My intention with this month’s post was to move on with a discussion about seat mainly defining the terms and definitions we use. As usual, I looked through a few online articles to get the pulse of the sort of information currently shared to improve riders’ knowledge. I hate misinformation or twisted thinking about riding written by people who intend to come across as authorities. 

But I came across an article …I’ll focus on the part that disturbed me the most.  The article I’m sharing my opinion on is Three Secrets to a Secure Seat at the Thinking Equestrian.

Yikes! Ouch!

I take exception to the following excerpt from this post. “You may have hear the term "three point seat". Some trainers will tell you that means sitting on both seat bones and the pubic bone. THEY ARE WRONG. If you do this, you will be in incredible pain. If you sit on your crotch during sitting trot so that your pubic bone rests heavily on the saddle, you will rub or bounce on your crotch with each step. When you get off the horse, you will be VERY sore. Using the bathroom or sex will be be very unpleasant because you will be very raw “down there”. You will then want to avoid riding (or at least avoid sitting the trot).”

We Disagree 

I’m afraid I must strongly disagree with this author, but read the whole article to form your own opinion. Three point seat, or as I prefer, three-point contact, IS the two seat bones (ischia) and the crotch (pubic area). I suppose the author covers herself when she says if you sit in the saddle “… so that your pubic bone rests heavily on the saddle…” because yes, sitting heavily anywhere is going to cause discomfort to the rider or his horse depending on who is taking the brunt of the pressure.

When we discuss seat, aside from the ischia (Seat bones) and the crotch (pubic area) we are concerned with the ilium, commonly known as the hip bones. When the pelvis is tipped forward, the hip bones push forward, and the rider will have an arched back. This lightens the pressure on the seat bones, slightly lifts the buttocks and puts more pressure on the crotch. When we do the opposite and tip the pelvis back, the seat is tucked under the rider and the hip bones are pushed back. This raises the pelvis and drives more weight into the seat bones and buttocks driving pressure more firmly into the horse’s back.

When a person sits at Sunday dinner at Grandmother’s and doesn’t want to be corrected for bad posture, they sit up on their seat bones and crotch. They support their torso with strong core muscles and carry their arms to avoid the dreaded, “Do not put your elbows on the table.” But when grandma isn’t looking, they wander into the family room and flop on the sofa with their butt tucked under them.

The Foundation

The correct foundational position is the pelvis in neutral with the rider sitting on their two seat bones and their crotch. Balance and suppleness are what allow the rider to shift instinctively from pelvis rotated forward, to pelvis in neutral, to pelvis rotated back as the horse requires. Seat is relative to activity. 

Teaching riders that the basic classical seat is with the seat tucked under and the pelvis not touching the saddle while the rider sits only on their seat bones is to teach a rider to ride behind the vertical. This makes them a cumbersome load to the horse.

In sixty years of riding, I’ve not experienced misery in the bathroom or during sex as the result of riding with the correct three-point. I have, however, had sore seat bones which became apparent when I sat on a picnic bench. If your students are complaining, I really think there must be other issues at play.

Some Trainers

What do the experts say about three-point seat?

Let’s look at some of the trainers and teachers who claim three point seat (or three point contact) is the two seat bones and the crotch. Let’s see how wrong they have been.

Bertalan de Némethy

Bertalan de Némethy coached the United States Olympic Team for twenty-five years with triumphs in 6 Olympics, 5 Pan American Games, and 4 World Championships. Teams coached by him scored victories in 144 Nations Cups. These are just a few of his accomplishments. I took this information from the jacket flap of his book Classic Show Jumping: the de Némethy Method. On page 26 Mr. de Némethy tells us “In a correct seat the weight of the rider is evenly distributed between the two seat bones (which are the lowest bones of the pelvis) and the crotch. These three points form a triangle that affords a stable seat. In addition, the rider also sits partly on the buttocks, and their position determines the position of the legs and torso. The hip bones should be held vertically above the seat bones and never collapse backward.”

Klaus Balkenhol and Wilhelm Müseler

Klaus Balkenhol, Chef d’Equip of the US Dressage team said in his foreword for Wilhelm Müseler’s book Riding Logic (2006), “Whoever studies Müseler will need no other mentor.” On page 33 of the same book, Riding Logic, Müseler says of the rider: “His seat must have as its base the three support points- the two seat bones and the fork.” Fork was a term for crotch in Müseler’s day. Riding Logic has been reprinted many times from 1933 to 2006.

Harry Chamberlin

In his book, Riding and Schooling Horses printed in (1935), Harry Chamberlin, instructor at Fort Riley and West Point, Olympian and international competitor, graduate of Tor di Quinto, Italy and Saumur, France, wrote on page 35, “The crotch should be in the deep part of the saddle; the pelvic bones rest lightly and squarely on the broad parts of the cantle, while the fleshy part of the buttocks is well to the rear, above the saddle, and not used as a seat.”

Sylvia Loch

On page 31 of The Classical Seat, (1988), Sylvia Loch writes, “Apart from the stability and comfort for the horse, the three point seat allows the subtle use of weight aids. As the pelvis is joined at the spine in such a way that the seatbones are lower than the crotch, the rider’s weight will be naturally exerted towards those points, which help encourage or ‘push’ the horse onward as they work forward under the rider’s body in harmony with the horse’s own forward movement.” Ms. Loch also confirms on page 30, “Finally the latest German Official Handbook states “The foundation of the seat has three points: the two seat bones and the crotch.”” 

Other books by Sylvia Loch are Dressage, The Art of Classical Riding, The Classical Rider, Dressage in Lightness, and The Royal Horse of Europe.

Jim Wofford

In his book, Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider, (1995) page 42, Olympian James C. Wofford writes, “The foundation of your dressage position is the three-point seat. These three points are the two seat bones and the pubic bone.”

Sally Swift

In Centered Riding (1985), page 60, Sally Swift tells us in a paragraph about stubby legs, “Once this rotation of the femurs is achieved without altering the level or angle of the pelvis, you will find you have the well-known three-point seat—seat bones and crotch—without the discomfort of a sore or squashed crotch against the pommel. The relaxed upper front of the thighs provide a solid cushion on either side of the pommel, giving the desired crotch contact. Furthermore, you now have a close seat that is not the product of any muscular tension, but solely due to the placement of your pelvis and stubby legs.”

Sorry For Shouting

I DON’T THINK THESE EXPERTS ARE WRONG. In fact, they seem to agree. Three -point contact is an essential element in the foundation of good riding. 

What do you think? Agree or disagree in the comments!

Here’s to great riding lessons!

Barbara Ellin Fox 

Copyright Barbara Ellin Fox 2021

Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I teach my students the neutral pelvic position, and explain how that enhances flexibility, and ability to move with the horse. I primarily teach western at this point. One thing I often wish however is that I could be a man for a day so I would understand how sitting is (obviously) different for many of them.

    • I agree! It’s hard to understand a man’s build but my eyes opened with the explanation that their pelvis in narrower because they were hunters who had to run fast and they didn’t deliver babies. Sometimes you can help help their comfort with saddle choice. Have you found a saddle that works better? A Lot will just be feedback. Thanks for your comment

    • Hi Kathy
      Normal good posture with the pelvis in the correct position goes a long way for comfort and effectiveness. I’m glad you got past your pain and still ride.

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