The Seat
(the heavy and the light seat)
Chapter II

    The purpose of this article is to clarify the terminology that will be used in our articles on riding. We do not recognize the common terminology of neither the “Western” and “English” style, nor we recognize the “two” or “three” point seats, because in reality there are no such things, hence they could not be explained correctly. The terms “Western” and “English” more or less refer to the equipment used, rather than a riding style/seat, and only god knows who came up with the terms “two” and “three” point seats, which very poorly and incorrectly describe the position of hips or the body contact points with the saddle.

A typical heavy - deep seat.
Note the uper body posture, 
same as if the man would be
(Click here for more art)

    In basic principle we recognize two types of seats, the so-called heavy seat and the light seat.

    The heavy seat is when the rider’s body (buttock) does not leave the saddle, hence, sitting trot or sitting gallop etc. The heavy seat is also called the deep seat. The dressage is a discipline which is ridden entirely in the heavy seat, however it has change somewhat in the last few decades to accommodate less able public to participate, thus the posting trot was accepted in many levels of dressage in long gaits. I presume that it is for the reason that most dressage folks cannot sit in the saddle and most of the horses travel on the forehand, hence they are “bouncy” and difficult to sit on.

    The deep seat should be started and educated without a saddle. Later on, when the saddle is being used, very much attention must be paid to the use of stirrups to prevent the disturbance of the deep seat. The most common mistake made by the teachers is, that great emphasis is paid to have the rider push his/her heels down.

    This is unfortunately a very misleading fact, and it is because most teachers do not understand the reasoning behind having the heels down. As mentioned in the “understanding” of seat, the legs are to hang down by their own weight; the stirrups then only support their weight in the heavy seat. By telling the pupil to press their heals down into the stirrup, the body weight of the rider is thus being partially lifted, which in return weakens the deep seat and increases the chances of being unseated by unpredictable/abrupt moves of the horse (propping, u-turn, spooking etc.) It will also destabilize the seat, which will have negative effects on the rider’s hands, not to mention the significantly decreased ability to use his legs as a riding aid.

The longer "racing" stirrups provided a better stability of the light seat and enabled the rider to keep the horse more balanced.

The too short stirrups in the modern racing incapacitate the rider to keep the horse in balance when the horse is tiring. Note the out of rhythm hands of the rider, not in motion with the horse. When one wins the Derby, who will question his riding?... or who really wins the race?... the jockey or the horse, despite the rider?

    It is best to teach the young rider to “sit” down in the saddle and rest the weight of his legs in the stirrups. Once when the stirrups are correctly adjusted to the deep seat and the foot is placed in the stirrups at the widest part of the sole, the heel will be naturally (without force) lower than the toe. The reason why young riders tend to have their heels up is, because they pull their knees up on account of lacking balance; this is best corrected by riding without a saddle or the stirrups, providing that the rider keeps his legs hanging down and not use them to keep himself on the horse. Another common fault in the deep seat, originated in the western European style of riding, is the bracing of the legs against the stirrups and putting them forward, which will also weaken the seat (the rider usually sits too far in the horse’s back and on his own butt) and makes it easier for the horse to get rid of his unpleasant burden by a nice solid buck etc. In addition the legs will considerably loose their riding-aid functions and the hands are not consistent with the motion since such posture has negative attitude in reference to a forward motion itself. This is again another issue that will be discussed in separate article.

    The heavy seat should be practiced over and over throughout the riding career and it should become the rider’s so-called second nature (instinctive). One more tip, one should keep in mind that the length of the stirrups is not the determining factor between the heavy seat and the light seat, though in the light seat we must have the stirrups adjusted according to the horse and his performance, and they must be short enough to enable the rider to lift his body out of the saddle. On the other hand, the deep seat can be implemented even in relatively shorter stirrups, hence the term “foundation seat”.

    The light seat has more likely found his basic origins in the east (later on refined by Frederico Caprilli (1868- 1907) and the Mongols are considered to be the riders that utilized the use of the stirrups to their full potentials, hence such success on their part during their war campaigns. The light seat basically differs from the heavy seat mainly in the use of the stirrups, which than enable the rider to lift himself from the saddle.

     The lifting from the saddle frees the horses back and thus enables him more freedom in movement, especially in fast gallops and jumping. Therefore the light seat is very practical in today’s sport disciplines, like racing, jumping and others. In basic principles of the light seat, the weight of the rider rests in the stirrups and on his knees. The knees are the key element in the solid and well-balanced light seat, which will be discussed in separate articles. 

A typical "old fashion" half-seat
A rider leans slightly forward and equally distributes his weight into the saddle and the stirrups.
(hunt seat, somewhat longer stirrups in this picture)

A typical "fork/breached" seat
inconsistent with
 the motion of the horse.
If you think that you ride English, think twice.

    Once when the stirrups become so short, that the knee will be above the saddle, the seat becomes very unsecured and unbalanced. In such position one can hardly ride any horse, yet this type of jockey seat became very much popular all over the world, as the jockeys for the most part perceive that the length of the stirrups presents some criteria of one’s courage and/or better riding. This “too high” seat of course leads to incorrect riding of racehorses, which in return is one of the main reasons why so many racehorses get lame or brake down completely. This is also another issue and will be discussed separately.   

    Once when we have mastered both of the basics of the heavy seat and the light seat, we can now precede to the so-called half seat or hunt seat, which still falls under the category of the light seat, since the rider is not fully “sitting” down in the saddle. Today most green riders, when they achieve to post on a horse and also manage to post on the correct leg, will already begin to think of them selves as advanced riders, or some even say that they know how to ride. Others will say that they have been riding several years. In reality and unfortunately the posting on the horse is being taught without the riders mastering the above foundations of the heavy seat and the light seat. Without mastering and understanding the two, one cannot possibly develop a correct half seat, like posting or the so-called forward seat (hunt seat). Teaching of the forward seat has become a common practice on the menu of riding teachers, since in this form they can get their pupils quicker to the show ring, thus insuring their own livelihood by satisfying the customers demands. Unfortunately this leads to a wide spread of horse abuse by these young riders, who will more likely never ever learn how to sit/stand correctly in either seat, nor will they ever learn or understand the riding. Hence, the time that someone spends riding horses does not alone determine the quality of the rider. If the foundation of the heavy seat and the light seat is not laid correctly at the start, there is simply no way that one could master the “art” of riding, not even to the medium level.

    Once it was said, that a genuine rider could ride most horses in any style, any seat, in any saddle (or without), anytime and under any circumstances. Well, in conclusion, set this as your riding criteria, and as you will see, they are limitless, because I am sure that once when you get on more horses and ride in different disciplines or styles, you will always find a horse that will remind you of your incompetence. 

    Horses possess this unusual quality about themselves; they will never fail to make, one time or another, a fool even out of the best horseman/rider. Hence, the more genuine riders/horsemen will be reluctant to take part in any horse shows since they are always aware of their faults; riding for money however, is another issue. Horsemen have to eat, and unfortunately in today’s world they must more than ever compromise the rider’s/horseman’s ethics to keep the bread on the table. This will be also discussed separately in the article “Horseman”.

    When I was a young rider and horseman I have never once heard the term “good rider”, yet in this age the "good riders" are countless. Some people even went so far as to call me that, to my great insult and shame. 

If the better rider calls me a “good rider” he mocks me.
If a rider of equal ability calls me a “good rider” he merely praises himself.
If the lesser rider calls me a “good rider” it is because he is unable to see my faults.

A “good” rider is any man or woman, who is constantly aware of his/her faults, of his/her burden on the horse, and who relentlessly peruses the improvement of his/her riding.

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek