Surprisingly, there's actually a time and place for it. Our in-house cowgirl Kristen Kovatch explains.
As a riding instructor and coach, I get the opportunity to explain a lot of new concepts and tips to college-age equestrians. This aspect of the job never gets old—I love watching the “light bulb” moments in which a student gets it, and it’s even better when they can go apply what they’ve just learned. Sometimes, of course, the lessons are as simple as answering a question, and one question that I get a lot when new students are watching me exercise or school a horse western is “Why are you posting?”
My smart-aleck answer which I usually refrain from actually giving back is “The same reason we post in an English saddle.” I can understand the confusion, however. For a lot of lay equestrians, especially hunt seat riders whose western preconception tells them only that western riders sit the jog, the idea of posting is strictly English and seems to go against the point of everything that makes my discipline inherently, well, western—it’s not in keeping with the image of the lazy-loping pleasure horse whose jog is as smooth as silk.
But to get to those effortless-looking collected gaits, I’m still looking for impulsion, hind-end energy and uphill motion. If I sit on my western pleasure horse and ask for that slow jog from the get-go, I’m going to get a forehand-heavy shuffle, feeling roughly like I’m tumbling downhill on square wheels. The posting “long trot” is my go-to gait to start building the motor I need in order to get true collection.
There are other benefits—it’s a useful gait to get my horses physically and mentally warmed up, work any shenanigans out of their system and stretch themselves out. Some of the best Quarter horse judges will extend the jog in a rail class before they want to see the horses do anything else for many of the same reasons—the quality of gait after the horses are allowed to “open up” a little is way higher than if they are put right into the super-collected pleasure gaits.
This is not to say that my long-trot warm-ups are a huge free-for-all for the horses—I’m still seeking contact on the bit, engagement in the hindquarters and a balanced step. The long-trot should not be confused with a careening, heavy-on-the-forehand trotting frenzy; there needs to be connection from leg to hand.
I’m not the first one to figure this out—western trainers have been long-trotting their horses forever. Many western disciplines, especially speed games, don’t require a sitting jog (or a jog at all, for that matter) and you might see riders posting the trot at all times. Cowboys on the range always post the trot, having learned long ago just like their hunt seat comrades that the posting trot is not only the most comfortable when you’re covering long distances at a good clip but it produces balanced, evenly-muscled horses when you switch up your diagonals.
It’s true—that saddle horn can make for some nasty collisions if you’re not paying attention. But the posting trot is one of the most beneficial gaits for the western horse to encourage true, balanced collection.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team and teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving. She has shown reined cow horse, reining, western pleasure, and draft horses, as well as dabbled in hunt seat equitation. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins and Ranch and Reata.