After examining mechanics, movement and rhythm, HN’s queen of trotting, Biz Stamm, concludes her how-to trilogy with several strength-building exercises.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been
boring you with explaining the mechanics of the sitting trot. This week, in the exciting conclusion to my epic trilogy (take that, Peter Jackson!), I will go through some exercises that will help you follow your horse’s motion.
Chances are, if you’ve gone home and tried to apply the concepts I’ve previously explained, you’ve come away from your rides with a sore lower back and sore abdominals. These muscles will get stronger as you sit more, but you can speed the process along by doing a few simple exercises.
Trunk raises are a fantastic way to tone your lower back. Lie face down on the ground with your hands under your chin. Gently raise your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. Return to starting position. Start of with a few repetitions of this exercise to gauge your comfort level, and then increase the number of repetitions accordingly.
A great exercise help strengthen your lower abdominals is something known as a leg raise. It’s a very simple yet very effective exercise that involves raising your feet off the ground and holding them up for as long possible. The closer you hold your feet to the ground, the more difficult the exercise becomes. Below you see Gus providing some extra incentive for me to keep my legs up!
The best oblique (abdominal) exercise I’ve found that has seriously helped my sitting trot, I learned in a belly dancing class. Belly dancing involves isolating different abdominal muscles to create movement in your hips without moving your upper body. Talk about developing an independent seat! My absolute favorite move is known as the hip arc, and it essentially involves drawing an arc in the air with your hip. Start with your right foot flat on the ground and your left foot on point slightly in front of you. Contract your abdominals of the left side to raise your left hip. Release your abdominal and press your hip down and back. Contract your abdominal again to raise your hip, and then release back into starting position. This exercise can be done slowly to develop control in the muscle or quickly to add a cardio component. I personally like to do one minute of slow hip arcs followed by one minute of quick hip arcs on both sides.
Things to do in the saddle
I know you’ve probably all heard this a million times, but ride with no stirrups. Seriously. DO IT! It’s good for so much more than solidifying leg position. If you can, have someone lunge and attach a pommel strap (A.K.A. “oh $h!t” handle) to your saddle. Use the pommel strap to pull your seat deep into the saddle, and really concentrate on the motion of the horse.
Secondly, spend some time in your half seat. As a dressage rider, I spend most of my time sitting in a deep seat with unreasonably long stirrups. I’ve found that by forcing myself to ride around in my half seat from time to time, I stretch my calves, allowing me to keep my heels down while sitting, and get one heck of a thigh and core workout.
Lastly, force yourself to sit more often. I know it can be hard, and maybe sometimes embarrassing to flail around in front of your barn mates, but everyone that has learned to ride has been in your shoes. You can understand every single aspect of sitting trot mechanics, but unless you take time to learn the feel of it, you can never expect to get better. So there you have it, Horse Nation. My sitting trot manifesto.