It’s not unusual to hear people talk about the fact that a horse can feel a fly land on him, and therefore, can be expected to respond to light aids.
Which is why a horse responds when we ride in a half-seat, which is the same as a light three-point seat. In a three-point seat, which is what we usually ride in without thinking of it as “three point,” contact is extended to the seat bones in addition to the “two-point” contact of the knees. In a half-seat, the contact of our seat bones is light.
Jimmy Wofford, some of whose fans call him the Woff (always with a silent exclamation point), explained the advantages of the half-seat over the two-point seat in his gymnastics clinic at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts last weekend:
1. You’ll have more control.
2. You’ll be more stable.
3. You’ll feel your stride better.
All good things. Sometimes great things, when you really need them.
A light three point seat has these advantages over the normal three point seat you use in your flatwork:
1. You won’t drive with your seat as much, especially when your horse is using his back.
2. You can use your seat for influence but still free up your horse’s back while at a strong canter, a lengthened canter or a hand gallop.
3. You can encourage forward movement with your upper body inclined slightly in front of the vertical (shoulders more over knees than over hipbones) without sacrificing the advantages of influencing your horse with your seat.
Watch him ride in the 1972 Olympics to see the half-seat in action, and the smooth transition between three-point and two-point when the heat is on high. He’s the last rider to go:
Today, the half-seat is sometimes overlooked in favor of two-point, which alternates with three point. In today’s digital world, it’s no surprise to find a lack of half-measures. How much we miss the analog range that Steinkraus so masterfully demonstrates.
Shouldn’t we strive for an infinite range of feeling in the saddle? In order to do so, we need the half-seat. And we need to make the transition between our three seats as fluid as the transitions we want our horses to make.
Which means practice. I’m going to make it a point this week to focus on the half-seat with my hunt seat students, and to practice it myself, as I’ll be riding one of my client’s hunters this week. It’s been much too long, and we’re all overdue. Are you, too?