English Riding: Hunt Seat

Commonly called “forward riding,” Hunt Seat is the style of riding most people think of when they hear the term “English riding.” Developed from the tradition of mounted foxhunting, Hunt Seat was originally geared toward riding cross-country at a walk, trot, canter and gallop, and includes jumping. A horse with natural, ground-covering strides that are sweeping and low to the ground is the ideal in this discipline. Thoroughbreds, Thoroughbred types and warmbloods are well suited to Hunt Seat riding.

In the show ring, horses and riders competing in Hunt Seat classes negotiate manmade jumps that resemble rural livestock fencing and other obstacles typically encountered in the hunt field. The idea is to test the horses’ ability to travel safely and comfortably across country at speed. As the horse’s speed increases, riders—who hold their hands low in this discipline —lean forward with the motion. When jumping, the rider gets up out of the saddle to allow the horse more freedom to clear the obstacles.

Though different designs are available to accommodate specific activities, a Hunt Seat saddle generally has forward-cut flaps and knee rolls (cushions or blocks where the rider’s knee goes) to help position the rider’s leg when jumping. The front of the saddle is called a pommel, and the back of the seat is the cantle. At either side of the saddle’s seat is a short skirt. Adjustable stirrup leathers attach under this skirt on each side; at the end of each stirrup leather is a metal stirrup to hold the rider’s foot. A girth is used to strap the saddle onto the horse.

A Hunt Seat bridle has a browband that goes over the forehead and a crownpiece that goes behind the horse’s ears, with adjustable cheekpieces on either side that hold the bit in the horse’s mouth. A loosely buckled strap called a throatlatch runs from below the browband around the horse’s jaw at the point where it connects to the neck. A Hunt Seat bridle is properly equipped with a noseband or cavesson. The types of bits used in modern Hunt Seat riding are generally snaffles, pelhams or variations of these basic types.

The overall look with Hunt Seat tack is dark and conservative, with ornamentation generally limited to occasional fancy stitching, especially on the bridle.