When I judge and teach clinics I observe different hunter/jumper issues that can get in the way of a rider’s success. One of them is always riding in a two point or half seat. As trainers we work so hard to teach riders how to do the two point. They struggle to learn how to get off their seats find their balance and stay in the position. But it seems that once this position is learned riders often lose the ability to sit, use their seats and adjust their positions as needed. Actually, the two point itself is often not properly executed. Instead of being balanced over the motion and over and into the leg, riders often lock in at their thigh and knee and perch ahead of the motion throwing the horse’s balance downhill. This along with reins that are often too long is the cause of many missed distances.
To be successful on a hunter or jumper course a rider needs to be able to utilize all three seats. These are the full seat, the half seat (two point) and the light seat. The full seat is three points of contact including the seat and both legs, the half seat (two point) is two points of contact, the legs, with the weight distributed down through the heels. The light seat uses light seat contact to help support the use of the leg and to help maintain balance for the horse while still being in a position where the hip angle is closed. All of these seats need to be available to a rider at all times. When riding a course there may be a need for a full two point to open up a horse’s stride and free up their back and certainly the two point is what is used in the air over a jump. But there are also times on course when a light seat may be needed to support a rider’s legs in order to lengthen the stride to a distance and still maintain the horse’s balance off the front end. That way when it is time to leave the ground the horse in engaged from behind and able to jump in good style. The light seat is also often needed as a horse comes up out of a turn as the turn slows down forward motion and the seat helps support the leg again in engaging the hind end and moving the horse forward out of the turn. Or a light seat may be needed as a rider sees they are getting deep to a distance. In this scenario the deepening of the seat again lightens the horse’s front end, while lower the hind end and helping to maintain or shorten the stride just enough to stay off the distance. The full seat may be needed if a horse is spooking or looking to stop at a jump. The extra seat and leg and deep center of gravity can aid in preventing a stop and can help a rider stay mounted. A full seat may also be necessary when on slippery footing in order to help maintain the horses balance and stability. These are just a few examples of where the different seats may be needed.
In all scenarios the rein length needs to be short enough to allow a connection with the horse so that continuing rebalancing can occur. Often I see reins so long that even if a rider is in a light or full seat the horse still has a loss of balance due to the lack of the connection and needed half-halts. The reins are of little or no use if they are looping and the horse’s mouth is not connected to the rider’s hand. Not only is there a lack of ability to maintain balance, there is also a lack of ability to maintain straightness. The rein needs to be short enough to allow a rider to make any necessary adjustments without a change in position or interruption of flow. Low hands, open fingers and straight elbows often accompany long reins. The intention in this case is for a softer ride and quiet hand. But in reality the low hand and straight elbow causes a stiffness in the arm and a pulling down on the bars of a horse’s mouth. The lack of fluid motion in the elbow actually creates a hand that bounces against the horse’s mouth as the horse is in motion and the hand is not. A horse will often raise its head to avoid this discomfort causing the rider to lower the hand even more and the horse’s head to go even higher. The other way a horse will avoid this pressure is to over flex and hide behind the bit. A low hand also stops the connection from the hand to the leg and seat as all of the energy and flow gets locked downward in the arm and hand and it stops right there. And if the fingers are open this causes even more problems when the reins get pulled though the fingers. A rider will be constantly trying to shorten the reins while riding causing more discomfort in the horse’s mouth and even more interruption to the flow of the ride. On top of all of this the low hand creates a rider that is out of balance and on the horse’s front end causing the horse to be heavy on the front end.
I have mentioned the word flow a few times. It is important that a ride feels fluid at all times. Even when there is a need to shorten or do a downward transition there needs to be a continual flow in energy and in what is happening. Nothing should feel abrupt when any changes in balance are made. That is why it is so important for a rider to maintain flexibility in their position. This allows for easy adjustments in the seat positions as needed. Knees and hips need to stay unlocked so that energy can flow down through the heel and allow the body to stay flexible. The shorter rein, closed fingers and bent, fluid elbows allow a light feel of the mouth while maintaining connection to the whole body. This will allow for subtle changes in a ride as needed in order to keep a comfortable balanced horse. This fluid ride will also allow a rider to feel what the horse needs as the rider’s muscles will be soft and yielding. It keeps the lines of communication between the rider and horse open.
One exercise I use to help riders find that feel and get unlocked it to have them stand straight up in their stirrups. When I say straight, I mean straight. They should feel almost like they are standing on the ground. When doing this they should not lock up their muscles but just hold themselves in balance over their legs. This is often quite hard as sometimes riders like to lock their knees and thighs to stay in a two-point and then they jackknife over at their hips. Once unlocked and standing I then help the riders come down with a soft knee pointing more downward and a soft flexible hip angle that doesn’t force the seat backwards. After riders do this standing and walking I will have them try it at a trot.
When riders do this exercise and they are more unlocked and in a better two-point I ask them to adjust their positions from two-point to sitting to light seat and all possible variations. This can be done at all gaits and lengthening and shortening of stride can be added to allow riders to feel how the different seats can work for them. I also ask riders, while in the two-point, to do downward transitions. This is nearly impossible with low hands and long reins. It is a great exercise for them to feel the need of the shorter rein and use of the elbows. I also ask them to do upward transitions and lengthening and shortening in the two-point. This is hard to accomplish if they are pinched at the knee and the lower leg is not working. All of these exercises help riders feel where they are locked up and how much the ability to be flexible in their bodies and position will improve their rides.
Take some time to practice all seats and become fluid changing from one to the other as needed. Work on keeping your hands up and elbows bent and flexible with a straight line from elbow to bit. Maintain a rein length that allows you to be lightly connected to your horse’s mouth at all times. Keep in your mind that your riding should feel fluid. Nothing should ever feel fixed, as riding is about helping the horse stay balanced in a fluid cycle between the leg, seat and hands. When you find that feel and balance you will also find better distances to the jumps because you will have a balanced horse. If you would like more help with any of this feel free to sign up for a clinic with me. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to give you my up to date clinic schedule. If you can’t make a clinic and are struggling to change your riding contact me for a free one on one coaching discovery call to see if coaching might be the right fit for you. Here’s to wishing you good luck, peace and joy!