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Shifting Seats/Loose Saddles

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Shifting Saddles and Loose Seats
Randi Thompson (C)1998

Many of us have felt the uncomfortable feeling of a saddle slowly slipping towards one side of the horse while we are riding. Numerous riders also know the frustration of feeling their seats bouncing all over the saddle. Are you tired of slip sliding away? Now you can quickly learn how to keep your saddle, and your seat, where they belong.

Let's begin with the slipping saddle. Try this the next time that you ride a horse.

Look down to see if the front of the saddle,(either the center of the pommel, or the saddle horn) is in line with the horse's mane. That is an easy way to see when the saddle is on the center of the horses back, where it is supposed to be. It is also helpful when you first begin working on this, that you place a piece of colored tape on the front of your saddle so that you can line it up with the neck faster. As you are riding, pay attention to which side the saddle has a tendency to slip more towards, especially at the faster gaits, and on circles.

A saddle usually slips to one side when the rider is placing more weight in the stirrup on that side than the other. If your saddle is shifting to the right, step softly into the left stirrup and carefully reposition the center of the saddle back in line with the horse's mane. Some riders find it easier to shift the saddle by holding one hand on the front of the saddle as they step into the stirrup.

If the saddle is sliding to the left, step into the right stirrup to bring the saddle back into line. You may be surprised at how often your saddle will slip out of line with the horse's mane. Most riders discover that their saddles will slip more often to the outside of the horse's withers on corners and circles. This can be corrected by placing more weight on the inside stirrup.

If the saddle is falling to the inside of the horses withers on a circle, try placing more weight onto the outside stirrup to bring the saddle back into line with the horse's mane You are than ready to learn how to balance your weight evenly in both of your stirrups. To do this, begin by choosing a safe, quiet horse and begin walking. Walk around for a few moments and notice which side the saddle has shifted towards. Than, carefully take your foot out of the stirrup on the side that the saddle keeps slipping towards, and continue riding. At first, you will feel very unbalanced. This is because you have become comfortable being unbalanced. Before long,(it will seem like forever) you will feel comfortable as you trot or canter in correct balance without shifting the saddle to either side. Than you are ready to practice keeping the saddle in line with the mane with both of your feet in the stirrups.

Sounds easy, right? With a little patience and lots of practice, you will easily be able to keep the center of a saddle and the horse's mane in line with each other.

A slipping saddle is not uncommon. In fact, now that you know what to look for you will see many other riders saddles slipping to the side from behind.

How to stop those sliding seats.

Have you been riding horses for years and still are not sure where your seat should rest in the saddle? How many frustrated riders do you know whose seats are still sliding and bouncing all over the saddle after they have spend hundreds of hours trying to get a secure seat on a lunge line?

First, let's take a look at how the seat of you saddle is shaped. Saddles are built so that the rider's "seat bones" are placed in the hollow, or the deepest point of the saddle. That means that the front of your pelvis, or the crotch area, will rest slightly higher, and up on the swell of the saddle or th"hill".
If you are like the majority of riders, your seat will tend to slide back and rest on the back, or the cantle of the saddle. This seems like the right spot to rest your seat, but it is not.

Seat bone position

Your seat will move less when you can keep your seat bones in the deepest part of the saddle. Your job is to learn to stay in that position by becoming aware of how to feel and adjust your seat bones.

It is easiest to feel the position of your seat bones on a chair first. To do this, sit on a chair and place a hand, palm up, underneath one side of your seat. Rock back and forth until you can feel the bone that is located under your seat. This is called a seat bone.

To become aware of how much your seat bones can move, begin by pointing your seat bones towards the back of the chair. You will feel more pressure on the front of your crotch as the back of your seat lifts off the chair. Now, place your hand, palm facing towards your back, on your lower back. You will feel that your back is hollow.

Next, gently slide your seat bones forward. Notice when your weight falls behind the seat bones and unto the fatty part of your backside. Place your hand behind your lower back and feel how your lower back becomes round.

To adjust your seat bones to the center position, bring your seat bones back underneath your seat. Check your position by placing your hand, palm towards your back, on your lower back. Your lower back should feel flat. This is the correct position that will allow your seat and back to follow the movements of the horse's back. Repeat the three seat bones positions until you know where they are and how to adjust them.

Now you are prepared to feel and adjust your seat bone position in a saddle on a horse.

Riding on the hill

Begin by feeling your seat bone positions in the saddle with the horse standing still. Sit in your saddle the way that you normally do, than slowly slide your seat bones to the back of the saddle. Feel how the front of your pelvis drops into the deepest part of the saddle or the "bottom of the hill". Next, place your hand behind your lower back, palm towards you, and feel how your back is hollow.

Now, adjust your seat by gently sliding your seat bones forward until the front of your pelvis is resting slightly resting on the hill. Your seat bones will be pointed down in the center position and placed in the deepest part of the saddle, or the "bottom of the hill". This is where your seat bones should remain. Once again, check to see if your seat bones are correct by placing your palm on the lower part of your back to check it is flat. This is the correct position.

At first, this position in the saddle my feel a little strange. This is because you have become comfortable with the wrong position. Before long, you will wonder how you ever stayed in a saddle with your old position

Start feeling if your seat bones are in the center position and if your are "on the hill" at the walk. You will probably find that your seat bones will slip back every three to five steps in the beginning. This is a normal.

When you can stay "on the hill" and keep your seat bones positioned in the center at the walk, you are ready to practice at a slow trot. Start slowly, as you will probably fall down the hill many times before you learn how to adjust your seat and use your lower back and thighs to keep your seat bones in the correct position in the saddle. . You will soon be amazed at how much better you will be able to sit to and follow the movement of the horse"s back. Than you are ready to "ride on the hill" at the canter. You can now easily teach yourself or show anyone how to keep their seats balanced and their saddles from slipping.

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Well, we know were we are....

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I agree with all you have said, Annie. Many times when I rider is crooked (and the saddle) it causes the horse to move crooked. Of course, most horses do move crooked with a rider on them so maybe we need to also teach a rider how to help a horse to move straight and keep an even weight on all four of its legs...

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Quoting author:

Hay Star see yer back in the saddle again...

Thanks Mr. Woodroe. It is good to be back home...

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Hey Starhorse,
A couple more suggestions. One is to look at your horse's back. If you ride a lot, it's summer or your horse has been clipped. If you consistently ride unbalanced his hair will be rubbed on one side more than the other - straighten up. Also many of the horse chiropractors have said that they would like too see the rider ride while there was an instructor and another human chiropractor there to evaluate the situation. Their premise is that the horse has become unbalanced and sore because the rider either has physical issues of her own, or she's just "riding to one side." This not only causes back problems for your horse, but it can eventually lead to soundness issues in other places -like shoulders, hips, neck, etc all because your horse is trying to compensate for a lack of balance. (this can work the other way around as well - the horse's physical issues can cause physical problems with the rider) They also mentioned that you should ride a bicycle leaning to one side, and see how much work it takes to hold it up. Also mentioned was (if you're young and strong enough) to carry someone piggy back and have them shift their weight around. It makes the carrier's job quite difficult. I know it sounds silly, but it gives a great illustration as to what you may be doing to your horse.

Also an old foxhunter trick is to put a leather shammy (sp?) flat on the horse's back before you tack up. It really helps to hold everything in place, even when the going gets a little hairy.

Also make sure your girth is tight. I don't care how good your balance is - if you're out riding with a loose girth your saddle is going to slip. A tight girth will also help stabilize a saddle so it's not moving around as he moves. Also tighten your girth a little at a time. Just enough to keep the saddle on your horse while you're tacking up. Snugger before you leave the barn, and tighter before you get on him, and if you ride English you can check it again when you're in the saddle before you move off. Tighten it too quickly, and your girth will be hanging before you leave the barn yard. Finally - many show people I know only want their girths to be firmly snug. If you're riding out - there are numerous things that can throw you off balance IE: a shy, misbehavior, trappy country, opening and closing gates. A tight girth goes a long way in helping the saddle stay put thus helping you stay put.

I know - I talk too much, but another thing that teaches great balance is vaulting. Kind of like gymnastics on horseback. You learn very quickly in a safe environment where your center of balance is. It also lets you know that you can move around on horseback and still stay on alleviating a lot of fear if you do manage to get knocked off balance while riding.

PS. I have always hated riding at any speed faster than a slow trot downhill. This is one reason, of many, why I don't foxhunt any more. First and most importantly - if anything happens such as your horse slips or trips you're toast. No matter how well balanced and fit you and your horse may be - it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on both front and hind limbs. If you can't afford many soundness issues, then take your time. (I know - I've ridden all my life, but I'm still a weenie when it comes to certain things).

Happy trails
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