Fit to Ride: The sitting trot

Are you fit to sit? Horse Nation fitness guru Biz Stamm gets to the core of the sitting trot, starting with the mechanics of its motion.

From Biz:

When most people imagine a physically taxing activity, they imagine something involving motion.  Things like running, jumping, and lifting heavy objects are activities that are typically associated with physical strength.  For this reason, it often comes as a shock that one of the most difficult things to do on a horse is sit still, particularly at the trot.  We’ve all seen riders who appear to effortlessly float along while their horses bound around the arena.  It’s a hallmark of good riding, not only because it looks nice, but because it’s incredibly effective.

Riding instructors often tell their students to “relax” and “just go with the horse,” but a very wise Heather Blitz once said, “If sitting the trot was as easy as relaxing, more people would be good at it.” Truer words have never been said.

Over the past year with lots of hard work (along with some excellent insight from my own instructor) I have done my best to dissect the sitting trot and refine my own seat.  In the process I’ve come across some great exercises both in and out of the saddle that tone the muscles necessary to effectively absorb the motion of the horse. There is a lot to talk about here, so over the next several weeks I’m going to share some of the insight I’ve gained and demonstrate some exercises I found that will help keep your butt glued to the saddle.

Part 1: The trot dissected

Sitting the trot is all about effectively absorbing the motion of the horse. In order to do this effectively, we must understand how the horse moves at the trot, and how the movement of the horse moves us in the saddle.  So here’s what I want you to do.  Saddle up your horse and put him/her on the lunge line.  Ask for the trot and then watch the deepest part of your saddle.  From the side, what you’re likely to see is a pattern of movement similar to the one pictured below, a series of arcs.

Let’s look closely at one of the arcs.  You’ll notice that the stride goes up, down, and then stops abruptly as the horse makes contact with the ground. That “bump” at the bottom of each stride is generally what jars the rider out of place.

So that’s what the trot looks like from the side.  What if you were able to get a bird’s-eye view?  Here’s what you would see if you followed the center of your saddle, a zigzagging pattern that follows the swing of the horse’s back.

A horse’s back swings from side to side during the trot.  Most people are able to easily feel the swing of the horse’s back at the walk, but I’ve found that most people (myself included) don’t notice the swing at the trot until it’s pointed out.

So now we know there is an up-and-down aspect as well as a side-to-side aspect of the stride that we must accommodate in order to stay with the motion of the horse.  Next week we’ll get to the “core” of the issue (pun intended) and discuss some exercises that can help stabilize your position during those “bumps.”

Go riding!

Top photo: Jocelyn Gatewood and Social Misfit

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