Canter & Candor

Canter and Candor; an honest account of an amateur equestrian and her life with an OTTB

Sitting versus a Softer Seat


Since I have been home for the holidays, I haven’t been on C in about a week, but as per usual I am doing a lot of thinking about my position and how it will affect him, so I have more to think about when I get back out there.

Lately I’ve been googling the heck out of using a proper seat depending on the occasion. With C, since we are focusing on flatwork and dressage (I checked my notes and I’ve only jumped him 6 times total since I bought him!), I have been sitting his canter. Thankfully it’s comfortable so I don’t mind so much, plus it’s given me pretty good ‘following’ hips. I do have to check myself sometimes and make sure I’m not driving, leaving C behind my leg and on the forehand.

As such, he sometimes gets a little confused when I two-point, and breaks to the trot. I really don’t think it’ll be an issue cross-country, because he is never lacking in energy out there, but I was curious as to what you fellow jumpers prefer for stadium. A (assistant trainer) has told me and many other students to ‘dressage between the jumps’ which I had always imagined (and executed) to be seated or lightly-seated canter. However, after some research the consensus seemed to be “to approach and depart the jumps in … a light three-point” (source).

But consider the video below of our eventing demigod, Michael Jung from 2010.

I watched it through several times and for much of it he seemed to be sitting as such in dressage, more upright, in a deeper seat than other riders (or what is professed to be ‘the correct way’). Also, William Fox-Pitt in 2014 seemed privy to the same seat, sitting between the jumps. In both, though, I see each rider utilizing three-point in specific situations, namely on turns and longer stretches between the jumps (left) and sitting deeper upon approach (right).

I notice, too, that the horse’s own body and neck seem to reflect the rider’s position– forward and long on the left, and upright and vertical on the right. This makes a lot of sense, all things considered.

It seems common sense to say “fit your riding to the horse” and I do think right now C prefers the security and presence a sitting canter provides (though I don’t pretend to know what goes through his noodle brain). I also think it makes it easier for me to adjust him, and having the steadiness of a swinging canter makes it less confusing to ask for other things, such as bend or better contact.

After watching more videos of Jung and Fox-Pitt, I realized that a deep or three-point seat have their places in stadium. I can see how, where more speed or agility is required, it’s important to get off the horse’s back and allow them to gather themselves in the center (this visual makes sense to me). But on the approach to  jumps and between jumps in a line, they seem to prefer seated, perhaps for adjustability and ‘feeling’ the stride.

I know that every seat has its proper place, and I definitely plan on experimenting more and not settling into the comfort I find in a deeper seat. As we know, it’s never a good thing to be complacent in our riding, and I may find the solution to some ongoing problems by riding in a two- or three-point more often, where lightness and speed are required, and also so C gets used to being responsible for his own legs without as much of my assistance.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 6.56.44 PM

I think this to be a lighter three-point to an oxer (on a friend’s horse)

I’m curious as to what seat you all prefer during your stadium rounds, in what situations, and why. Feel free to comment with thoughts to add to my reading– I’m all ears!

— M


15 thoughts on “Sitting versus a Softer Seat

  1. I always sit on the approach to the fence. I will sit on the backside of the fence and through the corner if I need to – like if the horse is wanting to pull or fall on it’s forehand – but that’s not very often. Usually half seat most of the way and sit coming out of the corner. I sit on the approach to XC fences too, starting about 6-8 strides out away from the fence. Helps keep the horse rocked back on the hind end and easily able to power off the ground/get it’s front end out of the way more quickly.


    • I’ve just been sitting almost everything with C, except when we XC school between fences. I find if I don’t sit corners he has a more difficult time staying balanced, so the extra support may be helping there!


  2. I always wonder about this since it’s been so long since I jumped (and when I did, I didn’t get such great training). I’ve heard of doing both for different reasons. I understand sitting before fences because to me it makes sense as a dressage rider to maintain the quality of canter. But then I also heard that some horses are sensitive to rider position change, so if you sit to the base then immediately fold up and over, some horses will drop their front legs? I dunno, I was listening to a jump lesson one day. I was always told to ride in half seat but sink down into the tack about 6 strides out. Not sitting upright but not out of the tack. Kind of like what you said was lighter three point on your friend’s horse.

    But I have no official standing on this, I am curious about it though.


    • Yes, I’m curious still– will probably continue my youtube snooping and see what other upper level riders do. It’s also interesting to see eventers in stadium versus showjumpers, since showjumpers seem more inclined towards the half-seat/light seat whereas the eventers sit more (maybe being accustomed to XC?). I haven’t heard the dropping front legs thing before, but that’s interesting– I’d think that seated, it might be easier to rock the power back to their haunches for a rounder jump. Then again, I know horses who have round jumps but are lazy with the fronts. Makes me wonder more about how they’re connected!


  3. it depends on the day. When jumping at home, I sit on approach as I don’t ride as forward and we have a few stops. But as soon as we’ve landed I tend to stand to help steady for the corner – I don’t know why it steadies us, but it does. When competing it depends on how Scottie is feeling. But I find that on surface I tend to stand up more and on grass I sit more. He gets more excited/bouncy on grass. If you don’t send him forwards he just gets higher on the spot. Whereas on surface he is easier.


    • I think I sit mainly out of comfort (and being better able to support C) but I have a tendency to lean at fences, and sitting has helped me correct that. Interesting about the surfaces! We rode on grass at the derby a while ago and I sat most of it, but he did feel a little sticky. I wonder if that contributed? Lots to think about!


  4. I think it depends largely on the horse, of course! And the type of fence. I have evented my mare up through Prelim successfully and intended to do Intermediate until and injury out us out for a bit. Now we have a foal 🙂

    She is a bit downhill, so I always sit and get her hind end under and her front end up. Otherwise, we get too long and flat. She’s very sensitive to my seat so this is all I need to bring her together – I sit and stay tall and let her motion close my hip angle. I then make sure to stay centered (my trainer used to say “boobs above the withers!”) and stay out of the tack until landed, which is super hard sometimes! I do stay in a lighter seat further out, allowing her to go forward. I was able to ride her through the upper levels in only a happy mouth bit in XC with this technique.

    On XC, if the fence was a rounder, less upright gallops style fence, I could stay out of the saddle for it. Instead I would grow taller in my half seat, opening my chest and bringing my shoulders slightly back. This was all she needed to gather herself for a gallopy fence.

    I also had a paint stallion that I competed through Training level eventing. He was too straight behind and would hurt his SI joint if I didn’t constantly sit and kick his hind end up under him. Staying in half seat would make him chip into every fence and jump awkward.

    An OTTB I had was the opposite – he had a beautiful canter and I could stay in a half seat, transitioning to a light 3 point only a stride or two before the fence.

    How does your horse jump? Good canter and strong behind? Quick with the front end? I think these are some important questions to consider!

    Thank you for the discussion promoting post 🙂


    • Ha! Boobs above the withers– I love it. We used to have “T’n’A” — Tits’n’Ass. Stick ’em out for success! Haha! C is actually very straight behind too, which makes me wonder if that’s why he seems to prefer seated. I’m not sure it hurts anything not to, but maybe just makes things easier? Thanks for sharing!!

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  5. I alternate depending on what the horse seems to prefer, and what I’m comfortable with. Coming from hunterland, I’m most comfortable staying up in a half seat (butt out of the saddle, but not broken over at the hip). However, if I’m feeling nervous, I sit down. Makes me feel more secure and some horses prefer that.


    • Huge yes on the security comment– I think of seated canter as a kind of ‘hug’ for the horse. I think that as I am also more comfortable/confident, C feels the same thing, so it might not be purely physical! Also interesting on the discipline differences… I can’t recall what the eq ring requires, but if memory serves it’s seated canter for the flat classes, and whatever helps the horse go best over fences. I think that’s pretty telling!


  6. This is a great post, and it’s wonderful to read about another amateur rider who thinks as deeply and technically as I do about best ways to ride [my] young OTTB. I also have heard both ways suggested- really “riding” between the jumps (aka- sitting the canter as in dressage) and also the light 3-point seat. I think it does depend on the horse and the day- the particular ride you are having in that moment. However, for the most part, I really do think that sitting and riding between the jumps supports more correct and effective riding, especially on a young or green horse. My ottb is still pretty wiggly and straightness is of utmost importance for the stage we are at right now in our riding, so sitting between the jumps allows me to ensure a good approach to the next fence. I do believe it is nice to sit up off the horse’s back when possible, such as if there is a longer stretch or when galloping on XC. I look forward to reading more of your posts!


    • I think you’re spot on with the straightness facet of it! After the clinic, which was mostly about straightness and rhythm, I think having a secure/consistent leg is a big part of my seated canter and why it works for us right now. I think when C is more balanced and rhythmic and confident on his own it’ll be less of an issue, but I also think you’re very right that seated canter has a special place in baby horsedom. 🙂 Thank you, looking forward to seeing more insightful comments!

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  9. When I first saw this I knew I wanted to come back and see what other people had to say, so now I’m back!

    I’ve ridden through lots of different seats with Murray. First I always had to sit — he was too noodly for me to have a half seat, and his shoulders were too capable of escaping, so I needed that defensive seat to keep driving him straight to the fence and avoid getting thrown over his shoulder. Then we figured out that Murray preferred me to be up off his back a little, and I found that it helped me take funny spots better in stride, and I did that with varying degrees of success and crapitutde until July. Then I went back to sitting because Murray went on his little jumping strike, and now I’m working back toward a more variable seat.

    In a distinctly sitting seat, I can really use my core and upper body to control Murray’s stride and pace. I can also do this in a soft three-point, but in a two-point I definitely struggle with that same connection. In a soft seat or a two-point I can take the shitty fences in stride a lot better and recover more forward than I can when I sit all the way to a base, and conversely, when I sit all the way to the base I sometimes “hurl” myself out of the saddle to get out of Murray’s way over fences because I’m not totally coordinated yet.

    I know that both of these seats can be cultivated on Murray for full efficacy, so I will continue to work on them. This is going to involve a lot of watching of Hawley Bennett ride!!



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