Everything You Need to Know About English Riding Seat Positions

11/02/2022

Half seat, full seat, galloping position, jumping position… for a new equestrian, it might seem like there are as many different seats as there are types of saddles - and you’re not wrong!

For hunter jumper riders, knowing which seat to adopt, when and how is critical for success. Even if you’re not looking to wow a judge or lay down a blistering time, your mount will definitely appreciate that you didn’t try to do a whole course in full seat.

We’ll look at the three main types of seats the modern equestrian should be familiar with - 3-point or full seat (and no, we’re not talking full seat breeches), half seat (sometimes called “light seat”), and 2-point or jumping position. We’ll cover what exactly each one is, how to do it, and when and when not to use it.

Equestrian on bay horse rides a canter in full seatImage by elisa pitkanen

Full Seat / 3 Point Position

Full seat is by far the most common of the English riding seats. Think of it as your “default” riding seat- it's the first one you were taught. If you’re not in a half seat or 2-point seat, you’re in a full seat.

What Full Seat / 3 Point Looks Like

It’s just a person sitting in a saddle, right? Well, you’re not wrong, but there’s more to it. 

Full seat is also called 3-point because you have three points of contact with the horse - both legs and your bottom (properly called your seat). 

Weight is evenly distributed between both seat bones, which are in full contact with the saddle. 

When to Use Full Seat/ 3 Point Position

Dressage rider? This is your seat! You can easily collect, extend, balance, and turn your horse in a full seat/3-point position. 

Tip: For expert advice on how to achieve a deeper dressage seat, check out our article How to Get a Deeper Seat in Dressage.

The same goes for most flatwork, as full seat provides the greatest contact and communication with your horse. One notable exception is some work at the canter. For example, for a particularly bumpy canter, you may be more comfortable in a half seat instead of trying to sit in a full seat.

Even in jumper or eventer rounds, you can sink into full seat when you need extra security, or to encourage your horse to slow down, collect, and “come back” to you. 

When Not to Use Full Seat/ 3 Point 

This seat is used in most disciplines in one way or another, except for maybe racing jockeys and exercise riders who don’t need to provide much in the way of seat or leg aids. 

Sometimes, hunter / jumper riders opt not to use full seat. Because the full seat position keeps the rider in full contact with the horse’s back, it’s not ideal when you want the horse to stretch and extend his back.

The one time you’ll never want to use a full seat is over fences. It’ll not only be nearly impossible to maintain the position due to the jumping effort, but you risk being thrown back and “behind the movement,” which could cause a fall or pulling on the horse’s mouth. 

You may have seen this “leaned back” type of jumping position in old black and white photos of jumping horses (who had to jump in a “flat back/head up” style because of it). Modern advancements in our understanding of equine locomotion mean this style fell out of favor a century ago, never to return. 

Half Seat/ Light Seat Position

Think of half seat as a half step between 3 point and 2 point position. The rider is off the horse’s back just enough to help increase impulsion and regulate stride length while keeping the horse solidly “underneath himself.”

Rider on chestnut horse lifts slightly out of the saddle in a half seat positionImage by Barbara Olsen on Pexels

What Half Seat/ Light Seat Looks Like 

The rider's seat is just out of the saddle. You carry less weight in your seat bones, but your breeches may be just grazing the saddle. (Spoiler alert: you may find this pretty hard on your thighs at first). 

The rider's hands and upper body stay close to the normal position- they don’t move up the horse's neck for a crest release, like in 2 point.

Showjumper in a light seat canters around a corner on a courseImage by Clarence Alford

When To Use Half Seat 

The half seat is handy to have in your equestrian arsenal for a few different circumstances. 

Hunter riders like this seat in the show ring because it helps a flashy mover fully express his style without being restricted by the rider. It also makes the transition into 2 point jumping position easier (since you’re halfway there already), which makes for a smoother round. 

On the flat, half seat can help a horse open up and stretch his back - use it as an exercise and to help with the extended canter. 

For horses with an especially bouncy, uneven, or otherwise uncomfortable canter, half seat can save a lot of bouncing on your butt—and it’s good for the horse’s back, too! 

Eventing rider galloping on a dark bay horse adopts a half seat position.Image by Jean van der Meulen

When Not to Use Half Seat 

If you’re riding dressage or doing flat work at the walk or trot, you likely won’t have much use for half seat. 

Unless, of course, you’re trying to build up your leg muscles - it can be hard on your thighs if you’re not used to it. Trying to maintain a half seat at a walk or trot is a pretty challenging, but useful, exercise. 

If you’re trying to slow down a too-strong horse, some riders tense up and pull on the reins- inadvertently adopting a half seat-type of position. The lack of seat contact tells a horse to “go.” At the same time, the rein pressure actually encourages the horse to lean into the bit and balance himself on the rider's hands, allowing him to go faster—the exact opposite of what you want! If you find yourself in this predicament, take a deep breath and sit deeply in a full seat.

Jumping/ 2 Point Seat 

Also known as the galloping seat, the 2 point jumping seat offers the least contact and greatest freedom for the horse. 

The rider will have literally 2 points of connection to the saddle - the left knee and the right knee. 

For an in-depth explanation of how to improve your 2 point, including some common mistakes, check out our blog post How to Perfect Your 2 Point Position

What Jumping Position / 2 Point Looks Like

The rider’s seat bones are completely out of the saddle, her back flat, shoulder back and head up. 

The hands slide up the neck, usually pressed into either side of the neck for a crest release, allowing the horse to stretch his neck forward and down, arching his back over the jump. 

Cross country jumper in orange shirt exhibits strong 2 point jumping position over a narrow brush fenceImage by Steve Sewell

When to Use Jumping / 2 Point Position

You’ll use your 2 point every time you jump a fence - this is pretty much the only acceptable position over fences. 

You may find some horses extend better when you’re in a 2 point or half seat position, so it’s a handy trick to keep in your back pocket if you need to encourage a sluggish horse to stretch and extend for a bit more speed, such as when galloping cross country.

When Not to Use Jumping / 2 Point Position

If you’re not galloping or jumping, you won’t have much reason to go into 2 point position. 

Unless, of course, you’re practicing it. Spending as much time as possible in 2 point, including turning, stopping, and walking on, is a favorite exercise to help build muscle memory and perfect the position. 

You can also use it over trotting poles to improve your timing and get used to going into and out of jumping position. 

Conclusion

Adopting the right seat at the right time can do wonders for your ride, especially if you train over fences - you can switch between full seat, half seat and 2 point at different points in the round when you want to ask the horse to slow down and collect, stretch and extend, and jump, respectively. 

Remember that half seat and 2 point can be more physically challenging than full seat, so be easy on yourself and practice, practice, practice!

 

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