Monday, April 23, 2012

Debbie Sams: Sticking to Your Horse with a Deep Seat

Part 1 in the “Deep Seat” series

A deep seat is essential for every rider to learn, whether she is headed for bronc riding, jumping, or dressage. The ability to stick to a horse is paramount when riding. Once a rider learns to ride in a deep seat, she will have the necessary tools to begin to influence the horse through the seat.

Basic Seat How-to

Here is how I explain how to ride with the deep seat. Remember these simple basics, and you will be off to a good start.
  • Breathe
  • Jell-O in the belly
  • Spaghetti legs
  • Rocks in the heels
Breathe - When you learn something new on the horse, such as the trot/jog, it is really common to hold your breath. This is a normal reaction. I like to have my students imagine that they are walking down a dark alley and that someone jumps out at them from the shadows. Next I ask them what happens to their breathing and muscles at that moment. Normally, they say that they stop breathing. Yes, you stop breathing, and your body becomes tense and stiff. This is like a basketball that is full of air — it is stiff. What happens when you throw it down on the ground? It bounces. Now if I took a basketball without air in it and threw it on the ground, what would happen? Yes, it would plop and just sit there. We want to be soft like the basketball (Illus. 1) without the air in it when we trot/jog. We want to just sit there and not bounce. It’s easier on us and on the horse when we don’t bounce. So the first thing we need to remember is to breathe. Then our body will be soft and move with the horse. (Illus. 7, 8)

Illus. 7, 8

Sometimes a rider will try to be so soft that he begins to slouch. You need to sit tall and breathe so you can move with the horse. If you begin to breathe too fast or too shallowly, that can disrupt your riding as well. Nice, steady rhythmic breathing is best.

Jell-O in the belly — or how the abdominal muscles work. Kids enjoy imagining that they have Jell-O in their bellies (Illus. 4) while learning to trot or jog. This image gives you awareness that your abdomen should be allowed to move with the horse. Sometimes the rider will become too floppy when using this image. If this happens, remember to sit tall and have less body movement in the abdomen. Allow only the hips to move. The movement that you are looking for is actually below the waist, in the hip cavity. (Illus. 3)

Illus. 3, 4

Spaghetti legs — I tell my students that they need to have spaghetti legs, like cooked spaghetti noodles. This keeps the legs relaxed and soft so they don’t push down on the stirrups and cause your seat to bounce. Soft movable legs act as shock absorbers. (Illus. 2)

Illus. 1, 2

Rocks in the heels — When you drop a rock in the water, it slowly sinks to the bottom. When riding you want your heels to slowly sink. This will help anchor your seat bones in place. Sinking your heels down also gives you a longer leg to wrap around your horse. (Illus. 23)

Ill 23

I recommend that your horse be put on the longe line for the first few deep seat sessions. You will have enough to think about, managing your own body, without worrying about where you are going as well.

Debbie Sams teaches English and Western riding with an emphasis on dressage. At her Springer's Stables in Broadalbin, New York, she also teaches drill team and vaulting. Her farm gives pony parties and holds horse camps for scouts and local community college and elementary school youth programs, as well as for the Sacandaga Bible Conference and Retreat Center. Debbie has been teaching drama and drill team on horseback since 1979; in 1985 she became a Certified Horsemanship Association Instructor. She is the author of 101 Drill Team Exercises and has also put her horse knowledge to work in writing for such publications as Practical Horseman, Equus, and the Northeast Horseman’s Journal.

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