It's a mantra that has been chanted throughout the ages: Develop an independent seat and hands.
But when I look around, I have to think the concept has fallen by the wayside. How could that be?
When a rider lacks strength and balance, as virtually all beginning riders do, it is pretty much impossible to break the invisible bond that exists between the seat and hands. If a horse shoots forward, the rider is thrown backward and their hands go up, jerking on the horse's mouth. That's pretty much an insurmountable force of nature for a novice.
And yet, we've all seen instances where horses make spectacular moves - jumping, bucking, spinning, sliding - and all the while the rider sits softly with quiet contact on the reins.There is never an unintentional jerk on the mouth. How do they do that?
Miles and miles of correct riding. The result is strong core muscles, a soft and effective leg that stays perpendicular to the ground, and hands that can follow, and sometimes oppose, the horse's mouth, always in communication and without causing pain.
There are a variety of exercizes that lead to independent seat and hands: Touch your toes while mounted on a standing horse. The touch your toes while the horse is moving. Post the trot without holding your reins. Post the trot without stirrups. Post the trot with your arms straight out to the side, held shoulder-high. Jump small fences with no stirrups. Jump small fences without your reins. Jump small small fences with your arms out to the side. Jump small fences with you eyes closed.
In my day, these were exercises all young riders did to develop balance and coordination. It's something riders should be doing now.
If some of these things scare the crap out of you, pick what you can do and work on it. The stronger your core, the more secure your seat will be, and the quieter your hands - and that's all the better for your horse.. Start becoming a rider your horse can trust.