One of the items I had on my 5 Breakthroughs for 2015 post was the passive or following seat. As things have come together with Jet this year I have still felt that I didn't really have a dependable "whoa" from my seat. As his contact has improved and I could get him to stretch out basically at will, I realized that the only time he would roll behind the vertical would be on some downward transitions. It never felt like he truly stopped from the stilling or freezing of my seatbones always and instead some hand or rein was necessary a lot of the time, which led to some steps of behind the vertical until I stretched him out to the contact again.
After thinking about this, reading a pertinent article about rider position in Dressage Today by Shannon Peters and looking in my handy dandy reference When 2 Spines Align, I realized that I sort of skimmed over thinking about or working on the passive or following seat. Well that was a mistake. Basically, theory says the horse can only feel you stop moving with your seat or taking bigger steps with your seat IF you follow closely and in a balanced way the rest of the time. If you have a nice following seat in all three gaits when you change how much you follow, the horse will feel that and adjust. Hmmmmm...makes sense to me.
So off I went to test this out. First I made sure my core was engaged with my frontline projected towards my hands. Then I connected the horse to my seat by engaging the muscles underneath my shoulder blades and making my elbows slightly heavy. I spiraled my upper body slightly with a little weight on my inside seatbone forward to get the correct bend and did a connecting half halt to get the pony forward and reaching to the contact. When I had a nice packaged pony I thought about letting my seat follow the pony's back in almost a three dimensional way. Just following, not exaggerating. Then I added a little leg and started taking longer steps with my seat and low and behold it worked like a dream. Lengthened walk with almost no leg. After a couple of transitions from working walk to lengthened walk I did a collecting half halt and took shorter steps and got a nice collected walk with a long neck. Best ever.
After playing with the same principles through halt, trot, and canter over a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that I am an idiot. I have been so focussed on getting my core, alignment, straightness, and other issues of balance right, I totally forgot over time to follow the horse with my hips/seat. Like I have been doing since 4-H in the 80's. By gradually getting stiffer and less "adhered" to the horse with my following seat Jet couldn't feel whether I wanted him to maintain, lengthen, or shorten without much stronger leg and/or rein aids.
You could just about hear Jet sigh when I started to be "with" him a bit more and he was very responsive to my seat aids pretty much immediately. This again goes to show how many different pieces there are to a skill set and how you can't forget or drop some skills when you are acquiring new skills. Really.