I guess most of you would say no to self-assessment question # 8 : Are you bouncing in the saddle? but I am specifically thinking about sitting trot. Now if I ask again, what would your answer be? For many of you the answer will still be no, but for many more I’m sure it’s a resounding yes.
Whilst you are learning sitting trot, absorbing the shock waves created by the horse’s movement means you get ‘out of phase’ with movement and begin to feel the bounce. In the trot, here’s what is happening …
- As your horse begins to trot his back comes up and lifts you in the saddle with him.
- As his back goes down your seat should follow at the same speed.
- You come down slower and your horse’s back begins to travel up again with the next phase of the stride.
- You are still descending and your seat bumps on the saddle.
- The effect bounces you higher making you even slower to get down into the saddle.
- Your horse’s back comes up again and you bump the saddle again.
It is at this point that you experience an overwhelming desire to tense your body in order to keep it still, unfortunately as you do this you are opposing the motion of your horse’s back muscles, which are moving. It follows then that in order for you to stay connected in the saddle you must also move, particularly in the core area encompassing lower back, abdomen and pelvis.
We all know it is so much easier to use the leg’s twelve adducting (gripping) muscles when ‘out of phase’ occurs because they jump in with what they do naturally – adduct. This gripping action prevents gravity from allowing you down as fast as your horse’s back gets down. Your heroic attempts to sit still make you rigid and so you bounce out of phase with your horse. You become caught in a vicious circle; you bounce because you are gripping and you grip because you are bouncing.
There is a way you may have figured out to partially lessen the bounce you are experiencing. It is to open or extend your hip angle and lean back behind the vertical. Like the rider in the picture opposite, this is probably the rider solution you will see most often. It is not a good solution, because it impairs your effectiveness, stretches ligaments around your spine, causes pain, and can set you up for chronic degenerative back problems. It’s bad for your horse because it interferes with his balance and movement. And it’s bad for doing dressage because it diminishes control, communication, and effectiveness and encourages your horse to go on the forehand.
The alternative is much harder to achieve. When your horse reaches the top of his up phase (which is the moment of suspension) you have to consciously think about going back down with the saddle, waiting for gravity will be too late. You have to exert this forward motion with each stride in a two-time rhythm. The trouble starts when you don’t go down with the saddle. You will almost certainly be trying to sit still and this will end with the unavoidable slap up the backside. You will need to engage the abs and when you can get down at the same time as your horse’s feet hit the ground you’ll be right there, ready to come up again with him from the bottom of his stride.
Staying In Contact With The Saddle
Sitting the trot is all about keeping yourself with 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. You are working towards being able to feel how to stay with the motion in trot with a deep seat, staying in contact with the saddle at all times and this is what you almost certainly can do in walk, and can more easily do in canter. Notice how in the walk and canter your seat stays in contact with the saddle, then notice how your hips are with the horse’s motion. If you have mastered this, moving onto sitting trot will be less demanding.
We need to engage our abdominal muscles whilst keeping our bottom, thighs and knees relaxed. Get the feel of your core by growling ‘Grrrr’; feel the muscles firm up in the sides of your waist, and even in your back? Clear your throat or cough to produce the same result.
Now try to reproduce that feel without growling, just using your muscles.
This post is an extract from my forthcoming e-book, “Sitting Trot – Pic N Mix Solution” which will be available when the new website is launched. Hopefully very soon!