English Riding

Mastering The Three Seats

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Written by: Jessica Lefroy

There are three seats a rider should master to become effective and versatile – the full seat, the half seat, and the deep seat. Laura Tidball-Balisky describes each and when they can best be utilized.

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There are three seats a rider should master to become effective and versatile – the full seat, the half seat, and the deep seat. In the hunter/jumper world the most common and most useful is the full seat, which is a balanced seat with a closed hip and a tall shoulder, but the half seat, also referred to as the ‘hunt’ seat, is also a much-needed tool. A strong base of support, an active core, a tall shoulder, and a slightly closed hip angle are all necessary aspects of your position that must be developed in order to strengthen any seat.

In the equitation or hunter rings, the full seat is going to be the most common and effective, and a consistent seat will be rewarded by both the judges and the efforts of your horse. In the jumper ring, however, the ability to be adaptable with your seat will have many applications. A lot of times in a jumper course you will stand up into the hunt seat to allow the horse a little more freedom of movement, or in a jump-off you will ‘lighten’ the seat to create more momentum. In my opinion the full seat, with a closed hip angle, centred balance, and shoulder control, will be the most effective tool for getting a good jump out of the horse. Jumping has so many different styles, and none of them are wrong.

Most beginner riders – children and adults alike – have a hard time developing an understanding of the feeling of a closed hip angle. I have found that a lot of visual aids work well in this case. Standing on the ground, I will show them a closed vs. open hip angle, and I have found it always super useful for riders to see themselves in motion, so we often video them.

The Full Seat

I consider this the most useful seat. It aligns with the North American style of forward riding and allows the horse to have freedom in their back and ease of movement. A full seat with a closed hip, a tight core and a proper back position will ensure you are ready for the jump.

With the full seat, what we really work on is a centre of balance, and we are constantly reminding riders to really ‘feel’ their body down to the centre of the saddle. You want to avoid any shifting, so it is imperative to find a saddle that fits you correctly and one that lets you find that centre of balance. The full seat is a very still position, because your hip is closed and absorbing the movement. Your arm is going to be independent, because you will have such a solid core that allows you to be very still with your upper body and arms. It’s a very solid position as well: you’re not going to get pulled out of the saddle if a horse roots the reins or trips after the jump.

The Hunt Seat

When you have a beginner rider, it’s very important that they learn to master the hunt seat, primarily to develop balance and strength. In the hunt seat there is still contact with the saddle, but it’s very difficult to teach if riders do not have some understanding of correct lower leg position and base of support. This comes early in a rider’s education – once they can trot on their own or even on the lunge line.

I really believe that beginner to intermediate riders need to use the hunt seat when they begin riding over fences. Our beginner students need to learn to hold themselves in a hunt seat, because otherwise they aren’t balanced over the horse. Until they have enough strength and experience to hold themselves in a hunt seat they will get tossed around at the jump, falling back and catching the horse in the mouth.

The most common error we encounter when teaching the hunt seat is the tendency for riders to tip forward on their hands when they are learning to find their balance, or lack of stability in their lower leg. This is where we will use a lot of eye exercises, because if the rider can keep their eye up, they are more likely to keep their balance.

The Deep Seat

A deep seat, often referred to as a ‘driving’ seat, occasionally has its uses on the flat or in conditions where control is of great importance. Most of our horses do not need a deep seat, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t teach it, because you need to have control of all the seats to be a good rider.

When riders have too deep a seat, they will be on their tailbone going to the jump and you’ll notice a very large forward movement with their body at the jump is necessary to keep their balance in the air. That excess movement doesn’t encourage the best jump on the horse’s part, as it disrupts the balance. Also, when riders have that much forward motion in the air (‘ducking’) there is a lot of movement required to get back into that deep seat again.

In comparison, with a full seat and a closed hip angle you are always in a balanced jumping position that requires little movement to follow the horse in the air. We teach a deep seat, however, because for a beginner it is a useful tool to develop a feel for an open hip angle versus a closed hip angle.

There are a lot of uses for a deep seat, one of which is while working with young or particularly spooky horses and you are feeling more comfortable being behind the motion. The deep seat is primarily there to drive the horse, but as a rider I would make sure my horse is trained well enough and listening to my leg. If you are an experienced rider who develops a feel for that seat as you progress, if you are comfortable in that position, and if you have determined that it is the seat that allows your horse to best manoeuvre, that is completely acceptable.


We work on both hunt seat and full seat intermittently during flatwork, through transitions, jumping around a course, and through gymnastics. A gymnastic is a really good control exercise and really develops muscle memory for the riders. Distances need to be adjusted according to individual stride lengths, but we will set up a trot rail to a crossrail or vertical, then two strides set at 33′ to a vertical, and then three strides set at 45′ to an oxer. There are different variations depending on the advancement of the horse. Throwing in a bounce is really good for the more advanced equitation riders and is excellent for strengthening and developing that still position and consistent hip angle.

For the equitation we love gymnastics, because it teaches consistency; you do not want to be tipping forward, sitting back, and constantly readjusting your position – you want to be in one position throughout the course. You teach that by helping riders develop a feel for a really good hip angle. To accomplish a good full seat through the gymnastic, we prompt the riders to stay very still with their upper body, keep the hip angle closed, and ensure their arm is independent and following the motion of the horse.

Going through a gymnastic teaches the rider that there does not need to be a lot of movement at the jump. Certainly, the bigger the fence, the more movement there is going to be, because the momentum creates that, but at that point it comes really naturally to a rider. We do not teach that you have to throw your body to get over a back rail; we teach control and stillness.


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