The sitting-trot wizard: attaining the golden seat
Executing an effective and comfortable sitting trot is probably the most difficult challenge faced by amateur dressage riders. For most, it is hard to get your body in sync with the horse while still riding effectively. It is like the old hot and cold taps, where you can only have one or the other on at one time : )
The biggest mistake made by most amateurs is that they try to learn the sitting trot in one step. In other words, they try to go from not even being able to get in the rhythm - all the way to being in perfect sync with the horse. Many riders try methods such as riding half a circle sitting and then back to rising, or another favourite, being lunged with no stirrups. Unfortunately, a lot of these traditional methods cause the rider to clamp up even more and give the horse a bruised back. Not ideal.
I propose a phased approach:
Phase one: sit heavy
Before you can have the perfect sitting trot, you as a rider need to learn how to put weight in the saddle. I know many instructors say not to sit heavy like a sack of potatoes as it will not help your horse’s animation. Although this is true, I believe that UNTIL you can learn to sit like a sack of potatoes you will never learn to properly sit the trot. Many riders hover in the saddle and kind of do a fake sitting trot, which looks stilted and awkward. Technically, they are sitting on their seat bones and pinch with the knees. In order to keep the balance with this configuration their seat has to be tense and their pelvic floor raised. It is actually quite an unstable way of riding and it astonishes me that so many riders opt to stick with this method of riding. Clearly, it does take more time and strength to ride a proper sitting trot, but I believe the extra bit of effort is well worth it.
But back to sitting heavy… If you’ve gotten to the point in your riding that you either want to finally learn a proper sitting trot or would like to try sitting trot for the first time than you need to start at phase one. The basic instructions are as follows: 1. go into a slow trot from a walk 2. don’t TRY to sit the trot, instead focus on feeling your pubic bone and seat bones as the three point contact in your saddle 2. once you feel your points of contact, make sure you are sitting up tall and let your full weight rest on these three points.
It is important to keep your horse slow during phase one. Again, the advice many of us get is to keep “riding the horse”. But you must be realistic. At this stage, no matter how much better it would be for you to school your horse while trying to learn the sitting trot, it isn’t going to happen. Your best bet is to let your horse go nice and slow and if possible let them have a soft long contact where they are stretching for the bit. This stretch will help lift their back, which will make it easier for you to sit. Many will feel that they look ridiculous mincing around, sitting like a sack on their horse. You must ignore this for now. You must get used to the idea of allowing your full weight to sit on your three points and by doing so your pelvic floor will relax and lower, which is essential before moving to phase two. Practice your sitting trot near the end of your ride when you and your horse are warmed up. Don’t move on to the next phase until you feel like you’ve had success here first.
Phase two: animate your seat
Once you feel like it is second nature that you are sitting on your seat bones and your pubic bone rather than putting your weight on your seat bones and knees, you are ready for phase two.
The instructions are as follows: 1. from a walk ask your horse to go into a slow trot 2. sit heavy as you did before with your three point contact 3. this time you are going to tilt your pelvis (think of a speed boat as it takes off, or if you do yoga think of warrior pose) 4. now shut your eyes for a moment and feel the rhythm of the horse, count in your mind the trot steps 1-2-1-2-1-2 5. with your tilted pelvis I want you to animate your seat, not back to front but in little pelvic pushes 6. as you do so you will notice you don’t feel as heavy in the saddle, but the weight that is still there should still be resting on your three points 7. this is the critical piece of phase two – STAY IN FRONT OF THE MOTION. If you try to keep the rhythm of your seat with the horse’s gait you will always be a bit behind the motion. In your mind, you must attempt to stay in front of the motion, what you will accomplish instead is that you will just be in sync. A good example to demonstrate what happens when you are behind the motion can be found when using a trampoline. Have you ever heard the term, stealing someone’s bounce? This happens when you are bouncing on a trampoline with a friend at the same time and one of you slightly bounces just after the other, the first bouncer gets a dead tramp and instead of bouncing high doesn’t go anywhere. This is what happens to your horse when you are behind the motion. You steal his bounce and you as the rider get bounced even higher.
Phase three: lift
Most riders don’t get past phase two, but if you want to help your horse reach collection you will need to move beyond it. If you keep practicing, you can have a pretty decent position riding in phase two and feel reasonably comfortable at the sitting trot. Phase three is all about helping your horse out, where phase two is about trying not to interfere with your horses motion. In phase three, the idea is to use your seat and body to help animate your horse. Every time your horse lifts his back (and if you were posting you would be rising), you, the rider also actively lift your seat to help the horse get the maximum animation possible for that stride.
The instructions are as follows: At this point, you are very comfortable in phase two and are in perfect sync with your horses movement. You are not interfering with their gait and you are able to stay in the sitting trot for an extended period of time. As you begin to enter phase three you will make the following changes to your approach and position. 1. instead of simply doing the pelvic pushes to stay in sync you will now sit even taller in the saddle and actually lift your body straight up during the rise stage of the gait as though someone is pulling you upwards by your helmut. 2. As you work through this change you will notice that you feel like you are almost bouncing in the saddle, don’t be alarmed this is normal 3. you will also notice after a while that you almost feel like you are – in a sense – standing in your tack and getting more stability from your upper inner thighs than your seat, this is also normal. 4. Ultimately, you will be able to aid your horse, providing them with more balance and lift than they would offer without a rider – when this happens you know you’ve attained phase three.
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