The Turning Seat

The turning seat, sometimes also called the “bending seat,” is not really an aid in itself, but it positions the seat more effectively in order to give some leg, seat and rein aids involved in bending and some lateral movements. We all know that, ideally, the rider should sit with shoulders level and square, legs down at the girth, and with weight distributed on either side of the saddle evenly. However, this is the ideal position for the halt and for riding straight lines only. It does not apply to turns, bends and some of the lateral movements, which require shifts in the rider’s weight and sometimes also a change in his upper and lower body positions.


The following take place simultaneously:

· Inside seat is weighted slightly

· Outside seat bone lightens and slides slightly back

· Inside leg remains down at girth

· Outside leg moves slightly behind the girth (no more than a hand’s width) and remains passive

· Inside shoulder comes back slightly as head turns to look in the direction of the bend/ turn

· Outside shoulder moves slightly forward following the movement of the outside rein being stretched in the bend

The rider does not lean into the bend, nor weight the inside seat bone too heavily – the weight shift should be a difference of about 60/40% from inside to outside. The amount of “turn” in the rider’s position is directly commensurate with the degree of bend in the horse, so the movement is subtle and can be felt by the horse but not necessarily noticed from the ground.

In a very real sense, the rider’s upper body rides the horse’s front end, and the rider’s lower body rides the hind end, so it only makes sense that the rider would mirror the horse’s movement with his or her own body – and perhaps the horse mirrors the rider to a degree as well. An easy way to remember this is to match your body with the corresponding part of your horse’s anatomy. As the horse bends, he draws his inside shoulder and hip closer to one another. A line drawn from the outside shoulder/hip, through the inside shoulder/hip, directly to the center of the circle, forms a triangle that points to the center of the circle. If, as the inside shoulder of the horse comes back and the outside shoulder tilts forward, then your shoulders do the same. Similarly, if the horse’s inside hip moves forward and the outside back, the rider’s hips should match them, with the legs following. As a consequence of the turning seat, the inside shoulder of the rider comes back and the outside comes forward slightly. In doing so, the outside rein automatically comes forward, providing the horse with the outside release necessary in the bend. Likewise, as the outside hip slides back, so does the lower leg, which automatically places it in the position to support the horse and counteract the centrifugal force that comes with bending and riding curved lines.

Practice: With legs and seat relaxed, reach the outside hand across and pat the inside of the horse’s neck. This will bring the outside shoulder forward, lighten the outside seat bone and cause the outside leg to want to drift backward to balance the forward reaching hand. On the inside, more weight concentrates on the inside seat bone and the inside shoulder comes back. Though exaggerated, this is the basic idea behind the turning seat, and gives a sense of what the rider should feel when riding a bend. Then practice with less exaggerated movement, keeping the spine straight but allowing the shoulders, hips and legs to rotate slightly around the center….

An alternative version of this seat involves weighting the inside seat bone but keeping everything else in position. In this case, instead of the outside shoulder moving forward allowing give in the rein, the fingers are opened on the outside rein so that the horse can stretch it himself as much as needed. This method is also correct, and works on lateral movements on straight paths in particular, though I think a rider might look a bit odd and even confuse the horse if, say, on a small circle his body did not follow the bend of the horse, but remained as if riding a straight line while the horse turns. But the choice is up to the rider. The important thing is not to make a big move with the arm to adjust the rein length, but to either bring the shoulder forward to a degree commensurate with the amount of bend or to allow the rein to slide through the fingers – or a combination of the two.

Purpose: As mentioned above, the shoulder and leg positions each have their purpose in either: (in the case of the shoulders) supporting the rein aids; or, (in the case of the legs) supporting the horse’s body through the bend. However, the most significant element of the turning seat is arguably the weigh aid. The purpose of using an inside weight aid for turning is a subject of debate. Some claim that weighting the inside seat encourages the horse to track more deeply and actively under the increased weight with its inside hind in order to support it, thereby increasing the engagement of the inside hind through the bend. Another theory claims that adding weight to the inside encourages the horse to shift his own weight away from the additional rider weight and rebalance itself on its outside hind and shoulder, lightening the inside hind and shoulder, and thereby increasing the balance through the bend. In my experience, I find the opposite is true: horses tend to move into the weight aid and engage under it, especially when the appropriate rein aids have been applied to create a balanced bend (more on that in following posts.) In any case, either result is theoretically desirable, and weighting the inside seat does seem to help the horse to understand the bend and find its balance. At the very least, experiment with it, and see if it has any effect in your own riding.

Note: To clarify, the weight aid described above is specific to the turning seat and is not a universal guide to weight aids, which are much more complex. Reference here to weighting the inside seat applies strictly to actual turning, as in riding a corner or a circle, and not necessarily to lateral or other movements involving bend. In some movements, the rider sits to the outside of the bend to assist the horse with his balance, such as in a canter departure or a shoulder-in along the wall, etc.. In this case, it is necessary for the rider to know which side of the horse carries the balance, and even which leg specifically is loaded by the horse, and sit to that side. Usually the side or leg receiving the weight aid corresponds to the side that the horse needs to balance on and/or the direction of the horse's movement, meaning one usually sits into the predominant direction of the movement, to the side or leg leading the movement. In other words, the rider sits to the horse's balance point, not the bend, and weights the side where the balance is or should be.


This post originally appeared on the blog Glenshee Equestrian Centre at: