General Principles

SEAT is that quality which permits the rider to remain master of his equilibrium, whatever may be the actions of his horse. The seat of military purposes must be secure in itself, that is independent of other means of security, and must provide ease and comfort for both rider and horse. Such a seat is dependent upon BALANCE, supplemented by SUPPLENESS and MUSCULAR CONTROL.

THE MILITARY SEAT, while obligatory for military purposes, is also admirably adapted to all kinds of riding, requiring only an appropriate adjustment of stirrups.

In order that the detailed discussion of SEAT, which follows, may be clearly understood, it is necessary first to consider the SEAT from a purely mechanical standpoint. The principal elements entering into this consideration are, the rider’s UPPER BODY, his BASE OF SUPPORT, his LEGS and the HORSE.

THE UPPER BODY is considered to mean that part of the body from the hip joints up.

THE BASE OF SUPPORT is formed by those parts of the riders body in contact with the saddle and horse, from the points of the pelvic bones down along the inside of the thighs, to and including the knees, legs, and stirrups. THE FLESHY PARTS OF THE BUTTOCKS ARE TO THE REAR AND IN NO CASE FORM PART OF THE SEAT.

The LEG is that part of the limb between the knee and ankle.

The HORSE is the active element, and supplies the varied impulses to which the different parts of the rider must react.

It is quite evident that the rider’s body, receiving impulses from the horse is constantly tending toward a state of unstable equilibrium, and can remain stable only by balance, a sufficiently strong leg grip, reinforced by the clinging of the knees and thighs, or the use of some outside means, such as the reins.

Balance obviates the necessity for leg grip, saves the legs from undue strain and fatigue and is therefore the principal requisite for a secure MILITARY SEAT.

Balance requires that the center of gravity of the rider’s upper body remain as nearly as possible over the center of its base of support. When in motion this center of gravity should be advanced to compensate for the movement of the horse.  The more the center of gravity departs from the center of its base of support, the more unstable becomes the rider’s equilibrium.  When the center of gravity passes outside the limits of its base of support, the rider’s balance is lost and he regains it by gripping with his legs, supplemented by the clinging of the knees and thighs.  A poor rider makes the grave mistake of puling on the reins as an additional means of regaining balance. THE SEAT MUST BE ENTIRELY INDEPENDENT OF THE HANDS.

Position Mounted

  1. The rider sits squarely in the middle of the saddle, his weight distributed from the points of his buttocks forward upon his inner thighs, knees, and stirrups.

AT THE HALT, the upper body must be erect. Its center of gravity is slightly in front of the points of the buttocks, facilitating the correct placing of the thigh, and the proper distribution of weight.  WHEN IN MOTION, it is inclined forward from the hips to be in balance. Inclining the upper body to the rear, or convexing the loin to the rear places the center of gravity of the upper body in REAR of its base of support and causes the rider to sit on the fleshy parts of his buttocks. This faulty position raises the thighs and knees, weakens the seat, concentrates the weight toward the cantle, is unmilitary in appearance, injurious to the horse’s back and places the rider BEHIND his horse.

  1. The thighs extend downward and forward, their inner sides resting without constraint on the saddle.

With the buttocks and upper body placed as in (a), THE THIGHS ARE NATURALLY FORCED DOWN, and the throat of the saddle comes well up into the riders crotch; the large fleshy muscles of the inner thighs are thus forced to the rear, and the flat of the thigh is permitted without muscular contraction, to envelop the horse. Thus seated the proper proportion of the rider’s weight is distributed along his thighs, and the tendency to grip with them is avoided.

If the thighs are turned inward too much, so as to pinch the saddle with the knees, the heels are forced out, and the legs assume an incorrect position and lose their proper contact.

If the thighs are turned outward excessively, contact of knee and lower thigh with the saddle is lost; the rider has neither the correct distribution of weight nor the proper base of support; lack of security and instability result.

  1. The knees are forced down as low as the adjustment of the stirrups will permit, flexed and relaxed, they rest with their inner sides in continuous contact with the saddle.

Properly placed thighs, as in (b) above, naturally and correctly place the knees. Knees placed too high, or excessively turned in or out, produce the same faulty results as those mentioned in similar incorrect positions of the thighs.

  1. The legs, ankles, feet and stirrups are disposed as follows:
    1. The legs extend downward and backward with the calves in light, elastic contact with the horse.
    2. Stirrup leathers are approximately vertical. The heels are well down, the ankles are flexed and relaxed. The feet, turning out naturally, rest with their broadest part up-on the stirrup tread. The rider must not normally support his weight in the stirrups. They should sustain a minimum weight sufficient to enable him to easily maintain them.
    3. The length of stirrup is approximately correct when the tread hangs opposite the lower edge of the ankle bone, the rider being seated as described above, his feet out of the stirrups.
      1. LEGS. The calves naturally fall into light, elastic contact with the horse when the knees are flexed and relaxed, and the ankles, feet and stirrups are disposed as described above. This contact is a means of communication between rider and horse and assists security. When the legs are not in contact, communication is lost. The resultant swinging of the riders legs confuses a well- trained horse and irritates a nervous one. CORRECT ADJUSTMENT OF STRIRUPS ASSIST MATERIALLY IN PRESERVING LEG CONTACT.
      2. STIRRUPS. Stirrups for special forms of riding may be longer or shorter than described above. For schooling, a longer stirrup may be used. For show jumping, steeple chasing and racing the stirrups are shortened. Too long a stirrup diminished the rider’s base of support, renders balance difficult, reduces stability and interferes with the proper use of the legs. Too short a stirrup elevates the knees excessively and either places the rider BEHIND HIS HORSE, with his weight on the cantle, or causes him to stand in his stirrups in order to keep in balance.
  1. FEET AND ANKLES. Ankles should be relaxed, in order that the downward thrust on the stirrup may cause the heels to sink below the level of the toes, and the ankle joint to flex freely with the movements of the horse. Ankles which are stiff or not relaxed cause the rider to have the heels too high. Stiff ankles, result in unsteady legs, frequent loss of stirrups and restrict the rider in the proper employment of his legs in the control and management of his horse. “TOES TURNED IN” stiffens the ankles, causes loss of contact of proper part of the calf of the leg, and throw the heels out, thus reducing the security of the rider and making the proper use of the leg difficult. “TOES TURNED OUT” EXCESSIVELY, stiffen the ankle, put the knees out of contact, place the rider on the back of his thighs and lower legs, and may cause unintentional use of spurs.
  2. WITHOUT STIRRUPS. The legs merely hang vertically; knees and ankles are relaxed; feet are turned out naturally; toes are lower than heels. When the horse is in motion, the flexion of the knees is increased, and the legs come into light, elastic contact with the horse.
  1. The upper body is naturally erect without stiffness. When seated correctly the rider maintains his back without stiffness in a position identical with that of the natural erect dismounted soldier at attention.
    1. The hip joints are relaxed to enable the rider to remain in balance. If the upper body is not erect but is inclined too far forward, an improper distribution of weight results, the rider becomes unbalanced and his legs slide too far to the rear. On the other hand, the center of gravity of the upper body should never be in rear of the points of the buttocks.
  2. The chest should be lifted, the shoulders square, without stiffness, and carried back evenly.
    1. Lifting the chest, with the shoulders as described above, facilitates the maintenance of an erect posture of the upper body. Rounded shoulders cramp the chest, invite a general slumping of the back and loin, and cause the elbows to fly out from the body. Shoulders forcibly carried back result in general contraction.
  3. The arms are free and relaxed, the elbows falling naturally.
    1. A natural relaxation of the arms, insures freedom and quietness in the use of the hands. Contraction quickly communicates the body movements through the hands to the horse’s mouth, resulting in the loss of that calm confidence which the horse should always have in his rider.
  4. The reins are held in either, or both hands, fingers relaxed, knuckles about 30 degrees form the vertical.
    1. THE REINS IN BOTH HANDS. The hands, fingers relaxed, are well separated, and held normally above the withers. The wrist is straight and supple, and the forearm, wrist, hand, and rein form one straight line from point of elbow to horse’s mouth, the elbow being slightly in advance of the point of the hip. This position will vary from time to time in guiding or controlling the horse, but, with reins properly adjusted, the elbow should never pass in rear of the hip. Unsteady hands quickly communicate unintentional impressions to the horse’s mouth, making him nervous and difficult to control. RELAXED ELBOWS, permitting a soft and elastic opening and closing of the elbow joint, enable the rider to follow the movements of the horse’s head and neck which is essential to good hands.
    2. When riding with a single snaffle bit, this softness is further facilitated if the reins are taken into the hands between the third and fourth fingers.
    1. The naturally erect position of the upper body described in (e) is continued in the neck… Stiffness of the neck quickly communicates itself to other parts of the body and must be avoided. If the neck is carried forward the resulting tendency is to round the shoulders and back to the rear, which is faulty, unsightly and unmilitary. The chin is held up without being thrust out.
    1. Eyes looking to the front, besides being soldierly, enable the rider to avoid many difficulties, and also to take the greatest advantage of constantly changing conditions of the foreground. A horse’s movements are sensed by “FEEL, “not sight. Therefore, the rider does not fasten his eyes on his horse. This bad habit results in hanging the head and humping the back, making balance difficult and often destroying the whole seat.
    1. When a rider so disposes his weight as to require the minimum of muscular effort to remain in his seat, and when the weight distribution interferes least with the horse’s movement and balance, the rider is commonly said to be “WITH HIS HORSE” or “IN BALANCE.” This condition of being “WITH THE HORSE” is the keynote of riding.
    2. WHEN PASSING FROM THE HALT TO MOTION, and when the horse is moving the seat undergoes certain modifications. The rider must assume position which assure his retention of balance and which keep him “WITH HIS HORSE.” The knees, legs to a great extent, the thighs, remain fixed on position. The upper body, the unstable part of the rider’s mass, remains in balance over its base of support by appropriate variations in its degree of inclination in the direction of movement. And thus overcomes the disturbing effects of the horse’s movements.

ANY CHANGE IN BODY INCLINATION modifies the distribution of weight on the various parts of the base of support. AS FORWARD INCLINATION INCREASES, the center of gravity is carried forward and downward; there is a decrease in weight borne by the rear of the seat, and a corresponding increase in that borne by the thigh, knees and stirrups, until finally, in racing and high jumping, the knees and stirrups in certain phases of support almost the entire load.

    1. IN FORWARD MOVEMENT the degree of forward inclination of the upper body varies with the speed of the horse. It should always be such that the rider remains in balance over his base of support. When the inclination of the upper body is not sufficient to maintain this balance, the rider is not “WITH” but “BEHIND” his horse. When it becomes excessive, the rider is not “WITH” BUT “AHEAD” of his horse.
    2. THE UPPER BODY IS INCLINED FORWARD AS A WHOLE from the hip joints. THE BACK SHOULD NOT BREAK TO THE REAR AT THE LOIN, but retains its normal posture. The chin is lifted in order that the back may retain its unbroken line and the field of vision by not reduced., To allow the back to break rearward at the loin, and to permit the shoulder and head to drop forward, places the weight on the fleshy part of the buttocks and usually tends to- ward loss of balance to the rear, and to “CANTLE-POUNDING.”
    3. SUPPLENESS, MUSCULAR CONTROL and the resultant opening and closing of the joint-angles supplement the inclination of the upper body and enable the skilled rider “TO BE AND TO REMAIN WITH HIS HORSE.” In the case of unforeseen movements, such as shying, which tend to unbalance and unseat the rider, security is provided by an increased grip of the lower thighs, knees and legs, until balance has been restored.
    1. When passing from the halt to one of the various gaits, when changing gaits or rates, the degree of inclination of the upper body is dependent upon the suddenness of the change. In increasing gaits, the inclination is sufficient to prevent the center of gravity of the upper body from falling in rear of the base of support. In decreasing gaits, the upper body becomes more erect in order that its center of gravity may remain in rear of the knees. In either case, the change in position is reduced to the minimum required for remaining in balance. At the various gaits, the inclination of the upper body increases correspondingly with the rate, until at high speed, the buttocks are frankly out of the saddle. The crotch never excessively leaves the saddle.
    2. AT THE WALK the upper body is inclined forward very slightly from its position at the halt. Consequently, there is an increase in weight borne upon the thighs, knees and stirrups. Despite the constant tendency to drift to the rear, caused by the horse’s forward movement, the rider remains IN BALANCE. Thus seated, he neither slouches nor concentrates his weight on the cantle, or gets “BEHIND HIS HORSE.” The upper body has the same generally ERECT APPEARANCE AS THAT OF THE SOLDIER DISMOUNTED AT ATTENTION.
    3. AT THE SLOW TROT OR TROT, WITH OR WITHOUT STIRRUPS (NOT POSTING), the upper body remains erect without stiffness and with sufficient forward inclination to keep its center of gravity over its base of support. The rider is “WITH HIS HORSE”, not “BEHIND HIM” and pulling on the reins to maintain balance. The forward inclination is only slightly greater than when at the walk, and the rider has the APPEARANCE OF SITTING ERECT.
    4. AT THE POSTING TROT the riders center of gravity undergoes more varied displacement that during any other gait. The length of his base of support varies from the maximum (when he is in the saddle) to the minimum, his knees, legs and stirrups (when he is at the top of his rise). His body moves UPWARD AND FORWARD, and DOWNWARD AND BACKWARD in cadence with the beats of the gait. Sufficient forward inclination is taken to be in balance. The upper body maintains its posture unchanged, WITHOUT SINKING REARWARD AT THE LOIN, as the rider comes into the saddle at each alternate beat of the trot. The chin is raised so that the plane of the face remains vertical. The rider sinks into the saddle very lightly on the upper thighs and crotch, the points of the buttocks barely touching the saddle at each beat.
    5. AT THE CANTER OR SLOW GALLOP the upper body is inclined slightly more forward than at the walk or slow trot. The rider easily maintains contact with the saddle, though due to the shifting forward of his center of gravity, still more of his weight is borne on the lower thighs, knees and stirrups. Leaning backward at the gallop, or allowing the loin to break rearward, concentrates weight on the cantle and places the rider behind his horse. He will then be riding “HEAVY” instead of “LIGHT.” At each beat of the gallop that part of the rider’s weight coming onto his thighs automatically forces the RELAXED KNEES downward, and they in turn transmit a slight amount of weight through the relaxed ankles onto the stirrups; the heels are low; and the legs maintain their prescribed position. The back is straight without stiffness. The rider keeps the fleshy part of his buttocks well to the rear. THAY ARE NOT A PART OF HIS SEAT.
    6. AT THE FAST GALLOP and in charging, maneuvering, saber or pistol work, etc. The upper body is inclined farther forward with the buttocks frankly out of the saddle. Consequently, the weight is on the lower thighs, knees and stirrups eliminating “POUNDING” the saddle, and giving ease and freedom to both horse and rider. Rounding the back and loin entails loss of muscular control of the upper body and results in loss of balance.

If balance is lost to the rear, the rider is “BEHIND HIS HORSE”, and sits heavily on the horse’s loins; if lost to the front, he is inclined to stand in his stirrups and save himself by placing his hands on his horse’s neck. Being “BEHIND THE HORSE” makes a galloping laborious and painful to the horse and places the military rider in an unfavorable position for employing his weapons. When riding entirely “ON HIS STIRRUPS” the seat is insecure and the rider has difficulty in using his legs or hands to control his horse and is inclined to brace against his stirrups and carry his weight back against his horse’s mouth.


  1. IN DECREASING RATES AND GAITS, IN HALTING AND IN BACKING, the rider does not lean back. The forward inclination of the body decreases with the rate, to enable the rider to remain in balance with his horse.


The rear limit of the military seat is at the points of the buttocks. Their fleshy portion is in rear of their points and is never a part of the base of support. The inclination and posture combined of the upper body largely determine the manner in which a rider sits in the saddle. With the points of the buttocks resting lightly in the saddle, its throat deep in rider’s crotch, the naturally erect upper body is as inclined from the hips as to maintain balance, carry the weight into the lower thighs and force them down into their proper positions.

The thighs and length of stirrups fix the position of the knees.

The knees, snugly in contact with the saddle, are relaxed, flexed, and ALWAYS AS LOW AS THE PARTICULAR LENGTH OF STIRRUP WILL PERMIT. The rider does not stand in his stirrups nor should he give that impression. His delicate sense of balance, aided by the correct distribution of his weight, his muscular control, his relaxed and supple joints give him the feel that at each grounding of the horse’s feet in his stride, he is thrust deeper and more securely INTO the saddle.