When I picture a good rider, I imagine a horse and rider effortlessly moving together in harmony. A good rider, in my mind's eye, has an excellent seat. You cannot tell where the horse ends and the rider begins because they flow together as one.
People assume that a person who mirrors this description and makes everything look easy from the back of a horse is just a naturally gifted rider. Personally, I believe there's no such thing. No one is born knowing how to ride a bike well. It takes time and practice. Everyone fell off their bike numerous times and zig zagged around the yard uncontrollably when they first hopped on without the training wheels. If you saw this "naturally gifted" horse back rider in their beginning stages of learning, you'd probably realize they aren't the riding prodigy you first believed they were.
It's a compliment when people say: "Oh, you're such a natural." But, I don't want anyone to think that they can't achieve the same results because the horse gods decided to bless my ability and not theirs. My ability came from a lifetime of experience not some wondrous, selective gift I received at birth. I also had a great instructor who was dedicated to making me better. She put me on the bounciest pony she could find and simply said, "You will ride this horse until you learn to sit him."
Now, I will admit that there are folks who take to riding faster than others. These people may have a little better balance and rhythm to start with than other folks, so they tend to pick up on riding a bit quicker. That's what I consider possessing some natural ability. But no one gets on a horse for the first time and has the perfect seat.
It is not unattainable, folks. You can ride as beautifully as the most amazingly, gifted person you know. Here's some tips on how to get there.
1. Practice riding.
Simple enough, right? Kids make such good riders, not because they are such gifted little individuals, but because they ride. And ride. And you literally have to threaten to beat them to get them off. (God bless the children's horses.) It will take a lot longer for you to develop the same skill if you only ride an hour a week during your lesson and every other Saturday for a trail ride. Hectic schedules can prevent folks from riding as much as they like. But the secret to developing that natural looking seat is really no secret at all. Practice. Practice. Practice.
2. Practice riding without stirrups.
Riding without stirrups and riding bareback are the best ways to work on your independent seat. An independent seat means you don't need anything to help you stay on. You don't need to pull on the reins to stay balanced or hold on to mane or the saddle. It means a rider does not depend on anything for balance but oneself. Especially stirrups. You do not depend on stirrups. Riders in general, rely too heavily on stirrups. Take them away and see how balanced you really are. And then refer to number one. Practice. Practice. Practice. Without stirrups. Improve your balance, build up your muscles, and learn to work with the horse. Ride in small circles, serpentines, and tight turns; change directions often. It's too easy to ride in a straight line or on a big circle. Learn how to actually ride.
3. Avoid practicing riding in two point.
Two point ruins riders. This goes back to number two. Riders rely too heavily on their stirrups. When it gets bouncy or a little rough, it's easier to stand up in those irons and get your butt up out of the saddle. But the easy way out won't help you get any better. Learn how to allow your hips to follow the horse's movement and let your lower back absorb the shock. Keep your thighs and knees against the saddle. Don't put all your weight in your feet and let your knees be the shock absorbers by standing up. That's cheating. Two point is a necessary evil for some disciplines; I get that. I also understand that it helps riders figure out the building blocks of balance and strengthens the legs. But, when used as a rider's main seat it hurts more than it helps, in my opinion. I believe the same of posting. Posting is great. I love posting. Posting helps achieve correct lower leg position for a better seat. So, do post, but also don't. Practice. Practice. Practice. While sitting.
4. Practice riding on different horses.
This is probably the secret; if there is one. You can practice with the same horse and get good on him, but then when you ride a different horse it all falls apart. Each horse has a different way of going. A different rhythm. The quicker you can adapt to the feel of different horses the better seat you will have and the better rider you will become. So you can guess what's next... Practice. Practice. Practice. On different horses. There's a balance between controlling and restricting your body's movement and also freeing and loosening your body to move with the horse. Don't force it. If you rock your hips and upper body trying to get in time with your horse, it will look sloppy and you won't be in sync. On the other hand, don't fight it. If you are stiff and rigid and try to be perfectly still in the saddle, you'll bounce all over the place. There's a middle ground you have to find on every horse you ride.
Now, you know all the secrets (and not so secrets) to becoming a natural. So now what? You guessed it. Practice. Practice... Practice! The ongoing and extremely annoying theme you've heard throughout this entire article. Good luck!