The Military Seat

This short article may draw fire from those who have a different view of what the mid-19th Century Military Seat is.  The balance point on a horse has never changed, nor has the recognition of it, however, some drawings and paintings lend credence to a stylized version of a secure seat.  For this reason I ask all serious military riders to look to their cavalry manuals and not the paintings.

The long stirrup and leg jutting forward while the buttocks are pressed into the cantle is not correct.  If you want your horse to last on the march you would never ride in such a position - applying weight to the rear of the saddle by pushing the leg forward will make your horse sore over the kidneys and soon you will be walking.  It's true that riders of the era rode with long stirrups as compared to that of riders today but this did not make the rider push his legs forward from the waist or knee.

The correct military seat is one that interferes the least with the horse's actions and gives you the most secure seat while working at the different gaits, which means sitting over the horse's center of motion.  The "forward seat" was developed after the Civil War so we will not discuss this position, it applies mainly to jumping and riding fast over broken terrain - not the classic military riding position.

Imagine if you will, sitting on your horse, when through some trick of magic the horse disappears and you are left in the air.  Will you fall to the ground and land on your feet?  Or will you fall to the ground landing on your chest or rump?  If the answer is on your feet - then you have acquired the correct body position.


line1.gif (13754 bytes)


Here you can see the classic position at the walk in the many forms of riding we do.   Note the straight line from the ear through the shoulder, elbow, hip and heel.   The stirrup may lengthen or shorten but the basic secure position is the same.   If the horse disappeared from underneath any of these riders they would surely land on their feet!

What happens when the legs draw back to the flanks?  You lose the security of your seat.

What happens when the legs move forward to the shoulder? You lose the communication you need.  Your horse may feel less secure.  Your horse may also develop a sore back.

How do I tell if I have the correct posture?   You can test yourself on the ground.  Take the position as described but stay on the ground.  Learn to give and flex in your joints and feel the position you are in stabilizing you.  Then have a friend push you.  Feel how secure you are?   If you fall over, you need to work on this position more.

Examples of bad habits that need to be worked on by most riders:

Looking at the horse or looking at the ground - You can't drive your car by looking at the dashboard so why do you think you can ride your horse this way?  You need to see what your horse sees, otherwise, you are just along for the ride.

Curling up the back (fetal position) - You lose one of your most important aids, your seat, as well as putting yourself in a precarious position.  (Usually looking at your horse put you in this position.)  It's very easy to fall from this position.

Pushing heels down - This usually is the reason for a leg forward position and a loss of another important aid, the leg.  Practice riding without stirrups if you can and keep your calf on your horse.

Applying more weight on one stirrup - Your seat is unable to tell your horse where to go and you may notice a loss of feeling in your foot due to too much weight in the stirrup.  Remember, a stirrup is just a place to rest your feet, not a means to balance yourself on the top of the horse.  If you have ever had your saddle slip sideways on your horse the cause of it was probably your lack of balance while riding and not the tightness of the girth.  Practice riding without stirrups to correct this problem.

Train yourself above all else to keep a secure, balanced seat to increase your safety as well as your horse's comfort.  Only through riding regularly can you improve your horsemanship and your horse's performance.

Here is another straight line that will give you more control and make your horse a better partner.....

line2.gif (8623 bytes)

Here is an illustration of the correct line between the horse's mouth and the riders elbow, including the wrist.  This line is the second most important line you need to know.  It gives you direct communication with your horse through the reins.


View Poinsett's description and artist's drawing of the military rider position (1841)

Pictures on this page are drawn by Susan Harris from Horsemanship in Pictures.

Article written by Linneus Ahearn