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Sitting Trot
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Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Tue Feb 7th, 2012 11:35 pm
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Dr. Deb, you said good coaches can tell us the key to this, and I thought of Sally Swift, whose books you've recommended - I bought the books and she's wonderful.
One of the things Sally keeps pointing out about the way horses move is that at trot, the left half of the horse's back falls while the right half rises, and then the reverse on the next stride. I know, duh. But it's how you use it:
As Sally guides you through a simulation of sitting trot, she says that as the horse's back rises and falls, it's a lot more comfortable for him if you "back pedal," so your seat drops a little, on the same side as the horse's back, at each stride.
You never sit square - you sit plumb of course, but not square - i.e. you don't keep your weight centered and constant. That would hamper the horse because it'd bring too much of your weight to bear on whichever side he's raising.
Best,
Cynthia
While out here away from my horse, I've been doing some qi gong. It makes you very aware of weight shift, and also of not blocking the flow of your energy. There's a good over-an-hour video, if anyone wants the name just please send me a private message.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 12:10 am
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Yes, Cynthia, this is the answer. The key to sitting the trot is to realize that the trot motion is not PRIMARILY one where the animal throws you up and down -- rather that his back pushes you FROM SIDE TO SIDE.

The key to being able to sit the trot is, as Swift says at one point, to "imagine tennis balls shooting DOWNWARD out of your knees in time with the rhythm."

The rider's thighs go DOWN on the right, then with the next diagonal, they go DOWN on the left. So as you go trotting, you think to yourself: "down left, down right, down left, down right".

To do this, you do not need to have, and you should NOT have, a "jelly belly". What you should have is pre-existing good tonus or good fitness with the core muscles of your body. You bring that to the situation; you import it as a fact already true. Then, when you get on the horse, you make no effort whatsoever to either relax or to "use" the core muscles. The elasticity and resilience of the fit muscles themselves is all that is required and the best thing you could have.

You do sit up as Isabel describes, and it's not a bad thing for posture generally (for preventing a round upper back) to practice having your scapulas flat and pushing them downward (i.e. making your lower trapezius muscles more fit). But WHILE you are riding, you make NO EFFORT AT ALL.

When the person does not have the key to sitting the trot -- which is the understanding that the trot is fundamentally a side to side motion not an up and down or back and forth motion -- so when they do not have this key, they cannot sit with what the horse is actually doing; they try to sit instead with what they THINK HE SHOULD BE doing. Which is comical when you think of it. I had this difficulty myself for years -- could not sit the trot at all -- so I know whereof I speak when I tell you how tremendous the effort required to insist on one's intellectual preconceptions actually is. It nearly killed me, it put huge hypertrophies on the adductor muscles of my legs, and it fairly seriously damaged the muscles and bones of my lower back. Luckily I worke up in time, and that was the point at which I met Sally Swift. She had me in one clinic for a total of two days, and I arose from that clinic and went forth and have never had the slightest difficulty sitting the trot on any "reasonable" horse at any time since.

Those adductor hypertrophies came about through gripping, which is another thing Swift will teach you never to do. At no time is it good to grip a horse's sides, and I can tell you some funny stories about horses who tried to teach me this in my days of struggle with sitting the trot. This is why I grilled the original questioner in this thread a little bit over the point where she was suggesting that she "GLUE" herself into the saddle. Not by Elmer's or household Goop, I'll warrant; that's just a figure of speech. What it really has to mean is that she was intending to HOLD HERSELF ON -- and that of course can only be done by gripping with the legs. You see, the whole problem simply evaporates when you have the key to sitting the trot, because when you realize that it isn't even about going up and down, but instead is about going side to side, then all that uncomfortable bouncing just stops. And when the bouncing stops, the pain from the bouncing stops, and the rider can relax and breathe freely again; she does not have to stiffen her waist in order to prevent fractures or pinched disks in the curvature of her lower back; she does not have to protect herself. And when there is no more bouncing, there is no more need to grip on, because the rider will not, in fact, be in any danger of bouncing right off.

And of course it is also true, as Swift teaches, that the rider who grips, to the degree that she grips, must also stiffen her waist; and a stiff waist cannot follow the side-to-side motion. You therefore must never grip, even when you feel somewhat out of balance. This is why I never take students' stirrups away from them in the early lessons; there is no benefit to riding without stirrups until the student can ride in perfect relaxation with them. Taking the stirrups away before the student has her balance -- a perfect familiarity with all the wiggling that goes on in the horse's spine that she must follow -- only teaches the student to grip, crippling their ability to progress. If you feel out of balance, have your stirrups correctly adjusted, and use them like "training wheels".

The long and short of it is that if it is not EFFORTLESS I do not want to be doing it, and I believe that nobody SHOULD be trying to do it.

Now, what I mean by a "reasonable" horse is important, and this is what Adam was indicating at the top of this thread and also pointed out by Evermore -- that the horse must be in balance. Therefore, when we hear from the dressage competitor that their horse is a "huge mover" and therefore hard to sit, we just smile: because their horse may indeed be a huge mover, but that is not why he is difficult to sit. He is difficult to sit because he is stiff and shoved off his balance by the rider and her philosophy of training: in short, he is a CRAPPY big mover.

He will be just as delightful to sit as any correctly trained horse that moves in elastic balance as soon as he is taught how to move in balance and as soon as the rider insists at every moment that he do so.

Now, to round this up and go back to one more thing in the original inquiry: it is quite incorrect to draw a dichotomy between sitting and posting. Sitting and posting are one and the same, the exact same thing.

One may sometimes see Enduro competitors -- people who do not even when in an arena know how to sit the trot, and who often also have never been taught how to post. One may see them coming down the road lickety-split on a stiff, over-conditioned, and crookedly-moving horse, and they will be riding in what I term "pseudo half-seat". They stand in the stirrups just enough so that their crotch clears the seat of the saddle, and thus they neither sit nor post. Nor are they really in half-seat either.

And the reason for this is that they are just "astride" their horses as a clothespin would ride astride the clothesline. They are wooden; they are just as stiff as their horses if not stiffer; and thus they do not move with the horse, even the small amount that is required for a real half-seat.

So, once you learn to sit the trot then you may begin to learn how to post correctly. To post correctly, you do not push down in the stirrups; you do not grip the horse's sides; you do not think about or try to go up and down in time with the rhythm.

What you do instead is you do the very same thing that you do when you sit: your body goes down-and-forward on the left and then it goes down-and-forward on the right. As your thigh goes down, you SWING your hip/buttock/abdomen forward on that side. The idea is not to go up; the idea is to swing your crotch forward, thinking of dinging a bell on the pommel.

Then you sit down. The most important thing that the rider does in posting is the part where they sit down. The sitting down must be thorough, not just a wee little touch and up again. Sit DOWN, and make very little effort to rise; the horse should provide 90% of the power for that.

Now when you post this way, you will find out that you can be "posting small" -- so small that it's like you were "sitting big" -- your fat and your flesh stays right where it was, only your bones move up inside of that. You don't peel any air between your crotch or thighs and the saddle when "posting small" or "sitting big". Sitting big comes in very handy when encouraging the horse to lengthen stride; you give him more of a place to come up into.

You can also, of course, post big enough to where you do clear the saddle. It's just a matter of degree. But at no time do you post up and down, any more than you sit thinking that the most important thing to do when sitting is that you go up and down.

Nor must you think of posting as being better for the horse. If you sit well, it does not matter if you have a young horse and sit on him all the time. This is the normal practice of most Western horsemen and also of the mounted bullfighters. The reason for preferring to sit is that, because posting involves shifting your weight from back to front (not up and down), it has a tendency to throw the horse onto the forehand. There will come a point, sooner or later, when your horse and you both get to where you can feel this and you will know that it is detrimental to your ride, so you won't do it.

Posting was not invented to make the horse more comfortable; rather, to save the back of the rider who, because it's his job or his belief, feels that he has to ride horses that move out-of-balance in the trot and are thus very hard to sit. On such a horse, by all means you should post -- if trot you must at all. My preference with an animal like this would be, however, to first teach him to take even one forward step at a walk in proper balance -- and then two steps. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

A.S.
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 12:38 am
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DrDeb wrote:
The key to being able to sit the trot is, as Swift says at one point, to "imagine tennis balls shooting DOWNWARD out of your knees in time with the rhythm."

The rider's thighs go DOWN on the right, then with the next diagonal, they go DOWN on the left. So as you go trotting, you think to yourself: "down left, down right, down left, down right".



At one point, my riding instructor offered this visualisation - to pretend you are riding a bicycle and make tiny, almost invisible cycles with alternating legs similar to pedalling. Although unfortunately not accompanied by any sort of explanation of the why, the resulting sideways weight shifts made an immediate difference in my sitting trot.

champspartner
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 12:55 am
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My thanks to everyone, for giving me so much to contemplate .....CP

sammy
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 08:12 am
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The greatest change in riding sitting trot came for me when a trainer pointed out that I was (unconsciously) moving the two sides of my body independently and with the movement of the two sides of the horse's body, and that this was what should be happening. Once I became AWARE of this, it became so much easier to sit the trot on other horses - the first horse was a beautifully trained school horse belonging to a classical trainer, so I certainly had something easy to sit on in order for that valuable lesson to take place.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 04:07 pm
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Yes, Sammy, this is a great point. Sally Swift says "think of your body being split from the crotch upward to the breastbone". Then allow the two halves of your body to work separately -- for, just as we have also told you that your hands must go with the horse's feet, so also must your body go with his feet. What the feet are doing is perceived by the seat as what the horse's back is doing; of course, because the horse's own feet and his own back coordinate in a certain predictable way at each gait. So you let your seat go with his back, recognizing that the feet are never square except at a halt, and nor is the back ever square either. -- Dr. Deb

Jeannie
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 Posted: Wed Feb 8th, 2012 06:54 pm
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A while ago I was inspired by one of Allen Pogue"s photos to get right behind the horse's tail while he had a neck rope on with reins long enough for me to hold them. I asked him for a slow, collected trot, and sighted over his back as he moved. I was astounded by how much movement was going on all at the same time. The neck was pulsing, the shoulders and hips were going up and down as well as side to side, the ribs were going back and forth, I could hardly keep track of it all. Usually I am on his side, so get a much flatter visual as to movement. It was easy to see how a rider could interfere with all that the horse needs to do to trot and still keep his body freed up.
           Jeannie

ilam
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 Posted: Thu Feb 9th, 2012 05:24 pm
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That all sure gives me a lot to think about! The sitting trot was always for me the hardest thing to learn, and I still now use too much effort to do it. My horse has a big moving trot, so he is great to learn on, it is almost mandatory if I want to trot him for any extended period of time, which is what I am shooting for in the future. I'll try the bicycle imagery next time and see what I feel.

Isabel

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Feb 9th, 2012 05:31 pm
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Isabel, besides doing what has already been suggested here as far as your own body goes, I would also tell you that in all likelihood your horse is not moving in correct balance at the trot. If he were moving right, you would not be having any great difficulty.

Therefore, the first step will be to ask the horse -- or teach him, if necessary -- to trot as slowly as possible. Make a game out of seeing how slow he can go, and make it a priority to have this be as soft and relaxed as possible.

Practice halting and then starting up into this slow, relaxed trot. See how soon you can eliminate any walk steps, so he steps right into the trot out of the halt.

While you do this, feel of his tongue and feel of his feet. Try to feel the hind feet through your seat more than you feel his front feet through your hands. Get it so the two halves of your butt step along with his hind-foot steps, like as if you were walking on your butt.

I also want you to go get Mike Schaffer's new E-Book, if you haven't already, and review either in that or in the printed "Right from the Start" how to teach a horse to step up into a trot in balance. Mike does not so much talk about softness, which we think is a priority; nonetheless, his horses are generally soft and you do need to learn how to obtain a trot in which the animal's balance is not cast forward.

When you have done this, I predict that you'll have no further trouble at any future time with sitting the trot. This is a description of what a "reasonable" trot is; it is a correct trot. From this, and only from this, will you later be able to ask the horse to up the energy, even to giving every ounce of energy he has to give; and then you will be able to easily sit that, too, because it will be just as correct as it was when you were going slower and at lower level of energy. -- Dr. Deb

ilam
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 Posted: Thu Feb 9th, 2012 06:18 pm
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Ok, just downloaded it :-) I have no doubt that correct balance is an issue, I have ridden him crooked in gait for years and just now am learning the feel of straightness and balance. I feel like I occasionally obtain moments of it, but am still far from maintaining it for longer and currently cannot ask him to do any leg yielding at a trot, he will lose the trot immediately and start gaiting. I am sure what you just suggested is what we need to do. The hard part for me is to keep it a game... I get mentally wound tight easily, so the idea of letting things happen is still a mental effort, but I know it is the only way to get it right.

The whole thread we had a while back about the "slow corner" has made a huge impact as well, so I ride him now with that in mind, I have seen big improvements, there has been more progress in the last few months than I had in the last few years, just realizing those seemingly little things.

Isabel

ilam
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 Posted: Sat Jan 17th, 2015 02:05 am
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So I have been thinking about what my favorite threads are (and there are a bunch, I will have to look up what I have printed in my binder to look for keywords to be able to dig up some of the others), since this topic is now again current for me I found this one for now.

I saw video clip online a week or so ago that had a wonderful animation in it, showing how the horse's back moves from side to side at the trot, also showing the V it should form with the legs. After some digging I found what original film this clip came from (this is an excerpt). It is in German, the section is at 1:09 minutes. It then also shows what happens to the movement if you ride the wrong way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRyEUuPWP7s


Isabel


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