A Deep Seat is Critical to Trail Riding Success

Kelly had given up taking her gelding trail riding because when she did, the horse would only go so far before backing up. After trying bigger spurs, bits and crops, following other horses, and getting off and leading him, Kelly's trail riding dreams were squashed.

Story originally posted by: Susan Dudasik

Kelly had given up taking her gelding trail riding because when she did, the horse would only go so far before backing up. After trying bigger spurs, bits and crops, following other horses, and getting off and leading him, Kelly’s trail riding dreams were squashed. But Kelly’s problem might not have been the horse. It could very well have been her body position. When her horse began backing, Kelly would tense up, start kicking him, grab the saddle horn and lean forward. Her horse responded by either backing faster or rearing up. Before long a vicious cycle developed and Kelly soon became fearful of trail riding.

Backing out of control is a problem faced by many trail riders, especially young, timid or novice riders. One major cause for this problem is that the rider is constantly leaning forward, sitting on his crotch instead of his seat bones, thus encouraging the horse to go backward or rear.

For any type of riding, you must have forward motion, but many riders hinder this by not sitting up in the saddle. Instead, they lean forward, putting their weight on the horse’s front end. A horse’s power comes from his rear, not his front legs. To encourage the horse to step out, a rider must have his weight slightly back which frees the front end so the horse can move forward. So, the rider must sit deep and slightly back in the saddle to drive the horse forward. This is often referred to as a driving seat. Once the horse steps out, the rider returns to his centered, balanced seat. This isn’t just something that’s required in the show ring. A good trail rider must have a strong, confident seat and be able to encourage his horse forward when the horse is uncertain about doing so, especially when he ‘s asked to cross a bridge or stream, pass by an odd-shaped rock or a group of hikers leading a packstring of llamas.

So, if your horse evades you by going backwards, before thumping on him, consider changing your body position. Correcting this dangerous habit will take time and a willingness to change on your part. Instead of leaning forward telling and allowing your horse to go back, you need to sit deep in the saddle and push forward with your seat bones, those two hard bones. Imagine you’re trying to start a child’s swing. Push down and swing your hips forward. At the same time use your leg cues and, most importantly, give with your reins. Don’t expect your horse to walk forward if he’s going to run into the bit telling him to stop or back. You must allow him to go forward. If you hold him in, he can only go back or rear up.

Pay attention to your horse’s body language. The instant you feel him shift his weight to the rear, start driving him forward. Sit back and deep in the saddle and encourage him forward with your seat and legs. Give with the reins. He can’t go backward unless he shifts his weight, so it’s your job to correct him before he starts. If he has been allowed to back as an evasion tactic, correcting this can be time-consuming and patience-testing.
Often riders tip forward when their equine unexpectedly starts backing up, thus encouraging them to continue backward.

To better understand this, imagine a long hotdog-shaped balloon. If you’re sitting in the center of the balloon, the air inside would be evenly distributed. But, as you tip forward, the air’s displaced to the back of the balloon. If you tip backward, the air rushs forward. This same principal applies to your horse. For riders who tend to lean forward, breaking this habit can be difficult since you might feel as if you’re leaning too far back. A simple test is to place a crop or stick in the center of the back of your pants, then see if you can touch it with your upper back between the shoulder blades. At first this new position will feel very awkward since many of us tend to ride slouched-backed and round-shouldered, but your horse will quickly feel the difference.

Experiment with tilting forward and back until you find a comfortable spot. As you progress, you’ll begin feeling when your horse starts to slow down or back up and will instantly be able to drive him forward. It just takes practice and timing.