Striving for independence? I’d be interested to know what you are doing for this. This phrase is misunderstood and confusing with so many different interpretations of what is actually meant by ‘independence’ in riding.
For me a better word is interdependence (although way too big and student unfriendly) because as much as we are taught to have independent hands, seat and legs what we are actually striving for is a fully coordinated effort where inter-dependency between hands, seat and legs, together with the horses movement is essential.
When training a pupil, words matter – it is the way you describe what is being asked that either gives them the light bulb moment … or not!
On a more literal level, the term independence can be rightly assigned to describe a rider’s ability to use each body part independently of the other, so for example, using the lower leg should not result in tightening of the thigh or movement in the hip. Each body part is flexible enough and strong enough to do its job without any compensation in another part of the body. You need to feel like you could unscrew your top half from your bottom half also.
Work should start on the ground. Any rider who has shaky balance or who is physically unfit will not be able to achieve independent body parts once mounted. A horse reflects our own movements much more than we realise. Sitting correctly in the saddle and personal fitness plays an important role in the achievement of good quality riding.
In order to achieve independence you will need to work on your breathing, posture, strength, flexibility and balance.
Trainers usually apply the term independent seat when they are trying to correct a rider who has dependence on the rein to maintain their balance whilst in the saddle; or as a way of achieving collection; or to pull a horse’s head into a so-called ‘outline’ to give the appearance of him being ‘on the bit’. Many riders struggle with letting go of the rein because they simply have no understanding of how the pelvis controls the forward motion of the horse. Acquiring an independent seat takes a great deal of time and dedication. Due to the patience and time required a truly independent seat is a rarity in Dressage, when it really should be something for beginners.
Here’s what to do … why not test yourself on the lunge with a friend and just see whether you have a reliance on the reins, many of you, even established competition riders will be surprised at how your balance is affected without reins. This will tell you how much work you have to do.
Another quick test; In trot, gradually allow your reins to be taken down through your hands until you have a loose rein, continue trotting until you are on the buckle end. If you begin to feel unbalanced, you have some work to do.
Go on, give it a go!