Borrow a Trainer: The Sitting Trot
Horse training becomes easier if you’re able to learn body control and master the sitting trot.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm with Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal | December 9, 2013
To sit the trot, you have to understand that the rider’s position determines vertical shock absorption.
The ultimate goal is to sit the trot and keep a deep seat.
In the show ring, you will have an edge if you can master sitting the trot, following the motion of the horse with your hips in a smooth, subtle way.
For your hips to be able to move freely with the motion of the gait, you must be loose and supple through the hips. It is a very subtle, but quick, forward and back action.
You achieve that freedom of movement in your hips through a perfectly balanced body position on the horse. If your shoulders are too far forward or if you clamp with your legs in the knees or calves, that will lock your hips. You have to have a perfect alignment from shoulder to hip to back of the heel in order for the hips to move freely.
Where and how you’re sitting affects your hips, too. Don’t sit on your crotch, which is too far forward, and not on your tail bone, which is too far back. You need to sit centered on your seat bones for your hips to move freely.
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English equitation riders having difficulty sitting the trot often looking stiff, like a statue, and ride like a pogo stick on the horse’s back. A western horsemanship rider will often look too slumped.
If a rider grips with the calves too much, the knees come out, so that they’re not in contact with the saddle. If they grip too much with their thigh or knee, the lower leg comes way up.
The problem I see most riders having is not absorbing the motion low in their hips. Instead, they try to absorb it through the torso and shoulders.
If you find yourself wiggling, you are usually pinching through the thighs, knees or calves to compensate for the motion of the gait. That locks the hips.
What to Do
It takes time to master the sitting trot. You may have to build up to it, both in the speed of gait and duration.
Here’s a plan for training yourself to have a good sitting trot:
1. Master the walk and canter first.
Sitting the trot is all about following the motion of the horse. It’s easier to learn how to do that first at the walk and then the canter. Those two gaits have more forward and back motion than the trot does. They make it easier for you to feel how to follow the motion with a deep seat, your seat staying in contact with the saddle at all times.
If you find that your seat stays in contact with the saddle, then your hips are following the horse’s motion.
Once you can follow the motion of the horse with your seat in the saddle, then you can move on to perfecting the same thing at the trot, aka, sitting the trot.
2. Exercises to loosen the hips.
There are several stretching exercises you can do on your horse to increase the flexibility of your hips. Try these on a quiet horse standing still, in an arena with someone holding the horse. Then, as you advance, try them at the walk and then the trot.
- Raise your knee to your elbow and hold for a few seconds.
- Bend your leg backward from the knee and hold your ankle with your hand for a few seconds. This will get the upper thigh down and long; bringing the hip back will loosen the hip.
- Lift your leg up and forward, over the horse’s neck without touching the horse, and bring it back down. Do five lifts with each leg.
- Hold onto the cantle of the saddle and raise one knee up while stretching the other leg down five times with each leg.
- Hold on to the cantle and raise both knees up and touch them together, again for five sets.
3. Walk to trot transitions.
Try short walk to trot transitions. Feel your hips following the movement of the walk, then ask for the trot and sit the trot for a few strides, then go back down to a walk.
4. Build slowly.
Sitting a slow trot is easier than an extended trot, so start slower and work up to different stages of speed.
Increase the speed and how long you ride at that speed in increments.
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5. Sitting trot exercises.
Use trot poles down the long side of the arena to challenge how you follow the horse’s motion in a sitting trot. Start by going over just one pole and then increase the number. When you start working over the poles, place them 3 feet apart. As your sitting trot improves and you can sit an extended trot, place the poles 3.5 feet apart.
You could also simply scatter single poles throughout the arena and go over them at random, to make it a challenge for you and interesting for the horse.
6. Ride without stirrups.
Riding without stirrups is always a good exercise to help a rider improve a deep seat at any gait.
However, if you try it too early in learning to sit the trot or for too long, you will naturally develop the problem of gripping with your legs. It happens when you get tired, or you try to increase the speed and you’re not ready for it. Your seat doesn’t stay deep and balanced enough, and you start gripping with your legs.
When riders can sit more of an extended trot, then I like to have them sit the trot without stirrups in their warm-ups, even if it’s just five minutes. That doesn’t sound very long but it will feel like it is when you do it.
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