FREE ARTICLE: Horse Rider Posture Assessments Made Easy: Part III: Seatbones

ARTICLE:  Horse Rider Posture Assessments Made Easy: Part III: Seatbones

The FASTEST way to quickly assess the rider’s seat, position, balance, co-ordination – even confidence – in a 4-Part Series.

We’ve boiled it down to just FOUR SIMPLE STEPS:

See also the previous 2 Parts in this Series:

Seatbones are the center of the body.  The “middle” of our “Big Four”:

1. Head,
2. Elbows,
3. Seatbones, and
4. Feet.

I am making Seatbones one of the “four most important things to remember”, because seatbones are highly responsible for:

  • Balance: The balance of the center of the body, and resulting problems above & below. The balance left/right (crooked).  The balance forward/backwards (on the forehand -vs- engaged).
  • Fear & Injury: If the seatbones are firmly “planted in place” technically you can never come off.  Therefore that INCREDIBLE balance the cowboy has in the seatbones (and we’ll look at eventers in Part 4: The Rider’s Feet) gives them INCREDIBLE confidence, almost the feeling of “it’s not possible to come off”.  It’s then the rider can relax, enjoy the ride, and get the highest performance.
  • Pain: Back Pain, Hip Pain, Lumbar Area – even knees & feet, seatbones affect them all. The more the bones are in correct position, the less it’s going to hurt!  You cannot “engage the core” for more than a few minutes, and even then, that’s not how the masters stay on.  They are totally relaxed (in fact some of the oldies do have flabby pot bellies and REALLY STICK….ssshh….but that old fat cowboy, or that long gone vaulter with the belly….they’re not using their core to hold together bones in the wrong position.  They train to find ways to support the bones into the correct position…and then they ALL talk of relaxatio
  • Injury to the Horse: Help the horse by giving them a balanced, stable load to carry. If the rider, or horse, has to use the wrong muscles, or “bear down” constantly, that’s not a pleasant ride!  Endurance rider’s don’t “engage the core”…they wouldn’t make it the first 10 miles if they did!  They put the bones into the most supportive position (mostly through the most suitable saddles) and then relax as much as they can…it’s a MARATHON…you can’t bear down to hold your position in a MARATHON…you train to put the bones in the right position with correct equipment and correct biomechanics, and then LEAVE IT ALONE & RELAX.  Certainly the beginner might need to grab the knees to feel safe.  The slightly more advanced rider “SITS” to feel safe.  The more advanced rider “LOOKS UP” to stay safe.  But the master BREATHES and relaxes to stay safe…only if the bones are in the right spot for balance…but we can teach you that bit!
  • “Stickability”:  The most extreme test we could give a rider would be “crowd training” where the Officers are literally “attacked” by a crowd of people trying to do everything they can to upset the horse and get the rider to the ground. These are Officers, and if we CAN pull them to the ground…WE WILL!  There is no holes barred in training, the rider HAS to learn to stay on in the most extreme circumstances. Plus…to make it worse, our Mounted Police Forces  don’t have a lot of TIME to train – they have to learn faster than anyone! They barely have the financial support and funds, which is why whenever Police Mounted Unit Riders or Sheriffs, or Search & Rescue or Wounded Warrier people have applied for Scholarships in the past – we have always said yes!  I do not charge Police Mounted Units myself, and ask the coaches of the ISRB to do the same – go and donate some time – even if it’s cleaning their stables in thanks for the work they do!  One of my pupils recently just got her resume, and drove out to the Police center.  No problem she was a volunteer straight away, and even gets to ride for free!  

    The problem with the mounted Units is not just funding…they’re out on the beat this afternoon with a horse and a gun, and they HAVE to get it right. There’s no second guessing when you’re cantering down a slippery covered car parking building, and the horse is sliding after an offender.  What we need you to do then with your seatbones is 100% the only way I know how to pick that horse up if the horse starts to go down…the stumble or, worse, the rotational fall all professionals dread.  When the horse stumbles downhill, there’s suddenly no discussion as to where your tailbone has to be…and what it has to do if you have any intention of picking that horse up from the fall!

    We have a responsibility to our Officers to get them home safely to their families by giving them the most stickability in these extreme circumstances…and this 4-Part Series is the basis of what they are taught.

SEATBONES:Three Quick Tests:

In the ISRB on-line teaching program we mention several times that if you are a coach that has been called in for a higher level client…it’s not necessary to know that person’s sport fully.  As a Biomechanist you work with ANY sport, and ANY human movement.  And no matter what the sport, if you lean forward like a jockey you’ll go faster.  If you sit deep like a reiner, you’ll go slower. If you’re on one seatbone heavier, or one seatbone is more forward, it doesn’t matter what your sport…the result will be the same!

1. Test One: One seatbone more forward

In a test of 211 people conducted in 2010 throughout the 17 days that I gave presentations at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, riders, seated in a new saddle, with new stirrups and leathers on a saddle stand were asked:

“Which seatbone do you think you have most forward?

Participants were only given 15 seconds to answer!  Only 47% of those asked could offer a definitive answer within the timeframe.  

Of  those who offered an answer – 61% were INCORRECT. However when the question was re-asked  – just with different wording:


“Can you point your belly button to 11 o’clock, now 12 o’clock, now 1 o’clock…
now can you point it directly straight ahead”

…after the question was simply re-worded:100% of respondents were able to then give an answer within the timeframe and  93% were then CORRECT in their estimation of what was straight.

Independent Seat. The Rider's Seat BonesIn other words, trying to locate and place seatbones was too hard for most people. But, talking about your belly button (which, when you think about it, is sort of the “top of your seatbones) was far more accurate, far easier to explain to juniors, less stressful for the pupils and far less exasperating for the coach!

For accuracy & simplicity – replace seatbones questions with belly button questions!

How to Become a Coach – FOR FREE!

2. Test Two: One seatbone heavier

One of the theories that we have heavily tested over the years is “should one seatbone be heavier than the other in turns & circles”, and also “what happens on a straight line when one seatbone is heavier than the other”.

A)  On the Straight Line

You can test it yourself!  It is a very easy go down the center line, or a straight line in a paddock, and overweight one seat-bone and see what happens.

However, that is only with ONE horse, and the problem is, you might start to think that ALL horses do what your horse does.  Well, we have long since proven they do not!

When overweighting the right seatbone down the center line, about one-third of horses drift right (but with wrong flexion & head tilt), one-third of horses drift left (again with poor flexion & bend together with head tilt), and one-third of horses didn’t even know the rider was there and didn’t respond at all.

With such poor consistency results, combined with quite obvious discomfort signs (head tilt, tail swish, wrong bend), it is not a recommended technique.

B)  On Turns or Circles

Again it is very easy to test.  Ask the rider to do a prompt (but kind) turn.  Too slow and the rider might give an incorrect answer. Make sure they’re not using the outside leg to turn (as it can change the answer). Ask them, for this particular turn, just make it simple and ask with the hands/reins.

Then…ASK:   “which seatbone was heavier in the turn?”.  Nearly always it’s the inside, and nearly always the inside front foot carries more weight until the horse & rider is in balance with more training.

Compare for yourself…do some turns…do one turn with the inside seatbone heavier.  Then another with both level.  Then another with the outside heavier, and see for yourself.

Being a “kind & empathic scientist” is how you TEST FOR YOURSELF – not trust the answer from any outside source that could be wrong…they might have only tested their theory ONLY on Arabians, or ONLY in jumping position, or ONLY in a western saddle.  It takes many years and hundreds of people, and many different breeds and sports to make sure test results are  REAL and ACCURATE and statistically significant.

Quick fixes. Lift Something!When one seatbone is heavier, they show the judge through their heavier inside front foot, lost balance, head tilt, jack-knife and “falling” into the circle on the forehand.  In addition, they might also have  a swishing tail which is marked down for discomfort/lack of submission in dressage, and is something we never want to see from any horse in any sport.  It’s often seen when the rider over-uses the spur.

We saw in Part 1 simply keeping the rider’s helmet level to the horizon is a great help to stay balanced and fix your seatbones losing balance in the circle.

We saw in Part 2 that keeping the elbows softly level, not allowing “tipping in” is easier to measure than if the rider’s shoulders tip in.  And, level elbows help level seatbones.

Think of the Spanish School of Riding…their hats are level, and their gold buttons are level! The don’t lean in or fall in circles & turns.

And, at the world’s best reining events you will see the best riders, in the best spins have their belt level to the floor, and they rarely have to adjust their saddle again after the spin, as they stayed so central, saddle not spun to the outside, which is actually the rider being “left behind” the movement, and having to fix the saddle is the evidence at the end.  The master’s saddle stays perfectly central!

In the beginning, you might lean in and twist to look at the inside hind leg to help the baby horse, but that cannot go on for long, as the rider is very unbalanced, and the horse is on the forehand, and also “lost balance” as the judges call overweighting the inside front foot.  The top rider’s hats are always level – therefore their seatbones are level as well!  You can almost think of it as fixing the top and the bottom at the same time…less for the riders to think about.  Less for the coaches to get frustrated about.

And that elegant level helmet – looks beautiful!

3. Test Three: The “Extra Seatbones” – Front & Back

When we talk about seat-bones, we nearly always think of the “left/right” ones.  But, don’t forget the “front/back” ones!  Your pubic bone and your tail bone.

They are like a “teeter-totter”, or a “see-saw” we it call back in Australia. You can be on your pubic bone (ouch!) or you can be on your tail bone, and a million variations in between.

The tailbone controls speed through on the forehand -vs- engagement.  That is – jockey leans forward in a race – minimum to zero contact of the tail bone.  However, the opposite: the Cowboy SITS in a slide – maximum contact of the tail bone.

The rider’s tail bone is like an “anchor” in a ship that “sits the horse down”, and the more sit, the slower they go.  When a horse is engaged, their tail is lower to the floor. In that way both horse and rider “match”…Rider’s tailbone down = horse’s tailbone down.

On the forehand vs engagement.

The jockey leaning forward in the Kentucky Derby is not asking for engagement and “sitting” – as it obviously slows a horse down.  Even a dressage rider when they’re training “eases off” the engagement, with a lighter seat, less tailbone.  It’s easier, and the horse can pick back up the impulsion they were losing with a fully upright seat & position.

The only horse sports that get the comment “NOT ENOUGH IMPULSION” or “NOT GOING FORWARD”, or “LABOURED”, are the sports in which the rider’s sit up straight. “Easing off” of the tailbone, a slightly lighter seat can help a horse immensely if they’re struggling with a fully upright position and too much engagement for their fitness level.

Remember when your horse FIRST learned to canter, it was your natural instinct to “cheat” and lean a bit forward and over the inside leg to help. Advanced riders still do that…e.g., they might be sitting fully, maximum tailbone, but feel the impulsion dying, and instead of the horse losing marks for a tail swish by kicking the horse on, the just “lighten” their tailbone,  leaning EVER SO INVISIBLY forward, which is much easier for the horse, and then the horse doesn’t struggle as they’re building fitness (and don’t lose a bunch of marks for the tail swish from kicking).

How you sit can hurt your horse

Full engagement, “tailbone down”, the entire time, and eventually the stifles and hocks will suffer…The opposite goes for jumping, leaning forward (especially if your heel is up, throwing you onto your wrists for support) puts the horse on the forehand, and jump, jump jump on the forehand and the opposite end of the horse – the front legs will suffer.

This is why eventing was the true test of the military…because they test you in EVERY position.  Forward AND backward positions.  Up AND downhill! Because that made the most sense to train riders to be safer that way.  But also they needed to keep horses sound for as long as they could.  So one third of the time weight on the front feet (jumping, speed etc), one third of the time the weight on the back feet (engagement, slides, downhill), and the rest of the time “in the middle”…not on the forehand, not truly engaged, the TRUE working trot, working canter and free walk which are not permitted on the forehand, but not engaged either, as they’re not yet ready for true engagement – which comes a year later in the training.

Over-arched back

You might hear from your coach “your back is too arched”, or “your seatbones point out the back”, or “sit deeper”.  These are all accurate descriptions of the same thing, however, some riders just don’t get it.  No matter how the coach tries to fix it, the rider is still “overarched” and sitting on their pubic bone, or the opposite “slumping” where the rider is sitting too deep on their “pockets” and YEARS later they still haven’t fixed the problem.

However, these two questions make it simple:

  1. Does your belly button point up or down, or is it parallel to the floor.
    (This question is more accurate for children)
  2. Which is heavier your pubic bone or your tail bone?
    (This question is far more accurate for adults).

The question “which is heavier, the pubic bone or the tailbone” has proven to be 100% accurate with rider’s response, remarkable when you compare it to other parts of the body and similar questions with answers as low as 11% accuracy for some questions!

With the question: “which is heavier, pubic bone or tail bone?” the answer is immediate. You could then add in “how heavy is your tailbone out of 10?”.  Then, instructions such as “can you make your tailbone a 4, now 2, now 9, now a 7 etc…”.

If you keep changing the number UNTIL THEIR BELT IS LEVEL from side-one. However EVEN QUICKER are the two BEST QUICK FIXES below…

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OUR 2 BEST QUICK FIXES!!!

The two quickest ways to get your riders to really SIT are:

a)  RIDE DOWNHILL

It’s a super fix for nearly everything.  Walk, trot, or even canter if the rider is ready, but make it a SMALL hill so they can really SIT “Man from Snowy River Style” on their tailbone.  Be careful!  Cantering is not for everyone, much less cantering downhill.  But to be competitive, this one is a must!  Learning to get that tailbone on the saddle is one of the fastest ways to improve the rider’s balance, confidence, skill & success.

b) LIFT SOMETHING!

Quick fixes. Lift Something!The old “egg and spoon race” had a purpose back in Pony Club or Riding Camp when you were a kid.

Lifting something, or being “tested” such as leading a horse from your horse (ponying), and the horse is “reluctant”.  You soon learn it’s not MUSCLE that keeps you on it’s ANGLE.

Get the right angle on the rope, and the other horse pulls you INTO the saddle. And it can be learned in an instant – the angle – the exact spot where to put your hand, in front or behind your hip and no horse can ever get away!

It wasn’t MUSCLE.  It wasn’t the CORE of the rider that kept them on. It’s about the only sport where you can be an Olympian and overweight and VERY unfit in the core, but have the right ANGLES of the feet, ankles, and in this case SEATBONES, and NOTHING will pull that cowboy out of balance. The worse things get, the more he’s pulled INTO the saddle!  Now imagine that as a confidence-builder!

Instead of instructing, instead of training, instead of TELLING the rider how to be balanced, the heavier the weight you carry, the faster the brain is FORCED to balance out your seatbones to stay on! That’s what the “carry the bucket” races were about way back when you were a kid!

Do it safely.  Do it carefully. Only do it when the rider is ready, but it’s great for therapeutic riders right through to my Olympians and Paralympians.  In one vaulting lesson, helping riders to mount, or even helping a kid on behind you to “double” is amazing training, and because you can learn it INSTANTLY it cannot have been about fitness, it’s not about sheer muscle force, or I, as an old lady could not INSTANTLY pull the Officer to the ground, and 5 mins later, set up the angles, and he can lift me off the floor! Not fitness – ANGLES!  It’s where your bones point.

Certainly, my original field was exercise physiology, and so I had a very 1970’s (ouch!) understanding of muscles and how they worked.  Certainly the core and muscles are involved, but a well set up child can pull a super fit 6ft 6in Officer to the ground with the right angles!  We prove it at every Police Event! For them, there is no question, it is life and death, and they want the answers NOW!  The answer is = add in weight, and you’re forced to do it correctly.  That’s why cowboys can SIT and are CONFIDENT because they’re pushed and pulled, and they might not ever get one tiny bit fitter, they just learn ANGLES.  Heels down being one of their most important angles…but you’ll have to come back for Part 4.

When you’re lifting, thinking of a safe bicep curl.  As you do the bicep curl, with something you are ACTUALLY LIFTING, your tail bone is FORCED into the saddle, you don’t have a choice.  And, if it’s heavy enough – like ponying or leading another horse that is being “reluctant” it forces every part of the pelvis into the correct position…All Four seatbones will be balanced where they need to be INSTANTLY!

Carrying things & leading horses teaches our BONES to be in the correct place, so that we don’t have to use “bear-down” and “brute muscle” especially in the core to hold together an out of balanced position – rather we can relax like the cowboy on the range and be able to lead a wild horse for hours and hours, without a bit of muscle tension involved.  Able to sit, with correct ANGLES & ENJOY the ride – and arrive home not sore, horse totally sound, and ready to do it again for 8 hours tomorrow.

It’s not muscle!

That’s not muscle holding the cowboy on.  It’s not muscle holding on the Spanish School of Riding or military riders on for 6 or 8 hours of training around and around, horse after horse, being lunged and vaulting.  It’s BALANCE being put under test with either WEIGHT (lifting), or speed (cantering downhill) added in…

Be safe, enjoy, and be kind to your horse and your pupils.  And…your coaches!  Don’t forget to nominate your coach, your riding friends or even your horse for our Annual Awards – anyone is welcome to nominate!  It’s anonymous on Survey Monkey.  Vote Here

I hope you’re enjoying these free articles.  

They take hours and hours of work, and so when we get nice comments, and even better SHARES and I know that it has all been worth while.  The more shares = the more lives we can save. Especially from our greatest fear…rotational falls.  (BTW cowboys almost NEVER have rotational falls, and certainly not deadly).

Dedicated to Australian Vanessa Moore –
You Really Made Me Think!
Thank you!
Adjunct Prof. Colleen B. Colleen Kelly

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