“So what do you ride?” To the novice equestrian, this may seem like a bizarre question, to which the answer would be “Well, horses… du-uh”. OK, so that is a bit silly and over-simplistic, but the question goes much further than just the “English” or “Western” that many beginners would answer. In the next few posts, I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the different seats, or types of riding, with a bit of history as to how they evolved.
With all forms of riding, English or Western, the seats and styles have evolved over centuries. The present day styles in many disciplines would be unrecognizable to riders from a hundred years ago. As with much fashion, what’s “in” today will look dated tomorrow; however, form follows function, and the basic bio-mechanics of riding have changed very little – certainly much less than the amount of bling or color of the jackets you see in the show ring on any given day.
I’ll start with Hunt Seat, simply because that’s the style I first rode. Hunt Seat is a sub-genre of forward seat riding geared toward the show ring. Forward seat riding was developed by Federico Caprilli, an Italian horseman born in the mid 1800’s. After carefully analyzing horses free jumping he noticed how they used their back to bascule (or arch) over their fences – he determined that the style of riding over fences which was currently in vogue (longer stirrups with the rider’s body angled back once the horse reached the apex of the jump) was detrimental to the ability of the horse to jump freely and comfortably.
While in the 50’s and 60’s it was common for hunters to be shown over an outside course, now classes are almost exclusively held in the ring. As the position coveted in the show ring has become a bit stylized, many competitors wouldn’t do too well in the hunt field. Conversely, there are riders field hunting all over the world who wouldn’t pin in an equitation class, for although form follows function, there are several areas where cross country riding in the hunt field and eventing vary considerably from Hunt Seat riding.
The desired impression is one of a workmanlike, balanced position adaptable to riding both on the flat and over fences. The stirrups generally hit about the level of the ankle (when your foot is out of the stirrup). At the halt, there should be a straight line from the ear passing down through the shoulder, hip and heel. Another straight line should pass from the elbow to the bit. The saddle used is a forward seat saddle, so called because the flaps of the saddle curve forward to facilitate shorter stirrups and a forward seat over fences. Often, the rider utilizes two-point position (the seat out of the saddle, upper body slightly angled forward, but center of gravity still balanced over the stirrups) between the fences during a course; however, this is another matter of style. At last years Virginia State 4-H Horse Championships held at The Virginia Horse Center, judges told the riders after a large and (and very competitive) class, to sit between fences. Sitting gives the rider better use of their seat – an important aid; however, 2-point is invaluable when giving a horse a hand gallop to freshen him up a bit or if you’re cantering out for long distances. It’s a great exercise for developing balance and strengthening the quads, and takes some weight off the horse’s back.
Other types of forward seat riding come into play in eventing, show jumping and, in an extreme form I won’t cover in these blogs, horse racing – both on the flat and over fences. I’ll go into show jumping and eventing in my next post. Until then, hope (whatever your discipline), you enjoy your horsey life.