Inside vs. Outside: The Weight Debate

Billie from Camera-Obscura asked a great question in response to my previous post, which I thought I’d answer in a separate post. In reference to the turning seat and weighting the inside seat through turns and on circles, she asked: “how does the weighted outside stirrup fit in with what you're describing?” It’s something I didn’t address directly, but is an important point, and one subject to some debate, so I hope others will feel free to bring their opinions and experiences to this discussion. And thanks to billie for bringing it up!

My instructors in the past have told me to weight the outside seat/stirrup through a turn, so understanding and applying the theory behind weighting the inside was a bit of a stretch on my part, as it seems contradictory to the aim of keeping the horse balanced; after all, horses always want to fall in on a turn, so weighting the inside should make the problem worse, right? Not necessarily.

Most horses, particularly young or developing horses, will tend to continually decrease the size of the circle (or turn) if the rider does not intervene. They tend to fall into the circle by falling through the inside shoulder and propping themselves up on the inside hind which is used a bit like a crutch toward the inside of the circle. To counteract this tendency, all of the other aids applied in turning are designed to enlarge the circle and bring the inside legs underneath the horse instead of allowing them to be used as “crutches” inside the circle.

So, the idea of weighting the outside seems like a logical solution, which would rebalance the horse to the outside, lighten the inside shoulder and quarter and allow the legs to come under the body. It’s not a bad assumption and, if the goal is just keeping the horse to the outside of the bend, it works.

The only issue that arises, to my mind, is that the role of the outside legs in propelling the horse forward around the bend will be compromised by loading the balance in that direction. While bent, the outside legs must reach further forward and around the body to keep up with the track made by the inside legs, while the inside legs flex more under the body and have a shorter distance to travel. In other words, in bending, the inside of the horse collects while the outside lengthens.

By weighting the outside, the horse will have to shift its balance outward and support that weight by engaging the legs under the point of balance (“collection”) and this will limit the swing of the legs forward and compromise the ability of the outside hind to push the body forward through the turn, which would in turn shorten the stride and disengage the inside hind. Basically, loading the outside (and especially the outside shoulder) allows the horse to evade the proper loading of the inside hind through the turn. It will instead “collect” the outside and allow the inside to “lengthen,” which is an awkward way to make a turn and will disrupt the gait, the balance and possibly cause tension. Worse, it will require unnatural positioning and strong rein aids to maintain the bend and keep the horse on the curved line.

So, even though the inside weight aid might, in theory, encourage the horse to move slightly into the circle, the predominant effect would be to increase engagement of the inside hind, which in turn actually helps the horse stay on the circle and resist falling in. Then the rider’s leg or rein aids (more on those in posts to follow) would serve to enlarge the circle or push the horse out into the turn as needed, while allowing the outside legs to swing freely and propel the horse forward. To put it very simply, you generally want to sit toward the side (or quarter) that has to shorten and bear more of the weight, while freeing up the side that needs to reach or push more.

That’s how I interpret the concept anyway. But, I don’t know if there is a way to prove or disprove any of this. It’s all theoretical, and I guess the best way to determine which theory to follow is just to experiment with both and see what works best. My barn has become a kind of riding laboratory where I can experiment with different philosophies and techniques, and I love to try out all of these theories and test their effectiveness. I’ve seen and felt the benefits of weighting the inside seat through a basic circle or turn firsthand. But, I’d also be interested to hear about other riders’ experiences with weighting the inside vs. the outside in normal turns and circles.


Other Posts in this Series:

Holding the Reins

The Turning Seat


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. Wow - my head is spinning as I try to wrap my brain around this stuff! I wish I could sit on Keil Bay, eyes closed, while you lunged us at the trot and said all the stuff you just wrote so I could hear it while feeling it!

    The one line that made me GET it though was this one:

    "In other words, in bending, the inside of the horse collects while the outside lengthens."

    Light bulb moment!

    I don't think I've ever thought of it that way, but it makes so much sense.

    And the thing is, the real light bulb moment is about what my body tends to do with that lengthening/collection split.

    I tend to draw up some on the outside - mainly because all my parts are not yet truly independent, so when I "collect" on the inside leg, that outside one will draw up a bit as well. Thus, I think the instruction to weight the outside is actually resulting in my *lengthening* that leg and thus matching what the horse is doing, or trying to do, if only I can stay out of his way.

    At least I THINK this is what is happening. All I know is I have been more successful since being told to weight the outside - but it feels more like my leg is getting longer - draping longer - than pushing downward.

    Thank you again for all this wonderful material. I feel like I should send a check!

  2. sorry, i know it's a lot of information all in one spot!

    that's interesting about the weight in your outside stirrup helping to lengthen your leg. if it works, go with it!

    i have the opposite tendency - when i sit to the inside, my outside leg wants to stretch way long and down to where it almost pulls me to the other side of the saddle! (especially when i ride without stirrups) so i have to focus on lengthening my inside leg a bit or drawing up the outside leg to keep me centered.

    i feel sometimes that riding is a lot like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time :-\

  3. I'm not sure how well it's working in the big picture - I often think of this riding journey as a long progression of steps that lead toward riding in balance and harmony with softness and fluidity.

    Every little step is what needs to happen for MY body to get a little closer to the ideal. But every little step seems to change as other things fall into place, so I can't get too locked in to one "way."

    The thing that keeps it fascinating is that there are those magic moments when somehow, without my really knowing how, it all clicks. Really clicks. And for a few strides, or the short side, or the long side, or a 20m circle, it truly does feel like I've become part of Keil Bay and he is just flowing forward.

    So I want to find that again. And the dream of having an entire ride like that is very appealing.

    Speaking of dreams - I dreamed last night I was riding a dressage test at a huge show and there was a gigantic support beam right in the middle of the arena. I was nonplussed - what the heck am I supposed to do with THAT thing there? Ride around it? Turn to light and ride through it? I was sitting on Keil Bay at A with no clue how to proceed. But I guess we did, because the dream shifted and I was riding. And then we were done and walking down a hill to go home!

    I missed the solution part! LOL.

  4. I live for those moments too. I was incredibly lucky that early in my riding career I had the most amazing horse who I swear could read my mind, and sometimes I thought I could read his – he was so sensitive, intuitive and light that all I would have to do was literally THINK what I wanted and it would happen as if by magic. It was the most incredible feeling to be that connected with a horse – I don’t even have words to describe it. I still have moments like you describe, here and there, where everything will click and I can glimpse the possibilities with the horses I have now, but so far I haven’t really been able to achieve that kind of lasting connection again, but I dream about it too :-)

    I have dreams like that all the time and I love trying to interpret them (even if i'm not very good at it ;-) If I had to guess I’d say it sounds like your dream fits in well with what you are saying about your progression and not getting locked in to any particular way – that maybe there isn’t a direct route ahead, and that you have to make those compromises between the ideal and the practical along the way to get to where you want to be. Maybe your dream was trying to tell you that the obstacles that confront you may cause you to deviate from the straightest course, but that somehow you’ll find your way around them and back onto the right track, and that the ‘how’ of getting there is less important than the ‘why’ right now ;-)

  5. That's a great interpretation - glad I included the dream, b/c I don't think I would have come up with your take on it! (the forest for the trees, or something like that!)

  6. i'm not really sure how i went from riding advice to dream interpretation, but i think i'll keep my day job! ;-)

  7. I have always been told to have slightly more weight on the inside seat bone when turning or circling or doing any lateral work - the feeling that I get is that as I put more weight into the inside, it pushes the horse's body away from that weight, encouraging the body of the horse to move out a little, creating the bend. I don't think this is a correct evaluation of the mechanics of why it works, but it helps me to imagine it like this. If I want leg yield to the left, I will put a little more weight in the right seatbone, as well as applying the right leg. This pushes the body of the horse left. I always feel like I'm trying to rub my stomach and pat my head when I ride...or was that rub my head and pat my stomach...!!

  8. that's an interesting way of looking at it. i'm not really sure of the mechanics either, but i always say go with whatever works! this stuff is mostly theoretical anyway. it's not like the horses are saying, 'um, could you sit this way? it helps me with my balance.' maybe horses really do move away from weight rather than under it... i wonder if anyone has really experimented to find out?

    for example, i've been told to sit to the inside in canter, but it feels awkward to me and in theory we should sit to the side where the balance is, right? and the outside hind is what begins the transition and drives the canter, so shouldn't we sit toward that quarter so that the outside can 'collect' and the inside lead 'lengthen?' i don't know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but i'm going to experiment with it and see what happens... or, when all else fails, i'll just sit to the center and let the horse figure it out :-\

    and i know what you mean! riding is definitely a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head - while walking on a balance beam!

  9. Thank you for going in depth on this matter. Weighting the inside (seatbone) in turns has been promoted by the great riding masters as Podhajski, de Kunffy etc. Of course this is one of the goals we work towards, say, the ideal balance.

    Its great how you went into detail how the mechanics work and how theory and actually sometimes differ.

    During the training-process it remains important to feel where the horse is "off" and you may need to shift your weight into the opposite direction for correction.

    Your I-Project is great and, might I add, highly addictive!!

  10. hi 'anon': thanks for your comment. i think it was while reading podhajski that for the first time i realized there was more to riding than just legs and hands. he really made me think about why we use the aids we do and how to make them more effective...

    and thanks for pointing out that weight can also be used as a corrective aid. sometimes you do have to feel where the horse's balance is relative to where you'd like it to be and sit accordingly.

    of course, learning to feel the horse's balance in addition to our own is one of those things i think it takes a lifetime to learn and perfect!

  11. I am soo addicted to reading here....gotta go for now but will soon return!
    I love this place!

  12. kk - looking forward to hearing more from you! :-)

  13. I'm going to be contrary here and suggest that our aim should be to be in balance with the horse. The horse needs to learn to balance himself around the turn and if we consistently put more weight on either the inside or the outside this is not helping him find his own balance. Imagine being a pillion passenger on a motorbike going around the corner. If you don't want to unbalance the driver you will stay in line with the axis of the bike, leaning doesn't help. However, we can use our weight aid to correct the horse, returning to balance as soon as he shifts in the right direction, and I'm going to have to sit on a horse to see how I deal with this myself! .As mentioned above, I think a lot of it is getting a soft bend and being able to push out with the leg.

  14. hi phoebe, thanks for your comment. is it that you are not a believer in weight aids, or just as applied in turns?

    i think i understand your point about the horse needing to find his own balance, and it is a valid one. the way i understand it, the weight aid is a means to helping the horse understand and cope with the change in his own balance caused by the rider and the demands of bending, etc.

    the way i think of it, horses at liberty rarely go deep in their corners or bend through turns - and at speed they generally pivot off the hind, throw their head and neck to the outside of the turn, and their shoulder to the inside...

    so the weight aid is slight, but it is designed to anticipate the horse's balance needs for the movement in question and actually help him maintain it.

    but i suppose sitting square at all times and using only the legs and rein aids for positioning is also a valid approach, especially because it's a lot harder to mess up and there is no risk of unbalancing the horse if you get it wrong or the horse isn't ready for it, so thanks for the alternative viewpoint :-)


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