Much has been written recently on the importance of riding without stirrups, and of sitting the trot. In order to achieve a perfectly balanced seat from which to use the aids, there is no disputing this idea.
These two sentences should really be the last two sentences in a chapter full of information on how to produce a horse comfortable with and capable of carrying a rider at the sitting trot!
Many times one hears a rider exclaim that “This horse has a difficult trot to sit!”
The response from the instructor can be varied:
- “Go slower”
- “You are not supple enough”
- “Drop your stirrups”
- “Don’t give up”
ALL of these responses are slightly wrong!
1. The movement of the horse should NEVER be sacrificed for the comfort of the rider! That would be pretty bad horsemanship.
2. You are less of the problem, probably, than the horse. He has a rigid back and cannot absorb the rider. He has possibly never been properly taught.
3. Dropping your stirrups in this moment may make you even less secure, in which case you will grip and be even more uncomfortable FOR THE HORSE!
4. Don’t give up. Ok, but CHANGE YOUR APPROACH.
To start from the beginning…the priority in educating a rider should always favor the horse. Sitting the trot is a privilege accorded to a rider whose horse is ready to carry a rider in a full seat at the trot. The horse must be well warmed up at the energetic trot. Then he must be made supple in the back (the easiest and most classic method is through shoulder-in).
It also can help prepare the horse, after these two steps, to canter and to sit the canter, beginning with a sympathetic seat until the horse remains “in shape” when the rider sits.
The warm up phase of the work cannot be skipped. From the walk at the beginning (read Denny Emerson on this point) to the energetic trot. Alois Podjaisky, then head of the Spanish Riding School, told me once, when I had the great honor of sitting next to him during the Sunday performance, that the young horses at the trot during their ride should “blow his hat off” as they passed. If you have not the time to warm up the horse in your lesson, do not take the lesson.
Most of the time when a horse is too uncomfortable to sit at the trot, the problem is in the horse, not the rider!
The horse’s back must swing and be loose. The horse’s back should also be round on top and lifting the rider. In shoulder-in, the horse discovers how to do this. The degree of the shoulder-in should correspond with the needs of the horse, not with the description in the dressage competition manual. All horses can soften their back and raise their back and stretch for the rein by doing shoulder-in. The rider must have a feeling for adjusting the degree of the movement in accordance with the horse’s understanding, as it unfolds.
BEFORE A RIDER IS INVITED TO SIT THE TROT HE MUST BE EDUCATED TO THIS DEGREE. And his instructor as well.
The sitting trot must be a real trot. If the trot is not correct, the work is badly done.
There are six forms of the trot:
- Working trot
- Collected trot
- Middle trot
- Extended trot
In America, one often sees riders sitting what is loosely termed COLLECTED trot. Usually, this is not energetic or full of impulsion as it should be, but is merely a SLOW and inactive trot. Allowing this trot is a part of the exploitation of horses that is becoming more and more prevalent in our method of bringing riders to the competition who are not really educated. Any time the movement of the horse is sacrificed for the comfort of the rider, real horsemanship takes a backward step.
The ideal trot for the equitation or young rider division is the working trot. Collected trot, properly done , is far too advanced for this discipline.
Having warmed up, and having loosened up the horse, it remains to be decided if the horse is READY for a rider to sit. Here is an easy and classic way to decide: Select the trot and the frame (or position of the horse) on which the rider will sit. With no change of speed or shape of the horse, from the rising trot, sit for three steps and then rise again.
If that goes well, from the rising trot, sit for five steps and then rise again.
If that still works, with no hollowing of the back, raising the head, slowing down, etc., try for seven steps. Finally, sit for nine steps.
By sitting an uneven number of steps, the rider is again on the correct diagonal when he begins to rise. In principle, if the horse accepts nine steps, one can sit. If the horse is stiff, no one should sit his trot, as this leads to spinal issues and tension that will limit the horse’s career.
Don’t give up. Instead go back to the shoulder-in. Many horses, once in shoulder-in at the rising trot, can accept a rider to sit three or five or seven steps IN THAT POSTURE. This is educational for the horse and for the rider!
I had the great fortune of riding Reiner Klimke’s (many times World Champion in dressage) Pascale as a five year old. He was a little bit of a bully, and would make his back hard as a rock if one tried to sit. Four years later, Reiner won the World Championship with this horse.
I arrived on Monday after the win, and he told me to ride Pascale! I was amazed to find that he was THE MOST COMFORTABLE horse I had ever ridden. Reiner never used draw reins. A horse cannot learn to swing his back, reach for the contact correctly, or find his own comfort in draw reins. Draw reins were invented for the rider.
The most important change to the rider who is learning to sit is that he must learn how to make the horse understand how to carry a rider! To simply force a horse to accept this uncomfortable chore, or to diminish the quality of the movement in order to make the rider comfortable, is not horsemanship. The horse must always be the priority.
Once the rider has prepared the horse, one can say: IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE A PERFECTLY BALANCED SEAT FROM WHICH TO USE THE AIDS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE THE NEED TO RIDE WITHOUT STIRRUPS AT THE SITTING TROT.
To skip the prerequisites and simply sit the trot with no stirrups is against the interest of the horse, and MUCH can be written about this!
Want to learn more from Julie Ulrich? Reach her for training and clinic opportunities at firstname.lastname@example.org.