It is the riders job to make it easy for the horse

I’d guess in everyone’s life there are pieces of advice that resonate over the years.

(And by the way, as we are approaching the end of the year I wanted to say I am thankful to you for sharing Dressage Snob recollections–somewhat astounded in fact.  30,000 individual views this year.  This brings up an obvious point. Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time?)

Never mind.  We are dressage enthusiasts.  Productive is not the purpose.

One bit of advice that has had particular traction with me is from Rudolf Zeilinger.  He said it over the back of a horse and with a certain “You may not understand this now,” sort of look on his face.

“It is your job to make it easy for your horse.”

And indeed I did not understand it–or came to understand it in so many different ways that my first impression was certainly inaccurate–or at best trivial.

How do you equate taking a sport that is as physically and emotionally demanding as Dressage and making it easy?

By knowing what you are doing!

More advice, trickled down from Wili Schultheis’ classic cure for most problems having to do with a horse:

“Ride better.”

Helping your horse?  Short version:

For any given movement the horse is asked to perform, they are placed in a balance that facilitates that movement. Do not get in your own way.

Examples?  I will give you the ridiculously complicated cracked egg one below,  as well as the tight rope on snow shoes, but they exist at every level of dressage and probably most things in life:

Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.

For instance,

Don’t chase the green-ish horse with fast steps into canter–insist that they respect the half halt and step up to canter.


Because the balance, once thrown on the forehand, is very hard to get back.  Best to not lose it at all.

Do not get in the way of the very thing you are asking for.

Important concept akin to, “Please do not shoot  yourself in the foot.”  Make sure you (or your tack) are not getting in the way of the message transmission, or preventing the horse from executing the request.

Another instance:

Ride a collected canter for pirouette that is easily ridden forward.


Because if the balance and activity are correct you can go forward (or backward or sideways) without loss of balance.


I could go on–and probably at some point will.

But there is another category of making things easy that can be addressed as well.

Again, Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.

Pick your partner well then pay attention to how it is going.  No amount of complicated technique will help a horse shine who is simply plain. The best thing you can do is honest, correct work.  If it is a boiled egg then it is a boiled egg.  More on that below.

On my ignorant defense of all the horribly ill-suited horses I attempted to bring along, Rudolf gave me another sage piece of advice which I try to remember–while also remembering the scope of my budget and current goals.

“Good horses make good riders.”

The best rider in the world will not succeed on a horse that is lame, over worked, under worked, malnourished or not capable of doing the job.  Some horses are not meant to be dressage horse.

I’m not disputing that the principles of dressage training, rather like Natural Horsemanship, can help most (if not all) horses and their riders.  It’s just that the athleticism, and (of late) the movement preferred, for a horse to really be competitive does not exist in all horses.

It  is very much easier for a horse mentally and physically suited to the sport to enjoy doing it than it is a horse who has impairments.  Never mind that it is much easier to make it look easy when it actually is fairly easy for the horse.  A good horse has good natural balance and rhythm. (Note I did NOT say extravagant movement–though that is nice if you can both afford it and ride it.)

Still, we see many examples of lovely horses whose riders are not yet familiar enough with the balance required for the movements to assist the horse in getting ready.  And no one likes being asked to do something and then being prevented or hindered from doing it.  Or being asked to do something that is impossible from the point of departure.

Imagine tight rope walking in snow shoes.


Side note: (Following this postulate I went on a diligent search for a picture of someone actually walking a tightrope in snow shoes–which I now believe is the one thing that does not exist in the World Wide Web.

Instead I found this, too good to skip, “Reading comprehension” quiz:

Name: _________________________
Date: _________________________

Tightrope Walking

Read the story and answer the questions to test your comprehension.

Tightrope walkers balance by putting one foot in front of the other. They wear special leather-sole shoes so that the wire will dig into their foot, giving them some ground to stand on. There are five different styles of tightrope walking. The pole the performer carries helps his or her balance on the rope.

  1. 1. Where do tightrope walkers place their feet?
    1. a. Shoulder-width apart
    2. b. Hip-width apart
    3. c. One after the other
  2. 2. What kind of soles do tightrope walkers wear?
    1. a. Leather
    2. b. Rubber
    3. c. Steel
  3. 3. What does the pole a performer carries do?
    1. a. Helps movement
    2. b. Helps agility
    3. c. Helps balance

I particularly enjoy the idea of walking the rope with feet “Shoulder-width apart”  though of course it is technically possible.


So, back to good advice,

“It Depends” and

“Help your (horse or XYZ) by making sure the darned thing is in a place to do what you want.”

Hopelessly vague!  What do you expect me to DO??

In the age of the “Internet Expert” we are all too frequently faced with mounds of information on almost anything.

And with the seemingly sole exception of getting photos of tightrope walkers in impossible footwear, we can prove anything we want.


This is as true for horses as anything else.

I give you, for example, the raging debate about how best to poach an egg.  (Search it!)

Or, is Sous-vide the absolutely correct method to boil an egg?

Our Friends at WikipediA (who are currently looking for donations if you feel like it) tell us:

“Sous-vide (/sˈvd/; French for “under vacuum”)[1] is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times—96 hours or more, in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture.”

(I’m going to answer this question for you right here: it depends.)

Suction pack one egg to cook in a water bath?


But, get a little greedy, in a hurry?  Totally different outcome.

Now you CAN cook the eggs below, and any “expert” will tell you that indeed Sous-vide does mean vacuum packed.  But, there is absolutely no need to go to the risk and trouble of doing it because eggs themselves come vacuum packed and you can lower them into your water bath as is with no difficulty whatsoever.



So the argument and advice gets only down to semantics.  People have been doing it for centuries and I do not think yet we have established how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

There is no definitive, and more importantly, who cares?

Anyway, with cooking, as with horses, the best answer is often “It depends”.

Rider criticism?  It depends.

Is he or she leaning back too far? Maybe.

Do the hands move too much? Maybe.

Is the bit wrong or cruel? Maybe–or maybe not in all cases.

It depends–if (whatever) is helping the horse to understand or to physically accomplish the job, then it is not wrong.  Period, end of story.

Let’s not all die in beauty while we are waiting for something to happen.
You CAN take 96 hours to cook a roast, will it be 96 hours better?

And we can argue about how to best poach the egg all day.


One poached egg over 1/2 avocado, slightly smushed, and salt/pepper to taste.

No Hollandaise required.

You do have to know how to do it (not hard) and you have to think of doing it.  As well as give up on the complicated things that actually do not work very well and are a lot of extra trouble, but you can read about all day long on-line.

If you do not take the time to develop you balance, you will not ride well.  Think of our brave tightrope walker.  Suitable shoes can help–but practice and adequate shoes will do at the start.

A certain level of mastery may overcome less than perfect equipment, and this is an important point.

Given a new saddle or $3500 worth of training, which will you choose?  If your saddle REALLY does not fit, then probably the new saddle is a good idea.  If the trouble is above the saddle (You) or below (Your fittings) the new saddle not such a hot plan.  As I say in another post, do the easy things first and do not make it overly complicated.

End of advice.  Go ride your horse.


End note–and I think fairly to all posts

Because the Dressage Snob blog is popular, attempts to monetize it are rife.  In fact, I just paid Word Press a sizable amount of cash NOT to bug you with ads so you can enjoy Dressage Snob without the latest thing you looked at on line popping up to tempt you.

(I really object to this “cookies” marketing technique.  If you wanted to shop you’d be shopping!)

So forgive me the small plug on this really very useful invention, and if you have thought my advice was sound on other things, then you might consider giving this a try.  Your horse will be happier.  Mine are, and now quite a few other people.  You can read what they say below.

Selfishly I do not have them in the local tack shop.  I thought about it, and I’m feeling generous about sharing, but truthfully a little conflicted.


Miss Mariah. 14.1 (in front) out-scored a fair troop of expensive warmbloods at Prix St George last year.  (It was not easy.  Don’t do it. Sorry Rudolf)

So, all of you in some other competition zone, please feel free to get one. 

The Girth Shield

For something that does work, and will cost roughly three riding lessons, not three months of training, improve your girthing strategy.

Best wishes,



X-rated stretch (This one ought to get some air time. . .)

Actually, I am joking, there is nothing in the slightest bit x-rated about what I am going to tell you–but I will give you a story about Rudolf at the base that illustrates how very difficult it is for people in our culture to effectively teach riding when it is impossible to actually talk about anything from the mid-thigh to the navel of the rider–some would say mid-thigh to chin as advice of how to strap breasts down is largely ignored as well.

However, I promised to give you one basic (and fantastically effective) stretch which you can do in the saddle–as long as your saddle has a tree that you can access.

In fact, you MUST do it in the saddle, as there is no other way to do it that I can comfortably think of.    There are other stretches, but this one is too good to miss.  (Ms. Melynnda who originated this stretch, has a raft of them and will happily come do a clinic for you.)

Here it is, and given that you will not have your computer with you when you try this, I will keep it incredably short and to the point.

This is a picture of a pelvis with the muscles of the hip flexor and Psoas illustrated


Below is a saddle–mine–which a pelvis like the one above would sit over quite comfortably.

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular "pelvis marks" in the leather

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular “pelvis marks” in the leather

So, imagine yourself sitting in the saddle looking forward.

Take one hand (lets say the right) palm down and cross your body with it grabbing the catch strap that I hope you have, and holding it firmly.

Lean softly back against that right hand, lifting your rib cage just a bit and with your right hip joint look forward and down for the tree of the saddle–in my saddle rather where the white lines are.

When you can feel that edge of the tree with the inner side of your hip joint (which you will not be able to do if you have overly rotated your tail bone under yourself–you must stretch upward and downward) stretch against the saddle, loosening the base of your Psoas from the internal side.

Repeat on the left.

Interestingly, this is one of the main areas of communication with your horse–they lift the front of the saddle when you ask them to, you connect and speak with your seat.

Oh, I promised to tell you one story on Rudolf.  Here it is–and I hope he is effectively ignoring the blog.

One summer in Germany Rudolf persistently told me to stretch my leg down.  And I tried–and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed.  You know the story.

In desperation, weeks into this process, I finally asked him, “Do you mean I am supposed to open my thighs?”

Eyes down, slight blush from him. Assent.

Gosh darn it, though I, a whole summer and he is too embarrassed to say!

However, do remember, it is the rider’s job to translate the language of the teacher into their own body memory–and indeed the movement required is “opening the thigh”, but also engaging the base in a supple way.

And in any case, Rudolf can read the blog to his heart’s content as I am 100% happy with his instruction–years and years down the road.  That says something. It works.  It really, really does.  But from a master, who would expect anything else?

Another view of the Psoas. . .

Here is a great article from another blog brought to my attention by Laurie Baldwin of Kalispell Montana


This fits right in with what we have been doing.  (Please see the Rider Fitness section in “Contents.”)

With an out-of-town rider in for a week of training,  Melynnda and I have had a chance to yet again teach the stretches that one does in the saddle to open and relax the Psoas muscles.

They makes a profound difference in the ride.

The comment from our rider:  I never knew what a lot of SPACE there was in that area.

Yes, there is a lot of space, and awareness in that area.

It is called “your seat.”

A wonderful connection to communicate with your horse, and nicely attached to the rest of your body. . .

If you would like the stretches, please ask.


How come I can ride trot better than canter?

Or, conversely, how come I can ride canter better than trot?

Rudolf used to note that some riders are more skilled at the trot gaits.  (I say “gaits” plural because piaffe and passage, never mind rein back, are also diagonally paired gaits.)

And of course some riders are more skilled at the canter.  I would say as a gross generalization that riders skilled in jumping are generally better riding the dressage canter than riders who have never jumped.

How come?

I will make this very very simple as it is so obvious–after one has been told!

The motion of the rider’s pelvis is different for each of these gaits, and if one takes the advice given to ride one correctly and applies it to the other, then trouble is likely to result.

Passage is a subject to itself, but in the basic trot a looseness of the thigh is important because it allows the riders pelvis to follow (or lead) the horse’s swinging back.  If one clamps the thigh inward (or levers it incorrectly under the knee roll to force the seat down) the pelvis is stabilized too much and will be “against” the horse in one phase of the back swing or other.  (Think brick.)  This is why Rudolf looked askance when I tried to show off how well I could post without stirrups in my first week in Germany.

“We don’t do that here!!!”

(Better luck next time for an ex jumper rider.)

Why don’t we do that here?  (Rising trot without stirrups)

German answer: Well, because we don’t.  You think about it.

Okay, I did.Please see all those other posts about use of the seat and how the pelvis is put together.

So strive for relaxed flexibility in the hip in the trot, but when a dressage rider canters, some contraction/closure of the thigh (rhythmically!) is needed.  If one loosens the thigh entirely for 100% of the stride, the rider tends to get behind the motion, “wallowing” in the saddle.  This will generally cause the horse to flatten and run rather than jump in the canter.  The rider actually leads the lift of the horse in the canter–can’t do that from the rumble seat.


(This for those of you who did not learn to ride with Fran and Joe  Dotoli,  jumping with Young Entry Stables in Massachusetts,  is a rumble seat.  Also Fran’s image for a rider hopelessly behind the horse approaching a fence.)

And this lack of getting “left behind” in the stride, is why jumper riders tend to find it easier to learn the dressage canter–though they often have to learn the moment to relax the thigh to allow the seat to settle.  They usually know the other skill.

The trot is in fact harder to learn to ride correctly than the canter, and a great deal of rider influence is also possible in this gait,  Which is often why you see some very skilled riders–Rudolf is an example, and so was Schultheis–who uniformly ride beautiful trots into their horses.  The riders influence of the diagonal pairing is very profound.

So, please trot differently than you canter, and canter differently than you trot!

See, that wasn’t so hard or complicated.

Practice, practice, practice. . . .

Collection–it’s like having a kitten in your lap.

Dale Forbes

When I was a child–in the time of bedtimes for children–I was put in bed at 8:30 at night and had to stay there.  Sometimes–in summer–it was still light at 8:30, sometimes it was dark.

But no matter the light, 100% of the time it was lonely.

Reading was allowed for a short period and then lights out.  (Rick’s daughter, who has many foster babies and children, as well as her own, would say this is not such a bad plan–that modern children are often too tired–but that is not my area of expertise so I cannot say.)

In those wakeful hours waiting for sleep, any company would be welcome.

And so it came, The Cat.

We actually had two of them, Pixie and Dixie, brother and sister, dragged from Idaho in a time of strife and let loose in our farmhouse in New England.

I would lay in bed hoping for one of the cats to come, and sometimes one would–more commonly it was Pixie, a black long-haired male.

He would nestle down near my knees and start to purr.  If I was gentle, I could pat him.  If I played with his tail he would leave.

That is called a learning curve.

So here are a few hints on how to make collection/contact fun for your partner–back to riding.

I’ve been seeing something of late in my teaching, something that I think has to do with the transformation of the rider from a lower level (Basically below Prix St Georges) to an upper level rider.

If you think about it, the obvious difference between the upper and lower FEI is the work in Piaffe and passage–which in themselves teach the rider a great deal about organizing a horse.

I’m going to give you a tape below of one of our rising judging stars, L (learner) Judge program graduate, Sally Sovey, who  is working her way up to the next level,  judging recognized shows.  (This is not easy.  Please see post in the future re judging and where these people are largely coming from.)

This tape was taken some time ago, and Sally has actually mastered the piaffe very well now.

As a learning tool, she has said it was okay to show this trial effort–on her horse, Ricarda (From Regazzoni) who I trained, and actually knows the piaffe pretty well. (And so now does the rider–we will show you in another post).

Sally, at the time, was not so clear about creating “shape and boundary” at a slow gait.

And so trying to be kind–because she is–she was asking (and hoping) that Ricarda would stay with her without a front boundary.

The horses would actually like to stay with you, assuming you do not grab and hold (think cat), but they cannot stay with you without both a safe place to BE–and the direction from above that it would be best not to leave.  That means limits and shape, but gentleness within the limits.  Make it nice to be with you–give space, but not the back forty.  That’s too much.

Therein the cat at various training levels:

You have the unbroken feral that you cannot touch–do XYZ.

You have the shy, training level kitty that you have to coax a bit to trust you.

You have the mid-level kitty who wants boundaries–grab the darn thing–and then make sure it is nice to be there with you.

You have a trusting kitty sitting on your lap, and you’d like to have it stay there, what do you do?

Make it nice to be there.  Light communicative touch, creating a limit.  But don’t let them leave–and that is a fun dance of touch and release, then seduce, “Come to me, I love you and it is safe here, and by golly don’t get out of frame–it’s not safe out there!”  (Balance issue?  Never mind you don’t have to worry because I won’t drop you.  I promise)

Riding: it is a lot like holding a kitten.

But, maybe not like Pasha tonight, who appears to be lacking engagement. . .



Lines and corners.

Dale Forbes:

I am going to warn you in advance that this post is really, really boring.

A sure cure for insomnia–just try to read it twice.

But, in my experience actually doing a good corner–one that leaves you ready and prepared for whatever is next is a skill that needs attention.  I know it did from me and since I rarely see people do them correctly, I assume it is a problem for others.

The main reason we care about a correctly-balanced corner is that it sets us up to succeed on whatever else we might have planned on the line after that corner.  Loss of balance and equine “line up” in the corner means you will enter the straight line with loss of balance and crookedness–all needing fixing.  Best not to jump off the cliff in the first place.

(Another reason for a correct corner might be to show off to the judge that we know the difference between a circle and “not a circle” at the lower level–something they appreciate.)


The dressage arena.  Now isn’t that a beautiful thing?

And though we know there are support groups to aid in quitting this kind of obsession, here is how a corner in the dressage arena should work.

Goal: As stated, landing straight after the corner.

Process: Horse positions nicely at the poll several steps before the corner, balancing evenly on all four equine corners (no tip), proceeds through the arena corner (sitting down just a tiny bit, depending on level). The horse is then softly straightened on the outside rein to whatever degree it will need either straightness or bend in the next project.

Sounds easy.

Here are some things to practice that will make it even easier.

The basic skill that the horse must master is transferring weight onto outside hind leg in the turn instead of inside front leg when he feels the inside rein.  This lesson is critically coupled with an utterly straight rider approaching the corner like they are going to jump out of the arena–in preparation–you are not turning, YET–only after the re-balancing has been accomplished.

People frequently do these actions too close together with a green horse.  He or she needs a bit of time to figure things out.  Step, 1, step 2, step 3.  Plus it is more fun that way.  Three chances to communicate.  All the better.  When your horse understands the steps they appear to happen all at once.  They do not.  It is always done in stages–just very close together.  (And this, once habituated, leads to a blissful, competent “slow down” in the mental pace of your ride–a nice thing).

First off the beast must understand when you pull slightly on the rein to position/bend it does not actually mean “turn” UNLESS the body of the rider says, “Yes, we are turning,” by initiating facing the new direction in the upper body.

This is the “take your best guess approach” for the beast.

For any transition aid there is more than one cue (or sequence of cues) that enables the horse to give you his “best guess”.

There are only a limited number of aids possible and you have to disconnect (in your own body and the beast’s) that a slight pull on the rein means turn–it only means that when the other aids are in agreement.

What to do: First practice riding a straight line–down the center line is good.

1. Make sure you are projecting your line–riding absolutely straight yourself, looking at a target at eye level.

2. Do not waver from that target in the slightest and go about teaching your horse to slightly position while still stepping forward on the line. Not so much that the balance is lost.  Make do with a little at first.  This will improve with practice. He or she may try to attempt to turn in that moment of positioning.  If so kindly redirect, checking your self for errors.  You can do this lots of times on a single straight line.  In fact that helps.

Why must you do this practice totally unrelated to an actual corner?

Because you cannot easily tell loss of line (and balance) in the corner–because you are in the middle of turning!  And, as above, loss of balance in the corner means you will enter the straight line with loss of balance.

Common rider mistakes at this point:

A. Losing focal point, looking down at bend/horse’s shoulder.

B. Raising rider’s outside shoulder and hip while looking down at bend. (Effectively releasing haunches–haunches will move into that vacuum).

C. Noting horse getting crooked and “falling on inside shoulder”, then fiercely using inside leg to “prevent such falling in”–which was actually caused by drifting hind end, caused in turn by rider’s body not lined up correctly. Inside leg has nothing to do with it–though it has many other interesting uses.

Do not worry, if this takes some practice.  There is a reason that the dressage arena has four corners–it give us a chance to practice frequently and hopefully perfectly.  Practice right, it gets better, practice wrong–not so much so.  The old, “if you are in a hole quit digging” thing.

Back to the beginning.  As in all problems decide what the real problem is.  In this case horse is losing balance necessary to position and needs both steering and assistance to prevent that.  They also need to understand what it is you want.  Give them a chance.  Correct yourself


If the rein is slightly used to indicate positioning, and the rider stays utterly straight in their focus, aids and intention the horse has a chance to figure out, “Oh this is different.”  If you lift your outer side and change your body like you are doing an (incorrect) turn how’s the beast to know?  That’s why practicing this skill unrelated to turns is so critical.

And in fact why doing definite lines and corners is a great way to school.

Still with me? If you want to see something more interesting go see the post on “Swing over the back.”

There is a nice clip of riding a very gently group of turns.  We’ll add a video of a true corner next week.

“Feets in your bottom!” What to do with your seat now that you have found it.

Dale Forbes

At one point Herr Schultheis said in my hearing, “You must develop feets [sic] in your bottom!”  And indeed you must.

If you have read the post about finding your seat (, you know where your seat is supposed to be–one side of it evenly on each side of the saddle, your torso lightly stretching up, the leg relaxed downward anchored softly by the calf, and the horse swinging nicely under you–here is how you are to use it.

The fluid, following or leading (really “matched” is a better word) seat serves as a template for the movement of the horse.

The fluid, following or leading (really “matched” is a better word) seat serves as a template for the movement of the horse!!!!!!!

(Yes, you are to think I think this is important–Thank you.)

Slightly retard the movement of the seat–the horse is supposed to slow up the tempo.

Slightly quicken–an indication to step faster.

Weight more on one side–go that way laterally.

One seat bone forward, one back–adopt a slight angle.

The combination of the regulating or allowing seat with the the backup of the leg and rein aids gives the horse the relaxed look of connection and confidence–the horse is “on” the rider–connected.

As Rudolf said, years later, to me: “You never use just one aid–hand, weight, or leg–there is always an interplay.”

This is a very dramatic example of a horse following the rider’s seat–also one of Rudolf’s horses and riders.

The late Blue Horse Matine with Andreas Helgstrand

Weight aids–finding your seat.

Dale Forbes

One morning in Germany, Rudolf walked over to me just as I had dismounted and took a quick look at my saddle.   Like him and Schultheis at the time, I rode (and still ride) a Stubben Tristan “Extra,” designed by Herr Schultheis eons ago.  It is known as a saddle for an experienced rider because it does not “put” you anywhere–as has become the fashion of late in saddlery.

After the quick inspection Rudolf said, “This is good. The marks are correct.” 



What he was talking about were two fairly symmetrical, about two-inch-wide and round wear spots (sweat marks, if you will!) in my saddle.  I thought really nothing of them.  But I began to notice that not all the riders’ saddles were marked that way.  Some had really no marks at all–a sign that the thigh held the rider away from the saddle.  Some had one central mark toward the rear of the saddle–a sign that the rider habitually rotated the pelvis to sit on the coccyx.

When I first rode with Rudolf Zeilinger, in a five-day clinic in the US in 1989,  he was asked what he thought the biggest problem with riders in America was.

His answer: “The seat–there is not enough use of the weight aids.”

I am sure this sent most of us into a frenzy of sitting like bricks, driving our pelvises mercilessly against the horse.

This was of course not his intention. . . More is not always better or appropriate to the situation.

For a visual example please see the clip in

Several things go into using the seat correctly.


The first is that the rider must be oriented evenly on the line of travel.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case.  Many riders adopt a perpetual semi-shoulder in.

It’s easiest to think of this going on a straight line.  The seat bones are allowed to settle into the saddle. (And it is allowing–there is no correct way to force this–though you can do some stretches both in and out of the saddle that help.)

The upper body remains carried, but not tense, the muscles of the cross of the back connecting the shoulder and torso to the pelvis.  The front of the rider has an elongated feel, stabilized by the diaphragm (which will feel slightly pushed out just under the ribs in front) and psoas muscles, which are a group of much-ignored and fairly constantly used elements of standing and stabilizing the torso–as well as some hip flexor capacity. (Remember “flexor” means also length–relaxation and suppleness are important.  This set of muscles tend to get contracted and tight.)


The correct use–a stretching sort of feel–of this group of muscles is what makes certain schools of good dressage riders look very grounded, but also as if they are sitting tall.


They are not doing this to adopt a pose.  They are doing it because in order to not constantly grab with the thigh (which stabilizes but also immobilizes the pelvis), they have to go to alternate means. (See below.)

Re posture: PT experts who know far more than I describe it thus: “The primary balancing act occurs between upward tension exerted by the diaphragm, and downward force exerted by the psoas major. An optimal balance of this mechanism contributes to efficient co-contraction of the small segmental stabilizers. This helps provide a strong stable abdominal cavity.” (

(Please see article under rider fitness:

In other words–core strength, not limb strength (or external muscle rigidity) is the goal.

Note: The alternate method is to stabilize externally–typically either grabbing inward with the thigh or locking the knee under some sort of thigh block.  These methods have their strengths and weaknesses.  Many successful riders adopt this pattern of external rather than internal stabilization.  The downside of external stability is that the seat is never actually in contact with the saddle in a moving, communicative manner, acting more like an off-and-on switch rather than a dimmer. The downside of internal  stability is that developing a flexible/strong connection–not weak, flexible–takes some time.

Again look at the clip in post:

In the end it is a matter of taste, time, ability, and goals.  But, those decisions, in my very humble opinion, are often the difference between mastery and competence.

Hint: Going to the gym and lifting weights will probably not help develop your seat.

Dale’s view? Pilates is probably a better option.

Back to the seat!

And a quick note about an important question Melynnda asked in the ride yesterday that illustrates not only how persistent one must be to develop a good seat, but also how easy it is to get sidetracked.

Melynnda has a very good seat, and she is also a very good student.  So she stopped for a moment when I asked her to support with her leg at slow speed and said,  “If I use my leg in the transition it locks my pelvis and I can’t regulate the movement.”

A very good point!

I explained, showing her from the horse I was riding, that as I used my calf and at the same moment softly stretched the front of my my pelvis forward–in effect “looking” for the tree of the saddle,  my thigh moving just a little downward with each step, I retained the flexibility and connection I needed.  (And the four-year-old I was riding started to piaffe, so I stopped!)

Note: There is nothing  new in riding–it’s been around a while–if we just listened and understood  Musler’s advice  in Riding Logic (  He describes this very well using the image of pushing the book on the table back on the table with your pelvis so you get an extension of the front, which keeps mobility.

Back to Melynnda on her horse! Given “new” information, which she had now found usefu, (as in great piaffe on the horse she was riding), Melynnda looked at me, eyebrows up, and blurted out:

“How come you never told me this?” (Good student!)

Of course, I told her I had withheld this tip because I wanted to collect years of training money and become rich at her expense.  (BAD Dale!)

The real answer is, I had told her, but there is more than one way to use your seat; and to quote Rudolf on almost any question asked, It depends on what you want to accomplish. 

And by the way, though Rudolf commented on my saddle, and I watched a lot of other people, nobody ever  actually told it to me.  Very few people actually do it well, let alone think about it.

And now, if you want to see what to do with your correctly positioned seat, you can look at another post: