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RIDER'S SEAT. SEATED TROT - TIPS

Published: 2017-01-20 15:41:18 Categories: Guides Rss feed

full seat in seated trot
 phot. flickr.com, author: Julia Chevanne

Many riders, especially at the beginning of their riding adventure, but also on a more advanced level, have troubles with seated trot - also known as a sitting trot. The position which a rider should take is the most difficult part of it. Why? Because it requires experience and body awareness, but also knowledge of the horse's motility of movement. Riders having problems with relaxing and maintaining proper position in the saddle - of the pelvis, back, head or legs - will have troubles with their body work and following their horses during sitting trot. Seated trot will be unpleasant and irritating for such riders. However, we hope that our article will make it a bit clearer and help you work on your position :) 

Sitting trot - what is it and why is it used

Seated trot requires riding in the so-called full seat, which gives the rider the possibility to fully influence the horse's body. It is usually used in dressage, thus it is the basics of not only the other forms of seats (half-seat), but also of the training for each equestrian discipline. Working on the seat is crucial for maintaining the necessary balance and condition. Full seat allows to e.g. help the horse regain his balance while taking narrow turns. Such seat is also used while working on dressage elements such as side gaits, half-pirouette etc.

Sitting trot – rider's seat

Seated trot requires full seat. This seat is considered to be the official dressage seat (basic seat). However, this formerly used term is a matter of debate today, as for many people state that such seat is very different from the classic understanding of basic seat (full seat) because of the evolution that dressage has undergone in the last decade. We'd prefer to not get involved in this discussion and stick to the classic theory of horse riding. If you're reading this article it means that your problems concern the basics and it is exactly what we would like to focus on! :) 

Dressage seat is virtually the very basis and core of work with every horse. This type of seat can vary depending on the rider's posture and the horse's height and ribs structure. The rider needs to learn to properly balance his or her body without stiffening it and clutching the horse's back.

Through seat you can either maximize or minimize your body's influence on the horse's body due to shifting your own center of gravity in relation to the horse's center of gravity. What does it mean? For example: if you lean forward and your center of gravity is "in front" of the horse's one, the animal will put more load on his front body and most probably speed up, moving his front legs faster and trying to regain the disrupted balance, which is usually done by the rider unconsciously. The case is different when it comes to side gaits, when the rider purposely load one of the horse's sides more that the other. However, you need to be aware how you are distributing your weight, where your center of gravity is and what you're trying to achieve by shifting it, because in full seat your horse feels your weight much better than during posting trot of riding in half-seat.

How should the full seat look in theory?

sitting trot position
 phot. flickr.com, author: Julia Chevanne
  1. Head - relaxed and straight. Look ahead, above the horse's ears.
  2. Back - straight, but not stiff.
  3. Shoulders - slightly pulled back, below the shoulder joints and slightly in front on the straight line of the body.
  4. Shoulder blades - slightly tucked in so the chest can open up.
  5. Elbows - gently to the sides.
  6. Wrists - straight, not bent, elastic and not stiff.
  7. Hands - in fists with closed thumbs slightly turned inwards.
  8. Elbow-forearm-wrist-fist is always a straight line that goes right to the horse's muzzle.
  9. Torso - straight, but not stiff, its weight should point downwards, it should be possible to lead a straight line through the riders ear, shoulder, hip joint and ankle joint (short: shoulder, hip, heel).
  10. Buttocks - should be in the deepest point of the saddle, rider puts his/her weight on the ischial bones, the rider's weight is evenly distributed on both buttocks and inner thighs that are relaxed.
  11. Thighs - pointing slightly inwards.
  12. Knees - flatly touching the saddle, bent in such a way that the foot is right under the rider's center of gravity, on the line of his head, spine and hips.
  13. Calves - slightly back and touching the horse's sides.
  14. Feet - in the stirrups with their wider part - metatarsus - in parallel to the horse.
  15. Heels - the rider's lowest point, the ankle joint is pointing downwards.

Working on the seat - introduction

There is no other way to improve your seat in sitting trot than to practice. The proper seat is a result of constant and regular exercises that will make your body act intuitively, which means that with time you will develop automatic behavior and strengthen crucial muscles.

Essential here is understanding that proper position in sitting trot depends on you using proper muscles. Horse at a trot uses particular muscles that while at work - move. So if you want to become "one" with your horse, your muscles must work as well. Nobody just sits in the saddle during seated trot. Sitting trot is, first of all, hard work of your abdomen and lower back muscles.

The rider follows the horse with his/her hips, that means that the rider by "pressing" the horse's back down, pushes his/her pelvis from the back to the front and upwards. Remember that your body has to be "glued" to the horse and the saddle all the time. This cannot be achieved by tightly contracting your muscles, but by "pressing" your body weight down, towards the horse's belly and by "embracing" the horse with your body, i.e. inner thighs and calves. The front and up movement will allow you to stay with the horse's movements.

To picture the position we're talking about you can use the below exercises:

1. Check if you seat properly and "deep" in the saddle.

Many riders don't seat properly in the saddle when it comes to their pelvis position. In order to check if you seat right in the saddle, move your hips to the sides. You should feel that you put the pressure on your buttocks bones - the so-called ischial bones.

A good exercise is placing your legs in front of the saddle for a moment - like when you change the length of your reins. Your leg should land straightened on your horse's shoulder blade in front on the saddle. In order to do so, you would have to move your pelvis forwards and lean on the ischial bones. Try to keep your back straight.

noga położona przed siodłem

Brown polyline - rider's proper leg position | Green polyline - leg placed in front on the saddle, source: saddlefit101.com

Then shift your leg back to where it was, to its proper place, but try not to move your hips. Ride in that position. You should feel close contact of your body with the saddle and strong support on the ischial bones. Of course, depending on how long your legs are and what kind of saddle you have, the position achieved through this exercise will be more or less proper, but its crucial task is to help you realize how the contact of your pelvis, buttocks and legs with the horse's back should feel. Try to correct the position so that your back is straight and your legs freely "flow" downwards, embracing the horse's torso. It will be easier for you to achieve proper dressage seat in such position.

It is well explained on the video below (from 3:50). It's worth watching to the end, where you can find trivia about seat.

2. Exercise with a swing.

Find a nearby playground with swings. Sit on one of them and raise your legs without moving the swing. Now, try to move the swing not using your legs, use only your upper body - i.e. abdomen and back muscles. These muscles are the ones you will use during seated trot.

3. Exercise with a chair.

Pick a chair with four legs and sit on its edge so your feet lay flat on the ground and are hips width apart. Then thrust your hips forwards with contracted abdomen muscles and straight back so the chair leans on its front legs. Gradually try to make the chair lean more and more forwards. Then put it back on all four legs. Repeat the exercise several times. The muscles working during this exercise will be necessary for sitting trot.

4. Exercise with a ball.

If you can use a big exercise ball, it's worth using :) Sit on the ball, placing your feet on the ground, hips width apart. Try to slightly push your hips forwards and lean back with your torso, flexing the muscles of your abdomen and lower back. Then, in this position, try to pull and bounce off the ball. This exercise forces your body to similar work as in sitting trot.

This exercise is shown on the video below (1:05).

Work in a saddle

Now that you know which muscles you will need during seated trot, try to recreate their work while in the saddle.

1. The simplest thing to do is to start your learning with lunge on a pretty big circle. You might use somebody's help from the ground, who would control your tempo and keep the lunge, also it is best to ride on a horse that has a calm, balanced and regular gait.

2. For the training resign from stirrups - detach them from your saddle or cross them on the horse's neck so they are on the horse's shoulder blades in front of the saddle. You will find balance easier without the stirrups. Also give up on holding the reins - without the control over your body you will only hurt your horse, pulling on his muzzle.

3. Start working on the lunge from walk - without reins, stirrups and with your eyes closed. Let your legs dangle. Try to glue your seat to the saddle, leaning on your ischial bones (like in the first exercise). Allow your hips to move along with the horse. 

Start learning the proper position for sitting trot on a long lunge, without reins and stirrups. Try to imagine that with each of the horse's steps you're supposed to push the saddle forwards and upwards. Source: practicalhorsemanmag.com, phot. Tass Jones

4. Forget about preceding the seated trot with posting or riding in half-seat. Right after walk your first position should be full seat. Try to seat properly in the saddle from the very beginning, riding at a walk. Then, without the help of a lunging person, try to ride at a trot, using your seat and legs. Imagine that with each step of your horse you want to move the saddle from his back towards his shoulder blades by thrusting your hips forwards and upwards without lifting your buttocks. Flex your belly and back muscles, but try not to stiffen your body. Your shoulder and legs should remain relaxed.  

5. Sitting trot is about maintaining the same hip movements as when you start. However, this movement has to be maintained and repeated with each of your horse's step.

6. Many riders have troubles keeping their body in a straight line during full seat and tend to lean forwards, at the same time overloading the horse's front body. It might be helpful to think about slightly leaning backwards from the straight line. What's interesting, most riders during seated trot think that they are leaning backwards, while in reality this is the exact moment when their body is in a straight line :) This is why the lunging person's knowledge and observation skills will be crucial, as he or she should tell you if your position is improper.

7. The lunging person should control the slow pace of the trot. It would be easier for your to control your body and understand how it should work, when your horse is not speeding. Additionally you can close your eyes. It will help you focus on your body's work.

Riding on lunge - sitting trot (from 5:00)

8. The rider usually can keep up with the trot's pace, but his or her hips move in the opposite direction - that is a very common mistake! If the rider moves the hips forwards in the direction of the cantle, the lunging person should point it out. The right direction is always: from the back to the front and up!

9. Remember that this exercise is very tiring for somebody who hasn't been using their abdomen muscles in such a way before :) So take frequent brakes, relaxing at a walk. While shifting between gaits, try to keep moving with your horse.

10. Don't worry if you don't feel the pace and that you might hurt your horse while bouncing off the saddle. Much more harmless is a wrongly fitted saddle (which is why it's worth purchasing a tailor-picked saddle offered by the so-called saddle fitting service)

11. If you're scared of riding without using your hands, you can catch the pommel with one finger :) However, remember that this "aide" should only serve as improving your self-confidence and help you if you happen to need to regain your balance. Why only one finger? Because you cannot lean your body weight on one finger only, and your body weight should be put on your hips and legs. 

Of course you can clutch to the pommel, but it will only contribute to prolonging the learning process :) 

12. Sometimes during one training on a lunge you might find harmony with your horse for not more than 2-3 steps. This might be frustrating, but do not give up! With each training you will see progress. Eventually sitting trot will stop being a problem :) 

13. It's not worth making the trainings too long: 5 minutes for trotting out, then 15-20 minutes for sitting trot, including breaks for walk and 5 minutes for the final trotting out is long enough (for people with weak belly muscles even that might be too long!). Remember that tired body will not listen to you, the training will be worse and worse and you will become frustrated. It's good to finish the training earlier than too late, but also to train more frequently and for short amount of time ;) A good idea is to start the ride in such a way - trotting out, lunging with sitting trot (e.g. 10 min) and then riding with stirrups on a manage. Why is it good to start from seated trot? Because the rider usually sits better in the saddle after walk than after posting trot. If you don't believe us, find out for yourselves :)   

praca na lonży kłus ćwiczebny source: gasconyholidays.info

14. In another step try to control the pace at a sitting trot - speed up and lengthen your horse's trot for a couple of steps, then return to the previous pace and step length. Such shortening and lengthening will help you better control your body and will improve your seat action. Try to influence your horse during shortening and lengthening mostly with your seat - using longer and stronger hip movements while lengthening, then returning to previous hip action. It will help you realize how powerful is your seat in horse riding, you won't even need to use your calves or reins ;) 

15. In another phase you can try riding with stirrups. It's best to lengthen them of 1-2 holes from their universal length, namely the one in which the stirrup reaches the ankle. After lengthening the stirrups should be below the ankle.

16. When you can ride with stirrups, you can ride with reins. Remember that your elbows should work like a spring, cushioning your body's movementsThat means that your body should move independently from your arms, or more precisely, from your hands. It will allow you for more gentle contact with the horse's muzzle.  

17. When you can ride on a lunge, try to shift to sitting trot on the manage's walls, riding on your own. Try to make frequent walk-trot-walk shifts, maintaining proper posture and influencing your horse mostly with your seat. Try also to lengthen and shorten your horse's steps.

We hope that our tips will prove useful for you ;)