Q:I recently started training with a new instructor, and he has me doing a slightly different half-seat position than I have been taught. My lower body isn't much different than my previous trainer’s (like squatting over your horse, heels down and wrapped around your horse), but he likes me to have my upper body bent at the hip so much I am pretty much parallel to the horse’s back. I had always been taught to hardly bend at the hip, really just stand up in the stirrups. My hands are always at least halfway up the neck in both positions (I am not to the point of automatic releases). When I do this new half-seat, I feel like the horse is going to hit me in the face when he jumps. Which position is better?
A: It sounds as if both trainers are trying to help you reach the same objective. Different instructors use different methods and imagery to guide their riders to a correct, effective position. To clarify what approach works best for you, it always helps to supplement whatever you’re learning in lessons with additional information. Start by reviewing the definition and purpose of the two-point exercise:
Half-seat, jumping position, galloping position and forward seat all describe the same position, which you achieve by lifting your seat up out of the saddle, closing your hip angle slightly (30 degrees) and balancing your weight over your legs—your “two points.” The two point is the up position of the rising trot and used as an exercise to strengthen the half-seat/ jumping seat. The ultimate goal is to keep your body in balance, which means you can stay with your horse’s motion at any gait and over fences without ever pulling on the reins to hold yourself in place.
The purpose of two-point is to take your weight off of your horse’s back, thus giving him more freedom of movement, and to shift your center of gravity forward to match his forward balance. The faster he goes, the more he shifts his weight onto his forehand. When he jumps, two-point the half-seatprepares you perfectly to follow his motion in the air. If you’re properly supple in your ankles, hips and knees, all you need to do on takeoff is allow your hip angle to close naturally as he jumps up to you. You shouldn’t have to change anything else.
Some trainers use a two-step system to teach the half-seat. First, they introduce the concept of lifting your weight out of the saddle by asking you to grab mane and “stand up.” This helps you master the feeling of stretching your legs long and dropping your weight down into your heels. Once you’ve established that feeling, you can advance to the second step, which adds a slight closing of the hip angle, bringing your upper body to the same angle you use in the “up” phase of the posting trot.
The initial “standing up” position is not a true two-point because your upper body lacks the necessary angle to keep you in balance with your horse’s forward momentum. On the opposite extreme, though, folding so much at the hips that you bump into your horse’s neck throws your balance ahead of his motion. Perhaps your new instructor is teaching you a more exaggerated hip angle temporarily to correct for your previously too-upright upper body position. To find the happy medium, practice the following exercise:
Trot around the ring in two-point, focusing on balancing your hips over your heels. While maintaining this position, move your hands backward to rest on your lower thighs or knees, allowing your reins to lengthen as needed. (You’ll quickly get the hang of steering with your hands in this position.) Keep your head up and focus your eyes over your horse’s ears.
When you can comfortably hold this position without tipping forward or backward, return your hands to the neck. This time, place them only about one-third of the way up the neck. (I find that this hand placement helps to keep your elbows soft and supple.) Concentrate on resting them lightly on the mane without pushing down, so you begin to develop independent hands—the most critical element of two-point exercise.
To test and improve your position even further, try trotting up and down hills in two-point, being careful not to let your hips get ahead of your heels. Try not to use a lot of muscle to hold your body in place. The better balanced you are, the less muscle strength you should need.
Meanwhile, explore resources that can provide a picture in your mind of what a correct two-point position should look like. All riders struggle with getting their body parts in the right place. Visualization can really help. Look at pictures in books by top trainers, such as George Morris (his book Hunter Seat Equitation is considered the bible of hunters and jumpers), or watch instructional videos, such as Geoff Teall’s DVD series. Also try to emulate good riders you see in lessons, clinics and shows.
With a combination of education and practice, you will develop a correct, secure two-point position. Remember: Form is function. If you’re in balance, you’re doing it right!
A New England native, hunter/jumper trainer Robin Petersen earned her British Horse Society A1 (International Instructor Level 1) ranking when she was 18. She returned to the U.S. to work for Frank Madden and Bill Cooney in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey, and Jerry Kenney in Ipswich, Massachusetts, before staring her own business 20 years ago. In 1998, she bought a 14-acre Christmas tree farm in Ipswich and founded Back Bay Farm. Today, she and her husband, Peter Townsend, still run an active riding school at Back Bay, where riders receive a well-rounded horsemanship foundation and the opportunity to compete—even if they don’t own their own horses. Robin travels with her students to about 30 shows a year, mostly locally and regionally. A lifelong proponent of continuing education for riders of all levels, she recently completed the USHJA Trainer Certification Program, at the age of 60.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.