Monday, July 18, 2011

A Riding Video About Contact, Sitting Trot, and Connection

My husband recorded this video after we warmed up in walk and rising trot.  I wanted to show how Harley has learned to lift his back up to my seat in trot with minimal rein contact.  I like that he is willing to make contact with my seat without aids asking him to go on the bit or lift his back.  Some horses may offer their backs from the start, but this is a skill and body awareness which Harley has been growing as we ride together.  He has taught me to stay light on my feet and seat, so that I can vary the distribution of my weight in the saddle.

Some things to look for and the elusive sitting trot:
  1. Harley's swinging tail
  2. My swinging bellybutton, which returns my pelvis to neutral
  3. Harley's long neck and lifted back: he lifts up the saddle.
  4. Harley experiences a "release" when he walks and stretches his neck and back
  5. My feet in the stirrups: I trot with the horse by alternating some of the weight in each stirrup in rhythm with Harley's steps and tempo.
I have relearned sitting trot more times than any other riding skill.  I was never taught what to do with my legs or stirrups except to "relax".  Sitting without stirrups builds confidence and may help the student find the seat, but I strongly advocate learning to sit the trot WITH stirrups.  I find that this step is often overlooked once a student can perform sitting trot stirrup-less.  I did not have too much trouble sitting without stirrups, but adding the stirrups back in was another story.  The rider must learn not to brace against the stirrup or float above the stirrup by clenching the leg, which are two mistakes that I had to unlearn.  I used the latter to "fake it" in order to avoid a scolding from my first dressage instructor.  What I needed to know was that an effective way to sit the trot was with a neutral pelvis and by gently sinking my weight into the right and left stirrup alternately and in time with the horse.  This is something that was never explained to me, but I learned to do with Harley by standing in the stirrups in trot.  You cannot remain standing unless you trot with the horse.  The same skill is required to sit!

This is a riding paradox.  
 You must stand in order to sit.  

Of course, none of this will work if your horse is not offering his back with softness and forwardness.  Attempting to sit on a braced back can be detrimental to the horse.

Once we move on to rising trot, Harley and I begin to have a conversation about contact.  The tempo is slow, which helps Harley focus on carrying as we warm up.  I do not "set his head".  I ask him to move forward and I receive the contact which he creates as our conversation progresses.  I am not concerned with the steadiness or perfectness of his head carriage.  He will settle in the rein contact when we find the length of neck that allows him to balance comfortably.  My priority is to meet the connection he offers with support, but softness in my wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  This is a challenge which I must rediscover every single time that I ride.  Forcing it to happen instantly tightens my shoulders (my personal brace), which blocks a working connection.  We can increase the power and energy of his trot once we have reached an understanding in this all important discussion about contact.


    1. You two look so in tune with each other. Really nice. I could see you smile when he really relaxed down, that was cute. It's so nice to see someone riding without "holding" the head up so close, I prefer the more relaxed head and neck. That's probably my western roots kicking in. Has he alway gone english? It looks like he would look great in a western saddle and a western pleasure/equitation class too. He looks terrific this way, I bet he could do both quite succesfully.

    2. For me, I always liked ditching the stirrups for the sitting trot (or any gait really). It keeps me from cheating by balancing with the stirrups and helps to deepen my seat (and we are going to be starting all over again there very soon I hope :o) Your man Harley looks nice and relaxed to me; always a happy sight.

      Gotta add: I'm loving that arena! Can I come play at your house? *laugh*

    3. Mary- Harley was started western in a hackamore, I was told, but I do not know how far along he got before he was sold to his first owner. Harley wants you to know that considering him for WP is a huge compliment! We did enter English pleasure once, purely for fun. Harley thought that it was very *exciting*. He looked gorgeous, but did not give the relaxed, mellow impression that he does here, to say the least!

      Jen- Ditching the stirrups is definitely good! This ring is not a rectangle or regular shape. The barn owners put it up by hand with a bunch of volunteers when they first purchased the property (20+ years ago) so that they could bring their horses over ASAP. They have never "fixed" the shape, which is very charming.


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