As riders we all know the importance of our seats, but sometimes it’s easier said than done! A few times recently I’ve highlighted the seat to my riders to help them control, influence and improve their canter approaches to fences.
In October I taught a riding club gridwork clinic and there was this horse in one session who knew his job inside out. However he tended to rush into the fences. This rider held her canter together and kept it collected, but then he paddled the last couple of strides and scrambled the fences. So I said to her that whilst she was collecting and holding the canter together she needed to remember not to freeze her seat. If she stopped moving with his canter then it blocked his energy travelling from his hindquarters to propel him forwards, which caused the loss of rhythm and energy on the approach. I think where she had previously had quite a “driving, active seat” she had subconsciously stopped all movement so then had to rely on her reins to limit the speed. We spent a bit of time on circles using the seat in a slight hula hooping action to push the canter on and bring it back. Then, when she approached the grid next her hands were softer, the horse was less tense, and the canter more three time, energetic, and rhythmical. That meant that they met the first fence on a perfect stride and flew through the grid.
I used this technique again more recently with a client and her mare. The mare can be backwards thinking, stroppy, and crooked, so can be tricky to ride forwards because she isn’t naturally forward thinking, but also she will lean against the leg – it’s almost the more you use the leg, the slower she goes. When jumping it is vital to have the mare in a good canter and taking her rider to the fences. Instead of my rider using her leg and hand to regulate the canter, she was far more successful when she soley used her seat to extend or collect the canter. This meant the mare stayed straight, and wasn’t arguing with the rider so could focus entirely on the question in hand. So they were far more successful through the grid.
On a similar theme, if your horse tends to speed up when jumping – through combinations or grids, it is tempting to get strong with the hand. Which can create a tug of war between your hand and the horse’s head. We all know who would win.
I used this with a couple of riders and horses at this riding club clinic. One horse rushed through the grid, and when his rider started pulling the quality of the canter was lost and the jumps became irregular. As soon as this rider sat up quickly between the fences the horse seemed to pause through the grid and to relax, make a better shape over the jumps and didn’t rush. The rider also found it easier to ride because the horse wasn’t pulling on her arms as much. I would think that it is a nicer feeling for the horse when approaching a jump if the rider is not hanging onto their mouth, so the horse will be more inclined to jump. You can also try putting in circles at the end of grids or combinations to resettle the horse before the next set of jumps. When a horse rushes it’s important to bring the adrenaline levels back down before walking and having a rest so that the hidds learns that there is no reason to rush.
So next time you find yourself fighting your horse before jumps, take a moment to check that your seat is activated and the horse is reacting to the aids. Then ensure you are using different parts of your body to influence the horse’s way of going, not just your hands, so feel the improvement.