Sunday, July 10, 2011

Riding Reflection: Sitting the Canter

Harley and I developed an interesting connection between his back and my seat during our last ride.  While in canter, his back felt very inviting and wide.  This is significant, because my horse has a rather narrow build, especially in the ribcage and shoulders.  I found that I could sit very easily on his back and my pelvis could stand very tall, which is also significant because at 5 foot 1 inch, I am very short!  It felt like my seat was directly over my feet, which also made me feel taller.  With each stride my seat swept forward, gently, and this kept him cantering.  He was in the bridle with minimal pressure, but I still felt very connected to his tempo and rhythm through my seat.  My seat also felt like a continuous arch more than seat points, and this arch possessed a large surface area.  I felt very stable.

My teacher has said that the three-point seat can be expanded to five.  If your seat is very open and the muscles relaxed, the tops of the femurs contact the saddle and offer additional stability.  I believe that I was experiencing the sensation she described.

We tried some walk-canter transitions.  The right lead is easier for him to balance so we started there.  I started to shift my inside leg forward of the girth and I felt him fidget like he wanted to trot before cantering.  My seat bones pushed separately against his hindlegs, keeping them in walk.  At least that is what it felt like, as my reins confirmed that I wanted to walk by resisting a change in gait.  When we cantered my seat immediately fell into this groove, like his back was providing a space for me.  It felt so neat!  And it made me think that Harley wanted me sitting there.  He was providing the seat and I was just sitting.

To my surprise, the left lead was even easier.  He cantered from my inside leg (and seatbone) shifting forward with a lovely jump.  Again, I felt cradled by his back and my pelvis felt very tall.

These photos tell me that I need to pick up my left wrist (and my eyes), but at least you can see that my bellybutton is pushing back toward my spine.  This keeps my lower back soft and my pelvis upright,

which helps my horse grow tall with me.  I love the fall of Harley's mane as his neck and shoulders come up and the vertical surface of his chest.

As my upper body comes forward in the downward phase of the stride, I am keeping my center of balance above his center.

If I leaned back here, I would risk throwing his balance onto the forehand and we would most likely brace against each other.

In hindsight, I know why the left lead was easier even though typically this direction is more challenging.  My right leg is stronger and tighter than my left.  I bet you can guess my handedness from that tidbit.  This gives me the tendency to draw my right leg back and/or up.  There goes my inside seatbone, blocking his right hind and hip.  This mistake was demonstrated when he picked up the left lead when I was asking for the right lead on a circle.  It is unusual for him to pick up his less favored lead, but my seatbones were telling him to do just that, as I was preoccupied with keeping him from trotting before the transition.  Interesting.  I did not correct this mistake, because I was pretty sure that he was just following me and the transition to counter canter from the walk felt effortless.  I am excited to see if we can recreate this sitting experience and I may throw in some counter canter to further the experiment.

A fun moment in the stride and my eyes are up, because I see my husband with the camera.  Thanks, Honey!

Nice tail, Harley.

He shows a nice reach with the inside shoulder and hindleg.  I also like how he is making the contact in the bridle,

even though we are already connected through the seat.  These photos were from a previous ride, but I thought they were still interesting to include and discuss.


  1. You both look very nice together.

    I remember one of the things that amazed me the most as a new horse owner was how different it "feels" to sit on different horses, and now different horses have gaits they prefer. My old QH mare had a nice little jog that was really easy to sit, and she could go for miles at that speed. I always suspected she had some back trouble, and she always felt "happiest" to me at that jog (rather than a canter or faster trot).

    Harley looks like he's reaching under himself very well from the photos here!

  2. You look very nice on Harley. It is so fun when you really feel that conection. You described it so well. I really like the way in every photo, Harley has his ear turned back, I beleivehe is totally focused on what you are doing, not agitated just really listening to you. Nice!

  3. Welcome Fetlock! The more time I spend on Harley the more awkward it feels to sit on another horse, even though I used to ride lots of different horses. I liked your little story about your mare. A happy horse is the best kind.

    Mary-I appreciate your kind words. Harley's ears are nearly always turned back that way when we are riding. My friend rode him a couple times and she said that for the first couple minutes his ears kept swiveling around, because he could hear me talking, but I was not on his back. He is a sweetheart.

  4. Very interesting sequence, thanks! Personally I have issues with pulling my bellybutton back, I spent WAY too long with trainers who reinforced riding with a hollow back. I'm trying to fix it but old habits are hard to break.

  5. smazourek-I can sympathize. "Sit up straight! Shoulders back!" I used to be a very tense rider, partly because my instructor was very critical and not above comparing students. I had to ride like a couch potato to retrain my body and if I "try too hard" the hollow comes back. It is something that I will always have to keep in my mind.

  6. Nice post about your seat in the canter! You have a great knack for describing exactly what you are feeling... which isn't easy!


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