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The sitting-trot wizard: attaining the golden seat

March 13, 2012

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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12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2013 2:54 am

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  2. April 9, 2013 7:44 am

    I’m confident I’ve look at this very same form of statement elsewhere, it ought to be gaining popularity with all the public

  3. May 5, 2013 10:00 pm

    I read your article “sit like a sack of potatoes you will never learn to properly sit the trot.” This is absolutely true! But do you understand WHY the sack of potatoes is successful?

    I’m writing to let you of a document that describes WHY the potatoes were successful. If we understand why, then we realize what steps are necessary to eliminate the ‘bounce’ in our sitting trot.
    Try this:
    (1) write down the reason for the bounce (i.e. why does the rider leave the saddle?)
    (2) read the document
    (3) was what you wrote correct?

    There IS a reason for the success of those potatoes!!! New riders must be informed to help them master the sitting trot!

    Good luck

  4. November 14, 2013 12:19 pm

    Its habit tricky, my horse I’m getting for x-mas knows dressage but the thing is I don’t know it please help x

  5. February 2, 2015 7:45 pm

    I’ve read and heard instructors try to explain phase 3 in different ways, but always in metaphors or elusive descriptions, at least to me (“as if someone is pulling you up by your helmet”). I want to know what muscles exactly you are using to help your horse and which muscles you are not using, that is how I could learn this lovely concept. Otherwise, there are always so many different ways to interpret how it’s explained.

    • February 2, 2015 10:48 pm

      Barbara, I agree that the descriptions always are rather vague (I found) because they didn’t describe exactly what was happening while you try to do the sitting trot. I fear that most riders don’t actually know. I am a scientist and studied chemistry and physics so these explanations were unsatisfactory for me. As I learned, I wrote down what was really happening. I wrote details on my web page
      Briefly: Physics tell you that the horse does NOT launch you into the air to cause the bumpy ride a beginner experiences. The rider himself causes ALL of the problems. The rider must not apply any forces to the stirrup at any time. The foot rests calmly, gently always. The rider’s upper body must remain firm and steady at all times (no flexing or bending neck, shoulders, elbows or anything. Once you remain steady and confident during the trot, phase one is complete. Phase two is similar to walking, while you’re perched on the trotting horse. Waist and butt will think that your legs are doing the walk. This part appears by itself through experience on the horse. — note: once you can do it, it becomes very difficult to describe what you are actually doing. That is why descriptions by experienced riders often sounds elusive and unfocussed. Best to write down what you feel and think while you are learning, so these ideas will help the next folks trying to learn. Hope this helps. Comments and ideas are welcomed!

  6. Sharon permalink
    February 5, 2015 4:01 am

    Thank you so much for this information. As a long time amateur rider, I would add that sitting in tack that is properly balanced for horse AND rider is also essential. After riding in many different situations for decades, I can finally identify when this is present or not. For most amateurs it is an all too rare situation. I believe it’s importance is not recognized because addressing it involves time and often a good deal of money, as well as a very educated instructor. I would be interested to hear others’ comments on this. Thanks again for the great description.

  7. February 5, 2015 9:13 am

    Reblogged this on kellyatthecoast and commented:
    A very good explanation.:how to sit the trot.

  8. February 5, 2015 2:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Carolyn Sharpe Rose's Blog and commented:
    This is the best explanation of the seat I have ever read. It quotes my words when teaching. Thanks you Robin for pointing this out to me.

  9. October 25, 2015 11:00 pm

    I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or weblog posts
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  10. Edyta permalink
    February 2, 2016 1:06 am

    Great article, but what exactly do you mean by “little pelvic pushes”? Is this an up and down motion? Two point (tilted pelvis) to 3 point like in phase 1, or…? Any insight would be great. Thank you!


  1. How To Sit The Trot In Dressage | Yabjoyka

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