First of all, please forgive my awful drawing! An artist, I am not! The drawing only serves for illistrative purposes and is most definitely not anatomically or proportionally correct.
As riders, we should always strive for quiet, effective communication which is sympathetic. Foreceful riding, and the all-to-common "kick and pull" approach should be avoided so far as is possible. Most riders know that we should use our seat more than we actually do, but has anyone explained to you exactly how to do that? For a long time, I was told "use your seat, do less with your reins" and everytime I was left thinking "How? What does that actually mean?". Today, I'm going to briefly cover how to use your seat when turning and bending, and why you should use your seat.
First, let's tackle the "why?"
In short, it's just better.
Okay, so "how?"
Turning and bending is actually one of the easiest things to start with if you aren't familiar with using your seat.
Using the diagram below as an example, i.e. achieving left bend or a left turn, here is my thought process.
The front of my right to hip turned towards the horse's left ear
Belly button turned to the left, in line with or more than the centre of my pelvis (depending on what I'm trying to achieve).
Left shoulder (and left elbow) back (or counter clockwise if viewed from above) to the same degree as my belly button is twisted. Avoid pulling back on the inside rein, whilst your arm and shoulder are being taken backwards you would still do this even if you had no contact on the horse's mouth whatsoever - it's your body movement that creates the bend, not the inside rein.
Stretch the space between my bottom left rib and top of my left hip to ensure that I don't collapse through my left hip.
As the horse bends their neck (and body) to the left, the left side will become shorter and the right side will become longer. So it's important that you allow your outside (in this case, right) shoulder and elbow to come forwards, which gives the horse enough room to stretch the lengthened side of their neck. That is not to say you should throw your outside rein away, keep a gentle contact on it and keep it close to the neck to catch the energy created by the horse's inside hind leg.
Inside leg to outside rein
The use of the inside leg to outside rein method of bending and turning is similar in a lot of ways to using the seat as described above. Using the seat almost forces you to apply the "inside leg, outside rein concept". The horse will naturally want to follow your pelvis, like a train on train tracks. This is easily seen in horse owners that are very one-sided and sit twisted one way, the horse will often learn to be twisted that way too. If you keep your pelvis perfectly straight, the horse will want to remain perfectly straight too no matter how much inside leg you apply. By keeping your pelvis straight, and choosing not to use it, you're creating more work for yourself!
Other methods of turning & bending
I hope this has helped clear some of your confusion!
As always, if you need any help or have any questions, do feel free to ask. You can reach me on my emails, FB Messenger, or Instagram DMs. Have a play with it when you next ride and see what kind of a result you get. Circles and serpentines are a good place to experiment!
I am a dressage trainer and general equestrian coach in Surrey, Sussex, and Berkshire. I teach dressage lessons, and hold a range of riding and equestrian clinics around the UK, and use my blog to share horse training tips, advice, and resources.