Louise asked…could you do something on the riders seat please? In pictures you see the classical male rider with a very arched back, even Carl Hester, but then you look at Charlotte Dujardin and she has a very straight seat and back! Confused.
To fully cover the seat a book is required but it is an interesting point that Louise raises and one that bears a little investigation and discussion- not least to discover what implications, if any, it may have for us regular dressage riders.
First a disclaimer- as most who know me are aware I am not a major fan of top-level competitive dressage these days but I am in no way nit-picking these two talented riders who are at the top of their sport- they are purely helpful to us in illustrating the seat and its differences.
I think the two screen shots above support Louise’s observations. On the left we have a typical male rider with an anterior (top edge tipping forwards) tilt to the pelvis and on the right a much less (but still tilted) anterior tilt in a female rider. Even though I tried to grab shots (same horse) at a similar part of the stride it is not entirely the same ‘moment in time’ that is captured- although both are in passage I think the moment of collection on the left is more defined and so the seat may be working differently. You can watch many videos on Youtube and decide for yourself if the arch is greater.
If, like me, you have a more typical female posture and shorter limbs then you will be heartened by Charlotte’s posture in spite of what I see as my ‘faults’. If you crave arms long enough to always keep the elbows to your sides and your legs draped with ease around the horse then you will envy Carl and his lengthy limbs.
Much of the spine is able to move (aside 9 elements in the very lower part) but you get what you are given and some people are just more flexible in their spines than others. You can work on your flexibility but there will always be a ‘break point’ that stops any further flexibility.
Today’s modern competitive riders tend to be behind the movement with a ‘driving’ seat which is not something I admire but it is a very typical sight around the world’s dressage arenas. It can prevent the seatbones, hips and pelvis from functioning in the most absorbent manner (each side independently) and will, I imagine, cause undue strain on the back over a lifetime.
Although some female riders have long limbs and arched backs it is usually the males who dominate this style. The pelvis of a woman is quite different to that of a man in order to accommodate childbirth and so what a man feels sat in a saddle can be quite different to what a woman feels…see the image below curtesy of trailwisesaddles.com
Men were designed to walk we were designed to have babies! Most classical male teachers/coaches will talk of sitting on the ‘bum’ whereas I see benefits in referencing the pubic arch (not of course sitting on it as a fork seat but knowing where it is). The male pubic arch is narrower and more acute in angle so I imagine far less comfortable to reference! The picture below curtesy of radiologypics.com shows this difference.
Many women like a dressage saddle with a decent twist (see this blog post from Trailwise here http://www.trailwisesaddles.com/wordpress/?p=661) and anatomically this makes sense. The way we ride as women (OK generalisations but most women) makes use of our natural thigh position (turning in slightly to the knee) and balance in the saddle- students often hear me talk of our thighs as our ‘secret’ weapon with their ability to absorb movement and support our seats.
I think the advice has to be to cater for your own needs and ride within your own abilities dependant on your sex, age and flexibility -of course if you are ‘loaded’ you could spend a fortune on custom made saddles because surely this route has to be the most comfortable for horse AND rider. For those of us more financially challenged it becomes incumbent upon us to ride in the best balance that we possibly can so that we are less burdensome for our horse.
Ride in lightness ladies; with those secret weapons (and those few gents that might happen by this place- continue to drape yourselves with grace and ease)!