How your saddle sits on your horse influences how you sit in your saddle. Once you become aware of this relatively simple fact, you’ll never not notice it again. But I see people riding in improperly balanced saddles all the time, and they are usually struggling to maintain their own position and balance, which of course makes it very hard for them to ride their horse effectively… it’s basically a downward spiral.
So what can you do easily, daily even, to double check your balance? Post the trot stand-stand-sit-stand-stand-sit and see if you can get into a rhythm. As an exercise, it’s challenging enough on its own, but it’s the feedback it gives you that is the real benefit of the exercise. It doesn’t matter so much whether or not you can do it, but the bigger more important part is what goes wrong if you can’t do it.
Things that can happen:
1) You easily stand-stand-sit-stand-stand-sit around the arena, in a position you are pleased to call a regular working position. Awesome!! You are balanced, and your saddle is more than likely supporting you in a balanced position. Carry on with your lovely riding!
2) You stand-stand and fall backwards, either to splat in the saddle or to catch yourself on the reins, making for a very awkward or heavy -sit- beat and then a near impossible return to continue with the next -stand-stand. This means you are behind the motion, and this is the most common thing that happens. To trouble shoot this one, first make your reins as long/loose as you safely can. You are going to lose your balance, and that’s ok, but let’s not make your horse’s mouth bear the brunt of it!
First off, try to hold a two-point position (standing in your stirrups, upper body inclined slightly forward, hips back, heels down, shoulders and eyes up). Once you’ve found balance there, wrap your calves a little more snug around your horse and try posting stand-stand-sit-stand-stand-sit keeping your upper body more forward than you usually would, and landing very lightly on the sit part, barely touching the saddle at all. Then slowly straighten up as you’re posting, continuing to barely touch the saddle on the sit beat, until whatever point you fall backwards. You might find after a few repetitions that you find your balance and you’re all set, in that case use this as an exercise repeated often until it’s easy to help you maintain a more balanced position and strengthen your lower leg.
If you find it relatively easy in a leaning-forward position, but impossible to straighten up, then there is a good chance your stirrups (and thus legs) are too far in front of your center of gravity. In this case, assuming your saddle fits you, there is a very good chance the front of your saddle is sitting too high, making your seat end up too far back in the saddle, putting you in a chair seat. Try adding some extra padding under the back of the saddle, if that solves the problem then you know you have a saddle balance problem and need to figure out if you need a new saddle, a reflock, or just a shim under the back… you might need to consult a saddle fitter if you aren’t sure.
3) You attempt to stand-stand and topple forward, catching yourself on your horse’s neck with your arms. Usually at the same time your lower leg has swung backwards, your heel has come up, and often your foot as slipped through the stirrup leaving it back by your heel. These riders also often pinch with their knees because they lack stability in the lower leg.
Break the exercise down by first going into a two-point position, telling yourself to push down-forward with your heels and backwards with your hips. This will help you balance over your leg. Start to do mini-posts in this exaggerated position, slowly straightening up. A small position tweak and a little more effort to keep your lower leg long and stable under you might be all you needed, and the exercise will quickly become easier.
If you still find it impossible to release the grip of your knee (which lets you keep your hip back behind your leg) and balance as you straighten up, then this could be an indication your saddle is sitting low in front, causing the deepest part of the seat where your seat bones end up to be too far over or even in front of where your leg hangs. To test this, add some extra padding under the front of your saddle, and repeat the process. If this improves your balance, then you need to figure out how to properly fit your saddle so that it sits higher in front and properly balanced on your horse’s back. It might just need a riser pad, extra flocking added, or you might need a narrower tree.
If a little extra padding under the front or back of the saddle doesn’t help your balance, then you probably have a problem that goes beyond a small balance adjustment. Your saddle might be too big or too small for you, the blocks might not fit you right, the stirrup bar might be in a bad position for your leg, or the saddle could be a poorly balanced design. Try the same exercise in a few other saddles, or have another rider try it in yours to get a better idea what might be going on.
BONUS: What usually happens once the rider figures out how to carry herself smoothly doing stand-stand-sit repeatedly without hanging on the reins or landing hard on the saddle is the horse’s back starts to come up and the head starts to stretch down. Did that happen for you?