Show Season Preparation

Seat Exercises on the Longe Line

by Rivkah Roth DO DNM

If you haven’t done so yet this winter it is time for a few weeks of intensive seat exercises and a major “tool building” refresher

Performing seat exercises on the longe for an elastic and balanced, independent seat requires an highly reliable longe person who has good control over the horse even if sudden rider movements should trigger an outburst. Such a person will speed up the process greatly and allow the rider to confidently focus on herself.

While many of our most common excercises on the longe are performed without stirrups, remember however that many a rider cheats without stirrups by not learning to elastically and independently flex hip-knee-ankle joints to accommodate for the fixed stirrup leather length.

These (cheating and blocking) riders then will be seen either driving their lower leg forward away from the horse’s side or by tiptoeing on the stirrups and slamming their heels (and spurs) back into the horse’s sides for what they consider being their driving aides.

Ride with One Leg Only

While this is not exactly an exercise for a beginner, it will be of the greatest benefit for a more advanced rider:

In order to refine the independence of your seat back-to-front, as well as inside-to-outside perfect your seat with alternatively inside or outside leg resting on top of the kneeroll of the saddle as is done for tightening a good old-fashioned long-girth.

Working on the inside leg position by removing an interfering outside leg.

Hands initially can be placed depending on the rider’s position challenges, e.g. one with two or three fingertips at the pommel, the other under the seat panel, the cantel, or behind the rider’s low back just above the butt cheeks.

Gradually build up from Walk to Trot to Canter in both directions and without reins as well as for much of this also without stirrups.

As soon as a rider feels the balance change the passive leg on top of the kneeroll. Make sure that you neither clamp your thighs nor dig in your seat or seatbones through a change of active vs. passive leg. The goal is to make those leg switch change so smooth that the horse can barely notice them. This will require a lot of low back and core strength. Again, not a beginner exercise.

=> Focus on feeling the rocking of the pelvis.

=> Make sure that the bottom tips of the seat bones float horizontally along the saddle leather and never drive into the saddle. Throughout maintain a curled under a pelvic tilt.

Remember, seatbone pressure makes the horse hollow its back, hard to sit, and can be the harshest punishment – worse than spurs or whip. It will be easy to spot which (even advanced) riders do not apply pelvic tilt. Their horses’ hollow backs, dropped bellies, and overall downhill gaits will betray them.

Self-Check of Your Spine

=> No Give in the Waist! By riding with the back of your outside hand against the back of your waist feel that the internal spinal stretch eliminates any sloppy forward-and-backward waist motion or any lateral inside-outside wiggles. – Such a seat will not stick in the saddle. A spectator from the ground will see air between saddle and seat.

When your riders sit so well that you have to raise the saddle too much in front to show a wrong kink in the waist…

=> Give in the SI Area close to the saddle! Drop the back of your hand down to your sacrum area. That is where you want to feel a rhythmic forward give (and take) rocking of your seat. – Such a seat will look like glued to the saddle while being light for the horse, and allowing the horse to happily round up its back into the rider.

=> For a “driving seat” you practice on allowing – not forcing – the maximum forward following in the saddle but restrict/brace any backward swing. – Reread this please, and remember it!

The latter is the most simple statement. Yet so many riders struggle with perfecting the supportive, following seat, instead blocking and inverting their horse by driving their seat(bones) down.

Learning the Perfect Leg

The perfect rider leg is one that supply and elastically follows every horse’s movement through all exercises and that, in a controlled manner, can communicate with the horse by slight tightening or releasing of its muscles and systematic changes of position.  

For our longeline exercise, the leg you focus on is the leg that is hanging down in proper position, not the one that is up out of the saddle.

=> Thighs are rotated inwards from hip joint so they rest flat against the saddle skirt like an old-fashioned European bread loaf with its flat side against the table.

An elastic shin-knee teamwork will result in the desired deep knee position.

Think of exposing your femur bone directly to the saddle skirt with clearly separated quadriceps in front and hamstring muscles behind it.

Inside quads belong in the saddle, inside hamstring belong out of the saddle. – Some of you may have learned to grab the back of your thigh with your hand and pull it out, away from the saddle.

=> Flex your ankles to raise your toes up (shortens shin muscles – allows calf muscles to stretch). Forget the old “heels down” that lifts your hips out of the saddle!

Correctly executed, this feels as if you are holding a stick with a spring between the base of your toes and the bottom of your knee – this requires a lot of give-and-take in the ankle joint and will pull your knee down by stretching your quads and relaxing your hamstrings.

Thigh position that allows for the perfect half-halt through the seat with the softest and steadiest of contacts even in a corner.
(Note the beautiful absence of bulging biceps muscles despite a very active ride – biceps muscles belong on the other end of a pitchfork, not the horse’s mouth!)

=> Keep your toes just behind the knee allowing for a yo-yo motion (down active vs. up passive) without driving the lower leg forward off the horse’s side, nor allowing the heel to kick back against the horse.

Learning Correct Weight Distribution

Make sure your seat is all in the right places through every movement.

Longitudinal Alignment:

=> Closer to the front of the saddle than to the pommel, i.e. 1/2 handbreadth between crotch and pommel vs. 3/4 to 1 handbreadth between butt cheeks and cantle. In order to increase this spinal balance and steadying ability ride with a fully extended vertical arm as if grabbing a rope and pulling yourself into the sky on it.

The perfect spinal stretch allows for the desired longer upper leg/thigh while maintaining an elastic lower leg with enough bend to remain on the horse’s sides.
“A long leg is a long upper leg!”

For the advanced rider to add to that a slight pinch between outside bottom shoulder blade corner and spine – shoulder blade horizontally adducted towards spine, not the other way around – will add tremendous balance to the horse at any of the collected paces. This will be particularly helpful for half and whole pirouettes as well as lateral work.

Lateral Alignment:

=> Depending on weight, muscling and bottom shape the inside seatbone hovers  1/2″-1″ further down (lateral) of the saddle midline and ahead of the deepest spot of the saddle.

This allows naturally for the required inside knee and leg drop. It does however demand a more flexible ankle and an unlocked shin muscle to not push the rider’s seat back up and to the outside.

=> In order to counteract the natural centrifugal force, the outside seatbone needs to hug closer to the midline of the saddle, therefore demanding a slightly more actively flexed outside leg.

Outside seat and leg hug the center of the saddle preventing the dreaded centrifugal force from making the rider fall out over the outside.

This automatically results in the guarding outside leg position slightly “behind the girth” and consequently places the outside seat slightly behind the inside one. This is particularly effective for the canter or where there is a longitudinal bend such as in corners, circles, serpentines, or any of the lateral work.

Seat exercises practiced on a regular basis save years of battling in the saddle and quickly allow more precise application of the aides.

Since horses can only follow one command at a time – albeit several in very quick order – our seat is our most important tool to produce the desired better paces, transitions and exercises.

copyright Rivkah Roth DO DNM with thanks to Adi Waks and Yael Mitzafon for modeling those photos.

Dr. Rivkah Roth is the founder of Equiopathy and a natural health practitioner, lecturer and author with over five decades in the saddle as a correction rider (Swiss National License LMS since 1968) and many hours as a National Grand Prix and FEI C dressage judge. Student successes include professional coaches on 5 continents (incl. CDN/EC I to III, ISR I to III, Dutch 3rd Level Instructor, USA, AUS), 1986 Dressage World Championships alternate (CDN), 1986 National GP Kuer Champion (CDN), 1992 Barcelona Olympics Longlist 3-Day (CDN), 2002 Young Horse Dressage World Championships – Verden/GER (ISR), World Cup and WEG dressage horse (CDN), many Nat. and Provincial Champions all levels (CDN / ISR / SUI).