat pieces of leather; my coach loves them and rides beautifully in them, as that’s what she grew up in. Or some of the old Crosby jumping saddles: true “close contact”! I’m riding in a 2001 Passier Optimum dressage saddle that has some knee roll (more than a 1985 GG!) but nothing like the current models, and it has turned out to be very comfortable and good for developing my position. It looks very minimalist compared to the brand new saddles people buy. I too found that when I started contacting distributors of new saddles, I was steered to the built-up saddles that “everybody wants these days,” probably because if you wanted a less bulky saddle, you could so easily get something nice second hand and have it restuffed.

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