The Turning Seat

The turning seat, sometimes also called the “bending seat,” is not really an aid in itself, but it positions the seat more effectively in order to give some leg, seat and rein aids involved in bending and some lateral movements. We all know that, ideally, the rider should sit with shoulders level and square, legs down at the girth, and with weight distributed on either side of the saddle evenly. However, this is the ideal position for the halt and for riding straight lines only. It does not apply to turns, bends and some of the lateral movements, which require shifts in the rider’s weight and sometimes also a change in his upper and lower body positions.
The following take place simultaneously:

· Inside seat is weighted slightly

· Outside seat bone lightens and slides slightly back

· Inside leg remains down at girth

· Outside leg moves slightly behind the girth (no more than a hand’s width) and remains passive

· Inside shoulder comes back slightly as head turns to look in the direction of the bend/ turn

· Outside shoulder moves slightly forward following the movement of the outside rein being stretched in the bend

The rider does not lean into the bend, nor weight the inside seat bone too heavily – the weight shift should be a difference of about 60/40% from inside to outside. The amount of “turn” in the rider’s position is directly commensurate with the degree of bend in the horse, so the movement is subtle and can be felt by the horse but not necessarily noticed from the ground.

In a very real sense, the rider’s upper body rides the horse’s front end, and the rider’s lower body rides the hind end, so it only makes sense that the rider would mirror the horse’s movement with his or her own body – and perhaps the horse mirrors the rider to a degree as well. An easy way to remember this is to match your body with the corresponding part of your horse’s anatomy. As the horse bends, he draws his inside shoulder and hip closer to one another. A line drawn from the outside shoulder/hip, through the inside shoulder/hip, directly to the center of the circle, forms a triangle that points to the center of the circle. If, as the inside shoulder of the horse comes back and the outside shoulder tilts forward, then your shoulders do the same. Similarly, if the horse’s inside hip moves forward and the outside back, the rider’s hips should match them, with the legs following. As a consequence of the turning seat, the inside shoulder of the rider comes back and the outside comes forward slightly. In doing so, the outside rein automatically comes forward, providing the horse with the outside release necessary in the bend. Likewise, as the outside hip slides back, so does the lower leg, which automatically places it in the position to support the horse and counteract the centrifugal force that comes with bending and riding curved lines.

Practice: With legs and seat relaxed, reach the outside hand across and pat the inside of the horse’s neck. This will bring the outside shoulder forward, lighten the outside seat bone and cause the outside leg to want to drift backward to balance the forward reaching hand. On the inside, more weight concentrates on the inside seat bone and the inside shoulder comes back. Though exaggerated, this is the basic idea behind the turning seat, and gives a sense of what the rider should feel when riding a bend. Then practice with less exaggerated movement, keeping the spine straight but allowing the shoulders, hips and legs to rotate slightly around the center….

An alternative version of this seat involves weighting the inside seat bone but keeping everything else in position. In this case, instead of the outside shoulder moving forward allowing give in the rein, the fingers are opened on the outside rein so that the horse can stretch it himself as much as needed. This method is also correct, and works on lateral movements on straight paths in particular, though I think a rider might look a bit odd and even confuse the horse if, say, on a small circle his body did not follow the bend of the horse, but remained as if riding a straight line while the horse turns. But the choice is up to the rider. The important thing is not to make a big move with the arm to adjust the rein length, but to either bring the shoulder forward to a degree commensurate with the amount of bend or to allow the rein to slide through the fingers – or a combination of the two.

Purpose: As mentioned above, the shoulder and leg positions each have their purpose in either: (in the case of the shoulders) supporting the rein aids; or, (in the case of the legs) supporting the horse’s body through the bend. However, the most significant element of the turning seat is arguably the weigh aid. The purpose of using an inside weight aid for turning is a subject of debate. Some claim that weighting the inside seat encourages the horse to track more deeply and actively under the increased weight with its inside hind in order to support it, thereby increasing the engagement of the inside hind through the bend. Another theory claims that adding weight to the inside encourages the horse to shift his own weight away from the additional rider weight and rebalance itself on its outside hind and shoulder, lightening the inside hind and shoulder, and thereby increasing the balance through the bend. In my experience, I find the opposite is true: horses tend to move into the weight aid and engage under it, especially when the appropriate rein aids have been applied to create a balanced bend (more on that in following posts.) In any case, either result is theoretically desirable, and weighting the inside seat does seem to help the horse to understand the bend and find its balance. At the very least, experiment with it, and see if it has any effect in your own riding.

Note: To clarify, the weight aid described above is specific to the turning seat and is not a universal guide to weight aids, which are much more complex. Reference here to weighting the inside seat applies strictly to actual turning, as in riding a corner or a circle, and not necessarily to lateral or other movements involving bend. In some movements, the rider sits to the outside of the bend to assist the horse with his balance, such as in a canter departure or a shoulder-in along the wall, etc.. In this case, it is necessary for the rider to know which side of the horse carries the balance, and even which leg specifically is loaded by the horse, and sit to that side. Usually the side or leg receiving the weight aid corresponds to the side that the horse needs to balance on and/or the direction of the horse's movement, meaning one usually sits into the predominant direction of the movement, to the side or leg leading the movement. In other words, the rider sits to the horse's balance point, not the bend, and weights the side where the balance is or should be.


Other Posts in this Series:

Holding the Reins

Inside vs. Outside: The Weight Debate


The Five Rein Aids: Introduction

The Direct Rein

The Indirect Rein

The Indirect Rein of Opposition in Front of the Wither

The Direct Rein of Opposition

The Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Wither


Going Bitless


  1. Another great post! This is so informative and so well written and it is easy to understand. Contrary to popular belief it is not easy to ride a horse correctly. Incorporating the proper rein aids and seat cues takes practice. Anything worth doing right always does, but once all of these procedures are learned and become second nature to the riders, they will have better rides more of the time instead of a good ride once in a while. The horses will appreciate the consistency and proper riding techniques too.

  2. thanks, GHM. i'm always looking for ways to make training less stressful and more enjoyable for horse and rider, and i am always amazed at just how subtle and light you can be once you understand how to work with the horse's anatomy and balance, instead of against it! it's a simple thing, but since most of us are never taught anything about it, it does take some practice to get the hang of... but it pays off in the end in more enjoyable rides and happier, more confident horses :-)

  3. This makes a lot of sense and is consistent with what I've been taught - although to be honest I think when I apply the principle it's more from a "think it" and it happens on its own more than actually doing it consciously, if that makes any sense at all.

    I think sometimes we can over-aid, but if we simply think through the motion, it happens very subtly and the horse responds.

    Anyway, the other piece that came to me as I read this is that recently we have been told to weight the outside stirrup when on a circle or a bend. And it has worked to keep the horses from wandering inward. For a brief instant I thought I "had it" as I read your post and tried to plug in the weighted outside stirrup idea, but then I lost it totally.

    This is the kind of crazy question you'd be fielding were you standing in my arena giving me a lesson:

    how does the weighted outside stirrup fit in with what you're describing?

    We would stand there and have a marvelous discussion, and Keil Bay would be ever so thrilled because of course he's getting to stand and lick and chew and get scratched by you as you talk. :) He truly loves the intensely examined ride.

  4. Wow, very helpful post! Your blog is my kind of blog. Once I get caught up more on my thesis I'm going to have to sit down and really read your articles. I wanted to thank you for your comments on my blog, I replied to yesterdays, if you want to take a look. And I'll definitely be submitting pictures for a virtual clinic, especially once my instructor leaves for Florida this winter. Do you do video lessons?

  5. billie – I’m also someone who needs to understand the reason behind what I’m doing (and agree with the principle before I put it into action.) and when I do actually have a lesson, I usually spend half of it discussing theory – so you know I’d be up for hanging in the middle of the arena with you and keil bay to chat :-)

    I love any discussion that makes me question my own thinking in a healthy way. Having to put what I do into words means I really have to be able to understand and justify what I’m saying, or be prepared to learn something new, which is more important to me than just giving/following directions and going through the motions… this helps me sort out all of these ideas in my own mind, try some new ones, and discard any that aren’t working – so, thanks! :-)

    I think you are right on with your ‘think it’ approach. I try to do the same – once I understand how something is supposed to work, I can skip over the conscious part and just visualize the outcome, relax and trust myself to follow through. I find that things fall into place that way without becoming mechanical and stiff. One of the worst things a rider can do is ‘try’ really hard, as this usually disrupts the flow of movement and creates tension, so if you can find a way to get past the ‘conscious’ stage, life becomes a lot easier for everyone… but, of course, that’s easier said than done… ;-)

    You asked: “how does the weighted outside stirrup fit in with what you're describing?”

    That’s a really great question, and I’m so glad you asked it, but you’ll probably regret that you did because I’m going to follow up with an overly long and involved explanation in a whole new post. sorry ;-)

  6. Hi jesterjigger – I’m glad you found the post informative. I enjoyed your blog as well and will be sure to visit again. I’ll head over soon and read your reply. I’ve wanted to get a virtual clinic started, so any pics you want to send would be welcome! I’ve never done a video lesson, but would love to :-) I’ll have to add my e-mail to my profile if you want to send any pics in future. thanks for stopping by!


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