The pictures and descriptions below are from my original Poinsett's Cavalry Tactics Field Manual

Below my comments additional pictures from another military manual that taught horsemanship at the USMA

I have placed them here to illustrate and describe the seat, position and use of the body using the mid 19th century military seat.

Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, I say a picture can misconstrue as well as enlighten and interpretation is up to the individual after reading the text, which is (at least to me) clear and precise whereas the pictures are not and are conflicting in many areas, you should draw your own conclusions.

Position of the trooper, mounted

270. -- (Plate 51.)  The buttocks bearing equally upon the saddle, and as far forward as possible;
The thighs turned upon their flat side without effort, embracing equally the horse, and stretched only by their own weight and that of the legs;
A supple bend of the knees;
The legs free and falling naturally;
The point of the feet falling in like manner;
The loins supported without stiffness;
The upper part of the body at ease, free and erect;
The shoulders equally thrown back;
The arms free, the elbows falling naturally;
The head erect, at ease, and not drawn in between the shoulders;
One rein of the snaffle in each hand, the fingers closed, the thumb along each rein, the wrists as high as the elbow at 6 inches from each other, the fingers turned towards each other, the upper extremity of the reins leaving the hand on the side of the thumb.
The buttocks bearing equally upon the saddle: Serving as a base to the position of the trooper, they ought to be equally charged with all the weight of the body to assure steadiness.
And as far forward as possible: In order that the trooper may have greater facility in embracing his horse, and conforming to all his movements.
The thighs turned upon their flat side without effort, embracing equally the horse: The more the thighs adhere to the horse, the greater is the solidity of the trooper. If they did not embrace the horse equally, the seat of the trooper would be unfixed.
And stretched only by their own weight and that of the legs: If they did not fall naturally, they could be extended only by an effort, which would cause constraint.
A supple bend in the knee: To give a facility in carrying the legs more or less to the rear, without deranging the position of the thighs.
The legs free and falling naturally, the point of the feet falling in like manner: Stiffness of the legs would impair the good effects of their action.
The loins supported without stiffness: The loins should be sustained, to give the trooper grace and solidity. Stiffness would prevent his accommodating himself to all the motions of the horse.
The upper part of the body at ease, free and erect: The body can preserve its erectness only by suppleness and ease.
The shoulders equally thrown back: Were the shoulders thrown forward, the back would be curved and the breast contracted; were they thrown too much to the rear, the loins would be hollowed and the action of the arms constrained.
The arms free: In order not to employ more force than is absolutely necessary; constrained movements produce uncertain effects.
The elbows falling naturally: That they may contribute to the steadiness of the seat, and communicate stiffness neither to the body or forearms.
The head erect: If the head were not erect, the body would lean towards the side it inclined to.
At ease, and not drawn in between the shoulders: To be able to turn it with ease, and that its movements may be independent of those of the body.



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The use of the legs.

278. -- The legs serve to urge the horse forward, to support him, and to aid him in turning to the right and to the left. Whenever the trooper wishes his horse to move forward, he should close the legs by degrees behind the girths, causing their effect to correspond with the sensibility of the horse, taking care neither to open or elevate the knees, of which the bend should always be pliant. The trooper relaxes the legs by degrees as he closed them.

Length of the stirrups.

331 -- Having commenced the exercise, the instructor assures himself that the stirrups are properly adjusted.
They are of the proper length if, when the trooper raises himself on the stirrups, there is a space of six inches between the fork and the saddle.

Position of the foot in the stirrup.

332. -- (Plate 60.) The stirrup should support only the weight of the leg. The foot ought to be inserted one-third of its length, the heel lower than the toe.
The stirrup should support only the weight of the leg: if the trooper bore too much upon the stirrups, his seat would be deranged as well as the position of his legs, and the justness of their action would be impaired.
The foot ought to be inserted one-third of its length: if the trooper did not insert the foot sufficiently far in the stirrup, he would risk losing them, particularly during the lively gaits. If the foot were inserted too far, the legs would not fall naturally.
The heel lower than the toe: that the foot may keep the stirrup without effort and without stiffness; that the play of the joint with the leg may remain free, and that the spur being further removed from the horse, there is less danger of its being improperly employed.

My own observations:

Seat:  In the plate illustrations one (plate 51) is correctly illustrating what the printed instructions describe as far as seat goes.  The other, (plate 60) shows something different due to the forward placed leg.  It seems to be pushing the rider back on his buttocks, at least that's what it looks like to me.   Plate 51 shows a good example of a rider sitting in the middle of the saddle, and staying as close to his horse's back as is allowable considering his saddle type and its suspended seat.  There is not much disagreement that the rider's seat must be placed in the middle of the saddle where it will be most secure for combat, less injury to the horse and to keep the rider from interfering with the horse's motion.

Upper body position:  In Plate 51 the rider's upper body looks forced, back hollowed, head behind the vertical a bit.  The printed instruction warns against hollowing the back by throwing the shoulders back too far.  Arms would have to be acting stiffly held in this position although the printed instructions note this form for use of a snaffle bit, which differs from modern snaffle use.

Leg position:  This seems to be the part that is challenged as something that modern riders have to change. The braced leg means the stirrup leathers are not directly below the stirrup hanger but are pushed unnaturally forward. Some riders I see on the reenactment battlefield mistakenly believe this is what constitutes a military riding posture.  Others may do it unconsciously because of several reasons; they are stiff due to fear or tension, don't use their legs and seat to direct their horses because they never learned the aids or are riding solely with their hands.   This is where I see the most abuse to the horse itself, mainly riders using their reins to steady their own balance at the horse's expense.

Plate 51 looks good to me, the rider is relaxed in the leg at rest, unlike his upper body.  This is a natural leg position at rest and not demanding anything of his horse.

Plate 60 has many flaws and differs greatly from several areas of instruction.   The most amazing part that initially got my attention is how the stirrup strap is attached to the saddle.  The shabrique hides the placement but by following the strap up in an imaginary line it would be safe to assume the strap would be attached on the same line as where the neck meets the withers.

From the written instruction in Poinsett's this leg position is all wrong.  The position would be impossible in practical application (see Use of the legs, above).  It also would be too long in the stirrup unless the stirrup hung where it should be and not out at the farthest reaches of the leg. (see Length of the stirrups, above)  Instructions advise the trooper to insert his foot 1/3 of the way in but the illustration shows a foot placed in the stirrup all the way to the heel (which would be the only way the trooper would be able to keep the stirrup on his foot in this flawed illustration).

Along with the unusual placement of the stirrup strap I also note a bad placement of the breast strap.  If placed in such a way it will hinder the shoulder movement of the horse.

Much thanks to Todd of The Military Horse site for additional illustrations below which offers a supporting view of use of the leg.  Illustrations from Hershberger's Horsemanship published by the riding instructor at the USMA in 1844.

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I have many other illustrations from horse training and riding manuals of the 19th century to illustrate the leg position as on the horse's sides and not braced.

Article written by Linneus Ahearn