Getting in shape to ride in a balanced half seat is painful. I can remember many lessons when my legs ached and my balance was precarious.
I had instructors who insisted on perfecting my two point position. Maybe you’ve been there: arms out to the side, arms overhead, no stirrups, and endless circles and figures ridden in either a three point, or half seat, (where most of your weight is in your legs but your seat lightly touches the saddle) or two point (where you hover above the saddle and all your weight is in your legs). As you know it’s difficult to sustain without practice.
When I learned to ride in two- or three-point the object was to develop a solid base of support for jumping or to free up my horse when galloping cross country. The two point position is de rigueur in the hunter and equitation ring where having your butt touch the saddle is practically sacriligious.
However, it turns out there’s another reason why you should get up out of the saddle: it’s good for your horse’s back.
A study, “A comparison of forces acting on the horse’s back and the stability of the rider’s seat in different positions at the trot,” was published in the May 2009 Veterinary Journal. The study was conducted by the Movement Science Group Vienna, Clinical Department for Companion Animals and Horses, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. The study was summarized in The Horse, Researchers Examine Effects of Rider Stability.
Scientists with the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna’s Movement Science Group measured the forces created when an experienced rider rode 10 different sound horses at the sitting trot, rising trot, and in the two-point (jumping) position. The rider held each position for 20 seconds.
“In this study we wanted to see which seat position is the most stable for the rider, and which position least stressful for the horse,” said Christian Peham, PhD, head of the Movement Science Group.
In each riding position, the researchers measured rider stability by determining the movement of the center of pressure (COP) along the transverse (X, or side-to-side) and longitudinal (Y, or up and down) axis. The researchers used a statistical calculation to determine the highest and lowest points of stability in the three different positions.
The sitting trot created the highest load, followed by the rising trot and the two-point seat. In the two-point position, the rider’s back is most stable, placing the least amount of load on the horse’s back. In all positions movement on the Y-axis accounted for the differences in load. The rider’s transverse movement had no effect.
According to Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, the two-point seat puts less load on the horse’s back because the joints in the rider’s legs, especially the knee and, to a lesser extent the hip and ankle, act as shock absorbers.
“As the horse’s body bounces up and down, the rider’s joints flex and extend to maintain the rider’s back in a consistent position with the horse, moving up and down beneath him/her,” Clayton explained.
The cushioning effect of the rider’s joints avoids large fluctuations in force on the horse’s back as compared with the sitting trot, in which the rider’s body oscillates with the horse.
For young horses, or horses recovering from back problems, a combination of the rising trot and two-point positions provides optimal training conditions without overloading the horse’s back. According to Peham, “These positions are the most stable for the rider, and least stressful for the horse.”
I’ve gotten lazy about practicing my two point. I guess it’s time to think of my horse and feel the burn.