9 Best Hunt Seat Equitation Tips

Heat seat is a style of forward seat riding that occurs in equitation. Judging happens on movement and form, looking at the ability of the rider on the flat and over fences. These tips will help anyone be able to work on their skills so that their presentation meets or exceeds current judging standards.

#1. Keep it straight.

Use inside legs at the girth so that you can press the horse into the outside reins. This will help to develop a routine of straightness that will be easier to maintain. Not only must the horse be able to track straight, but there must be a forward drive to the gait that offers the chance for the horse to bend, but not overbend.

This avoids the “crooked” appearance that often happens for beginners.

#2. Make the transitions count.

Horses tend to need a lot of practice when it comes to the transitions between gaits when riding hunt seat. Practice walk-halt transitions by communicating to the horse through body movement what you want it to be able to do. Your hands, legs, seat, and back can all be tools to communicate which transition is desired at that time.

When at the canter, you can also work on transitions by lengthening strides for 10 and then shortening them again for 10. Relax the hands to get the stride lengthened, but then tighten up again to slow down.

#3. Don’t drop the hands.

Sometimes a horse is going to fight the bit. It happens. Even equitation experienced horses can have a moment of stubbornness. When this occurs, it is important to close your fingers and maintain position. If you drop your hands, then not only do you surrender the issue to the horse, but the judge is going to notice as well.

#4. Practice your rhythm.

The goal of hunt seat equitation is to establish an instinctive rhythm between rider and horse. To make this rhythm begin to feel natural, you’ll need to practice it repeatedly. One of the fastest ways to do this is to use your cavalettis.

Quick-use cavalettis can provide you with good results even if you’re on a tight budget. Look for polyethylene cavalettis because they won’t splinter or shatter like their PVC or wood counterparts if the horse misses a mark. Height doesn’t matter much, but beginners may wish to use 6-inch cavalettis to get the feeling for them.

Don’t just set up your patterns in straight lines either. Serpentine patterns in a wide arena well help the horses get comfortable with potential obstacles while you get to know the rhythms that you’ll need.

#5. Do not underestimate the lateral work.

It can be easy to overlook the basic lateral work of flatwork sessions, but shoulder-fore and leg-yield should be worked on consistently. Move from the basis to some of the more complex movements you may need to work on, such as the shoulder-out or the haunches-in. This may even be a good time to work on the half-pass.

The reason why this lateral work is so beneficial is that it helps the horse begin to understand the commands of the rider’s legs and become submissive to them. It also helps to equalize the stiff side of the horse so that you have more of a balanced ride.

#6. Work on the give and take.

Many riders in hunt seat tend to ask for withdrawals without ever making a deposit. It’s really a give and take process, especially when you’re attempting to create impulsion. The hind legs of the horse create forward movement. This will cause many horses to have their croup begin to drop. As a result, the base of the neck comes up and the head drops as the horse begins to round.

The natural inclination of riders is to pull the head down. You want to feel like you’re pushing it down instead. Keep the hands up over the withers so that you form a straight line with the bit. When the outside rein begins to come back, then give to the horse. 

#7. Exercise the spirals.

When working spirals, it is fairly common for a horse to become resistant to the process. A common exercise is to spiral in on 3 circles during a canter, then spiral back outward. If there is resistance from the horse, then use the leading inside rein and an outside neck rein to reinforce your control. If you feel the horse begin to relax, then you can give some as well – but on the inside reins only.

Complete the three spirals inward, then spiral back out. Repeat three times, then go straight. You can work on this exercise in several different directions as a way to reinforce your expectations for the horse and yourself.

#8. Know how to collect and balance the canter. 

George Morris is an Olympic silver medalist and has worked as a coach for US show jumping. One of his favorite exercises in the canter is to ride a half-turn, the maintain the counter-canter in the opposite the direction. The reason why he likes it so much? Because it collects the counter and helps to balance it.

Although there are control and communication needs that get worked on during this exercise, the ultimate goal is to create self-carriage. When the horse is able to maintain its own impulsion and balance while holding itself correctly, then you’ll be able to compete more effectively.

#9. Don’t get pulled out of the saddle.

During a flying change, most horses will not naturally sit down. They instead stay high in their croups, almost feeling quivery in their anticipation that something will go wrong. Riders become nervous as they feel the behavioral change, so they adjust in their seat. Then the horse senses this and pulls the rider out of the saddle.

To correct this issue, start making larger than normal half-turns. Sit down in the turn so that the horse accepts the seat instead of trying to pull you out of it. Then keep the horse as straight as possible by using your inside leg with the rein on the outside. Push with the leg if necessary to reinforce your command. If you grab with the inside rein, which tends to be the natural want of a beginner rider, then it makes everything become crooked and the change happens late.

The best riding experience comes when riding with the upper body position forward about 30 degrees. This makes the ride softer and smoother, while closing down the angles that can disturb a horse’s self-carriage. Over time, using these tips, you’ll be able to improve your hunt seat equitation to turn it into a very rewarding experience for both you and your horse.