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What is Saddle Seat Equitation?

What is Saddle Seat Equitation?
Riding Position
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*As with the other events governed by the United States Equestrian Federation, the discipline name is two words, not one, "Saddle Seat." - Wikipedia

  • the art and practice of riding a horse
  • a competition where the rider is judged on how well she exhibits the abilities and skills of her horse while maintaining the standards of Saddle Seat Equitation; the complete picture as a whole is important

Saddle Seat Equitation Overview Article by Sarah White

Saddle Seat is an American form of riding that originated in the United States' South.  The discipline was created to show off the animation of the horse.

General Showmanship

  • Neatness and correctness of appearance is extremely significant.  Equitation judges have been known to check the rider's boots for dirt!

The line up at Lexington during the Senior
Equitation Championship

Position of Rider

Saddle Seat rider position from the USEF Rule Book

  • Saddle Seat Equitation differs from the other forms of English Equitation. However, like any other riding style, the position of the rider reflects the desired position of the horse. In Saddle Seat the rider sits behind the horse's center of balance to allow the front end of the horse to be lightened to encourage the natural front leg action. Even though the rider's hands are held higher than other disciplines there is still a straight line from horse's mouth to rider's elbow. The upper body should be straight with shoulders back yet look relaxed not stiff or poised. There should be a straight plumb line from shoulder, hip, heel with toes just under the knees. All should be done elegantly with little unintended motion.

While in Motion

  • Walk: slight movement in saddle from moving with the horse's gait as to not block movement
  • Trot: slight lift of seat in saddle when posting from horse's momentum; hips under upper body, not mechanical up down sewing machine motion nor posting toward hands as in Hunt Seat and Dressage
  • Canter: close seat, hips going with the horse, not pumping or rocking body


  • Informal saddle suits must consist of a long single buttoned jacket with a notched collar with matching jodhpurs, collared shirt, vest, tie and complimentary gloves, jodhpur boots and derby or soft hat (protective headgear may be worn without penalty per GR318.4) in conservative colors. Formal saddle suits must consist of a tuxedo type long jacket with a shawl collar and lapel of the same color with matching jodhpurs, formal shirt, bow tie, vest or cummerbund, and matching top hat (women), homburg or other soft hat (men) in conservative colors. Formal riding habits are not to be worn before 6:00 p.m. and are not mandatory after 6:00 p.m.; exhibitors competing on Pleasure horses have the option to wear formal attire in Open equitation classes as specified by the rule. Accessories such as earring and lapel pins should be small and conservative.  Fit of attire is acutely paramount.


  • Bridle: Full bridles - Bradoon (small snaffle) and Curb.  Pelham bits are permitted in Pleasure Equitation Classes. Martingales or similar tie-downs are prohibited.
  • Saddle: Flat English-type ideally Lane Fox cutback style. Forward seat, Western and side saddles are prohibited.

The Horse

  • Saddle Seat Equitation horses should be energetic but still responsive to the rider's aids.  The horse should be competitive in its division (for example a Saddlebred open Equitation horse should be competitive in the Three Gaited division and a Pleasure Equitation horse should be competitive in either Show Pleasure or Country Pleasure).

  • A ground-covering smooth walk should not be so strong that its lateral movement creates too much body motion in the rider. A smooth, cadenced trot will be much more attractive than a bone-jarring concussive gait. A smooth flowing canter will enhance a rider's skills rather than the four-beat gait that shakes or vibrates the rider.

Saddle Seat Equitation Official Rules (pg.11)