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

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I’m now 78 years old. Had my first riding instruction at age 22 — cantered the horse easily around the ring in forward position and felt perfectly balanced. The instructor began yelling at me to sit back on my seat bones, and instructors ever since were constantly saying this, or “sit back on your pockets”. I followed these instructions for the instructors, or for show judges, but never felt balanced. (I’m short and have short legs). On the other hand, riding in hunter paces in 2-point (or forward position) the entire way, I have felt perfectly balanced. I don’t do much riding any more, but am coming to the conclusion that instructors should make allowances for the differences in the bodies of individual riders and encourage them to find their OWN balanced seat. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Sandy,
      This is a many faceted topic! Riders should find their own balance over the horse’s balance and the horse’s balance changes with the terrain and the activity. Riding a gallop in 2-point puts the rider over the horse’s balance point and if horse and rider are in harmony, it should be comfortable. When riding a horse at a canter without collection, the rider should be most comfortable in a forward seat. The more a horse is collected, the more his center of gravity moves toward the hindquarters and the more the rider can straighten. So many horses have been ruined or made sore by riders who purposely sit behind the center of gravity or behind the balance point in an attempt to force the horse’s balance to the rear and gain some sort of collection. The phrase “sit back on your pockets” might have some use with a rider who cannot manage to stay in the saddle during a western slide but it’s truly another equestrian slang phrase. Balance can’t be forced. There are even differing angles for two point that are useful according to how the horse goes or according to a person’s build. The faster the gallop and the more forward the horse’s balance point, the more fold at the rider’s hips. I would venture to guess that what you are really referring to is that in addition to balanced position, position on the horse must adapt to a rider’s build. I teach that position is a reference point, something we teach the rider as we help them develop and find balance, in order to establish a baseline. Unfortunately the tendency among instructors it to put everyone in the same position especially when it comes to alignment, without regard to the length of thigh or even the size of the rider’s foot. And then also to encourage the toes straight ahead posture. I’ve seen so many riders who in an effort to achieve this leg position, have curled onto their little toe and rolled their ankle out which renders the leg useless. And often the rider complains of leg pain down the outside of their calf or of the foot falling asleep. So much changes according to the horse’s build and training combined with our build and training. The combinations are limitless. Balance is balance and you know when you have it right. So does the horse. Both the rider and the horse are happier and more comfortable when they are balanced together. Certain tenants of a correct position serve particular purposes but trying to stamp out identical riders according to someone’s ideal causes misery for the horse and the rider. It especially breaks my heart to see what it does to our juniors who try so hard to conform to the ideal and do what the show ring demands. The nice thing about getting past all that blue ribbon business is a person can ride for the pure enjoyment of riding the horse and develop the relationship that was intended from the beginning. Thanks so much for your comment. It was mind stimulating! Barbara

  • This statement, “Seat is relative to activity.” Amen and Hallelujah! The seat should be in a position where it can easily follow the horse’s movements.

    I have been seeing and hearing so many weird things over the years when it comes to seat and position. For one, I see a lot of riders that are not able to move with the horse and as a result block the horse’s movements. Most of this I feel stems from fear since many of these people are slightly older women riding big warmbloods with big movement. The horse actually starts to move and then the rider starts feeling insecure and out of control, so they get all tense and the horse’s movement becomes stiff and short-strided. These riders actually TEACH their horses to move poorly, granted unconsciously.

    Then there’s the jumpers. I don’t even know where to start. As a result of their ridiculously insecure positions, riders are getting left behind at the jumps and flung all over the place if they don’t jump ahead of the horse which lands them over the horse’s center of gravity and practically lying on the horse’s neck. This also results in them not having good weight in the stirrup, so they end up pinching in the knee to stay on while their lower legs are floating somewhere out behind them. The horses end up jumping flat, but due to successful breeding, they can still manage to clear large fences.

    I see dressage riders being told their heels have to be down, but their stirrups are too long so they end up pushing their leg forward in order to get the heel down which puts them out of balance with the horse’s movement. This causes pressure on the horse’s back so the horse then hollows out. I have been seeing this in western riding as well.

    When are instructors going to stop focusing on riding disciplines and the show ring and instead focus on proper equitation and their students being able to perform the basics well? A rider with proper equitation is going to be able to “stick” and will have their hands, legs and seat in the proper position for delivering their aids effectively. Their horses will also move more naturally and fluidly and as a result will be able to stay sound.

    I always liked Littauer’s essentials to a functional seat and would love to see more instructors teach them: unity of the horse & rider in motion, security of the rider in the saddle, non-abuse of the horse by the rider’s seat, hands or legs,and efficient and effective use of the aids. The elements of these essentials being: correct design of position, balance in motion, relaxation, rhythm, spring, and grip.

    Sorry for the rant!

    • Kelly, don’t be sorry for the rant. It needs to be said. Part of the problem I see in instructors is teaching what they have been taught rather than knowing what they teach. And as long as success in our industry is considered wins in the show ring, the depth of an instructor’s knowledge won’t matter as long as he or she can get the kids in the ring and bring home ribbons. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned horses still succeeding due to good breeding. Riders win in spite of themselves, so in their minds, they are doing things right. Caprilli sought the way most beneficial to the horse so the horse could do its job. Littauer sought a simple way to teach people to ride. Both accomplished their goals. My fear is that we are seeing horsemanship go back to the days before Caprilli. The horses and equipment may be fancier in 2022 but the horsemanship, methods, and treatment of the horse are from a much earlier century. I can’t help but think you must know Dan Gilmore. You are neighbors. If you don’t, seek him out. Dan translated Caprilli’s writings from Italian and has a great insight into his principles. The writings are on his website. I perused your good website and was impressed by your wealth of information. If you ever want to share your knowledge or your rants 🤠 with The Riding Instructor’s readers, please let me know. Thank you for commenting. Barbara Ellin Fox

      • Yes, I know Dan! I have not had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but we are Facebook friends and have communicated through FB. I found him while looking for other like-minded people. Do you know Bob Wood He’s another like-minded horseman.

        I would actually really like to interview you sometime in the near future, along with my friend, Catherine Hunter, who introduced me to US military horsemanship many years ago. I think a recorded Zoom meeting with the 2 of you would be so cool! We can talk about the history of US military riding, why it needs to be preserved, our personal experiences with it, various and favorite tools within the system (Bob Wood really likes using the webbed cotton belts for neck straps with students, while Catherine enjoys employing the gallop position in lessons). Also, who benefits from this style of riding. Then we can share it on our individual pages and some other places so more people can learn about it. Let me know what you think.

  • 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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