Common misconceptions about the Equiseat Aid.
During the development of the Equiseat Aid and subsequent launch, I’ve come across so many misconceptions about it. From people saying that it somehow stops a rider learning to ride to people calling it just a gimmick, an aid that doesn’t do anything and is too simple to have a meaningful effect on horse or rider.
This simply isn’t the case, and these comments indicate a common misunderstanding of how we control our muscles. It’s quite difficult to switch muscles on and it’s even harder to try to switch muscles off and relax them - especially when you are on a horse and under pressure. If you add into the mix years or even decades of muscle memory and habits, switching muscles off can be virtually impossible. It also shows people often underestimate the influence of rider imbalance and tension on their horse’s wellbeing.
Can some people manage without the seat aid?
There will be a handful of people who have no physical issues at all, are naturally very well balanced and have only a slight dominance on one side. But it’s so important to note that these people are very, very rare! There are other riders who are wonky and do have an impact on the horse but go through mounts until they find a horse who can both compensate for them and stay balanced and sound. They too are in the minority.
I’ve coached riders for years and have seen so many people who can’t quite make it up the levels and they don’t know why. If I’m honest, I was probably one of them. In my opinion, identifying why we aren’t furthering our career and finding a way to address it are two different matters. For example, a failure to perform at a higher level and move up the grades could well be down to a lack of straightness. It’s easy to blame horses, but surely it would be even easier to try the seat aid first and see if it’s the rider?
Common injuries and issues can be caused by rider imbalance
Then we have issues such as lameness, muscle imbalance and even the dreaded kissing spines. Months or years of horses having to compensate for a wonky rider can lead to so many of the common injuries we see in our industry. Having helped to rehabilitate horses over the years with issues ranging from kissing spine to suspensory injuries, I know that these horses wouldn’t have presented these problems if they hadn’t worked under saddle. I have diagnosed hind lameness (please note that I am not a vet and wouldn’t pretend to be!), asked an owner to call a vet to look, only to be told by the vet that there’s no clinical lameness. The difference was that I was observing the horse under saddle, whereas the vet saw them trotted up without a rider on board. If the vet could watch that same horse under saddle, being asked to perform simple school movements, I would be interested to hear if they still thought it was sound. Let’s face it, the only time these horses are under pressure is when ridden. An incorrect way of going probably causes 99% of the wear and tear we see in horses - and the overriding factor in this is the rider.
Will you need to ride in the Equiseat Aid forever?
Am I saying if you buy a seat aid, you must ride in it forever? The answer is no if you ride most days, as an assessment after around 8 weeks should show how much change has taken place. The seat aid is there to help straighten, strengthen and support both horse and rider while they make changes to their way of going - not forever. Do some people wear theirs all the time? Yes, they do, but these are people who have decided they need the support of the seat aid for the rest of their riding career. To be honest, what's so wrong with that? It’s down to individual choice and a person’s progress.
Why it’s important to find out a horse isn’t performing
A lot of the horses I have taken up the grades over the years were destined for the scrap heap; they were difficult, hot, sharp or in some other way wouldn’t sit into a normal training method. Maybe they just demanded more of their rider - some had even been ridden by professionals who had found them nasty or dangerous. My method of training is very much to treat every horse as an individual and to train the body - then the mind will take care of itself. I will always start by asking myself - what is stopping this horse from performing? I would look at how the horses were moving - were they stacking the weight directly from the top of the leg to the bottom. Once you start to look at a horse with their mechanics in mind then you can really start to understand that they aren’t out to hurt you. They don’t wake up and have a bad day, the chances are they are sore (or anticipating pain) and you haven’t identified that. All behavioural problems start with a physical problem. We often humanise our pets but at the end of the day they are animals, and we can’t take that away from them, and why would we want to?
However, it’s an approach which has given us lots of amazing days out and saved plenty of horses from an uncertain future. Have we had winners at Badminton? No, but we have had great results from horses that other people had written off and nothing is more satisfying than successfully producing an un-producible horse.
A summary of how the Equiseat Aid helps horses and people
The Equiseat aid is a tool to break habits which lead to the rider being unbalanced or gripping up with their leg. It will help improve an even muscle mass in both horse and rider and allow the horse the freedom to grow its muscles unhindered by the rider. If a horse is struggling moving up the grades or simply seems to find ridden work hard, isn’t it worth trying? As horse owners we all want to make sure our horses can do their job without pain or discomfort and focusing on the rider is an excellent place to start.
We’re also at the early stages of conducting studies into the impact of the Equiseat Aid on riders, and the results are so interesting. In as little as three weeks riders went from being much weaker on one side to showing a marked improvement in symmetry and balance. It’s a very exciting time for a product which was just a glimmer of an idea a few years ago, but I just know it’s going to help so many horses and riders in years to come.