When I’m playing polo, most of the time I don’t actually sit in the saddle. We’re supposed to keep a light seat while attempting to hit the ball or hooking an opponent’s mallet, and even have to do a ‘rising canter’. I’ve found that polo has been beneficial in many ways for my general riding – in particular with confidence about going very fast and thinking quickly – but it’s also created some habits that I need to relearn when swapping riding styles.
Earlier this summer, I went on a riding holiday where I did lots of hacking and trail riding, sometimes in the saddle for up to six hours a day (the horses were very fit). The horse I rode was bombproof, fancied himself more as a racehorse than he was, and had a big character – think overgrown Thelwell pony! On some of the rides we were able to have long canters, and I found myself automatically taking a light seat or doing a rising canter. It was much more comfortable than trying to sit, especially over the rough ground. However, whereas in polo I’m used to having lots of space and racing the other riders, while on these rides we had to stay in single file.
The horse I was riding wasn’t keen on the idea. He wanted to go faster and wasn’t too respectful of the horse in front. I found myself becoming tense in anticipation of each canter, gripping the reins too much. Not because of the speed – polo ponies are much faster and I would have been happy to let him run – but because it was a fight to keep him at a sensible distance where he wouldn’t get kicked by the horse in front. In polo there’s plenty of space and I don’t have to worry about crashing into anything, but on these rides I did.
The changing point was when one of the ride leaders told me to relax, loosen the reins, and sit back. It’s advice that I should have known, if I’d thought about it, but it was useful to have someone remind me. On that next canter I really sat back and rediscovered a position in the saddle that I’d seemingly forgotten. It felt like I was leaning back too much, but was much more comfortable and felt more secure. When I’d been trying to sit to the (rather fast!) canter before, I must have been unconsciously leaning forwards, because this new position gave me a much deeper seat and a sense of control that helped me to hold the horse back and regulate his pace more easily, with less dependence on rein aids.
It was interesting to note how important and influential the seat is in riding, whether it’s light, deep, leaning forwards, or sitting back. I want to try to become much more aware of what I’m doing in the saddle and the effect it has. I’d like to encourage you to do the same too!
Happy horse riding!
Horse Daydreamer x