Sitting trot is probably one of the most confounding things to master when you first begin riding, and often enough time is not invested at the beginning of your training to understanding the sitting trot, leaving riders to their own devices, of which there are many, in trying to stay in the saddle and not bounce around like a gummy bear!
Ideally, the sitting trot should be thought before the rising or posting to the trot, however because sitting trot has gotten a bad name over the past few years, this is rarely the case, leading most novice riders to think of it as difficult or hard, which does not have to be the case.
Riding a good sitting trot involves staying in the saddle and moving with your horse. No bouncing and no daylight between your backside and your horses back.
However, this is sometimes easier said than done. What happens is when your horses back moves up on the first stride of the trot, you move up with it. However as your horse’s back moves back down, you are not quite quick enough to move with your horse and your ‘coming down’ is now a fraction of a second behind your horses movement. This can be due to a number of reasons and the problems begin to present themselves when your horse’s back moves up again, while you are still on your way down. The saddle or your horse’s back will ‘bump’ you and this causes the bounce, of which two or three in a row is usually enough to put most riders off balance and results in them clinging on by any means possible!
The same effect is experienced when on a trampoline with another person, and they touch down on the trampoline before you do… Their bounce coming back up, meets your legs coming down and you usually get a huge bounce, knocking you completely off balance and sometimes off the trampoline itself!
When the bouncing begins, so do all reactive actions that riders take to try make the bouncing stop, all of which only make the bouncing worse and get the rider further and further away from their correct position, which is essential to correctly move with the horse and stop the cycle.
Common faults include gripping with upper thighs to stay in the saddle, or using your reins to balance yourself. Collapsing your upper body, rolling into an almost fetal position, gripping with knees, holding the arch at the pommel of the saddle, flapping the legs and I have even seen riders hanging on around their horses neck!! Not good folks, not good!!!
A smooth sitting trot begins with being relaxed enough to move with your horse. However many riders confuse a relaxed body with a floppy body. Relaxed means that while you are still carrying yourself, you have released all the tension from your muscles, which will then become pliable and flexible enough to allow that movement. Your hips and pelvis will certainly move up and down in the sitting trot, however there is also a slight backwards and forwards movement happening as well.
The strange thing about initially riding sitting trot is that often the best way to learn how to actually begin moving with your horse is to ride a little incorrectly, just so you can begin to really feel what is happening under you. You can then begin ‘polishing’ things up and holding a correct position for longer each time.
Firstly, make sure your legs are long and not gripping upwards. Focus on keeping your toes up, which for some reason seems easier to think of than weight into the heel in this particular situation. Also, keep your knee off the saddle. By ‘off’ I mean no gripping or squeezing, just a very relaxed knee laying gently against the saddle.
Next, look at opening your pelvis. Do this by allowing your thighs to relax and open up. Again, no gripping, or pressing… Just gently draped down over your saddle and relaxed all the time. As you ‘open your pelvis’, allow your body to sink down, so you are no longer really carrying yourself in the saddle and are actually becoming heavy.
Again, I have to stress, this is not the correct way to ride, however often when riders are stiff or tense, ‘over relaxing’ is the key to allowing them to feel for the first time, what it is like to move with their horse instead of tensing against each stride.
Once you have relaxed everything, you will probably feel almost like you are leaning back a little and are quite low in the saddle. Don’t hold this position for too long and it is uncomfortable for your horse, not to mention bad for your back, however while there try to notice how your horses back is moving underneath you. If you feel confident, you can try a few strides of a very slow trot and see how, in this ‘jelly like’ position, you stay on the saddle, not bouncing off it.
Once you can master the sitting trot in a completely relaxed position, you can begin to carry yourself again. Do this by engaging your core muscles, in particular your abdominal muscles. Notice how, when you engage the muscles in your tummy, you lift your body up. You are still relaxed, however now you are beginning to carry yourself.
Again, ask for slow, short trots, making sure not to spend too long in the gait as, until you can master carrying yourself and allowing your pelvis to follow, otherwise you will feel very heavy on your horses back and may cause him discomfort.
As you use your core to carry yourself, pay attention to how you are sitting up through your body, almost as though you don’t want your rib-cage to squash the organs underneath. Work on keeping your chest open, the points of your shoulders opened out and no ‘creases’ on the front of your tummy. Try not arch your back or pull your shoulders back, as this will only cause you to tense your lower back again, which will lead to straight back to bouncing. You must carry your upper body so your pelvis, hips and seat can indeed move with your horse
Sometimes we hear that we must try and absorb the energy, however this is often difficult to visualize or understand for many riders. If this is the case for you, rather think of moving with your horse, like a dancing partner. Each of you are responsible for carrying and supporting your own body and all the while, you move together.
Another exercise you can try is to put both reins into one hand and, bending your elbow, place your other arm behind you with your hand flat on your back. This works in two ways; you can feel what is happening with your back as you ride, but also, your elbow is now slightly behind your shoulder, which will help keep your upper body and chest area opened.
Lastly, remember to keep on relaxing through your legs so you do not grip up. A ground pointing toe is often the result of gripping up with the legs, so pay attention that legs are hanging down, with the weight going into your heel.
Again, begin by trotting 5 to 10 strides and then back to walk. Repeat until you can really begin to understand what is happening to your body as your horse trots, but also, that you don’t have to concentrate on not gripping or curling forward.
If you do run into trouble and feel like you are about to fall off at any time, lean back, push your heels down and bring your lower leg forward. Once you have regained your balance, begin working on ‘fixing’ your position again.
As I mentioned earlier allowing yourself to become heavy and completely relaxed in the saddle is not correct, however sometimes as riders we make such an issue out of our bouncing in the sitting trot, that we train ourselves to tense up in order to try prevent it. Often the easiest way to untrain this is to feel what the movement is actually like with a totally relaxed body and then begin to control our core so that it can support us and, most importantly, can move with your horse in the trot.
Once you have mastered carrying yourself and not bouncing for the shorter, slower periods of trot, you can then begin to ride longer pieces of sitting trot as you are now moving with your horse, not against him and trust me, both you and him will be happier for it!
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