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How to Follow Your Horse’s Movement

How to Follow Your Horse's Movement dressage

Once you begin competing in Medium Level British Dressage/Second Level USEF/USDF dressage classes, you will be required to carry out all the trot work in sitting trot.

If you have a horse with a huge, bouncy trot, that can be a daunting challenge!

But it’s not all about sitting trot. The ability to follow the horse’s movement in all three paces is crucial if you are to influence your mount effectively and develop self-carriage.

So, how do you follow your horse’s movement?

In this article, we explain how you can develop a supple seat and say goodbye to the bounce!

Developing the correct position

The first step you must take before you can work on your seat is to consolidate your position in the saddle.

Your upper body should be held erect and straight, placed directly over your hips so that an observer can draw a straight line directly from your ear, through your shoulder and your hip, right down to your heel. That line must be perpendicular to the ground.

Related Read: The Correct Position For Dressage

Sitting deep and in balance

Your seat should be deep in the saddle.

You can achieve this by making sure that your pelvis is central, in the deepest part of the saddle, and in perfect balance between your pubic bone and your two seat bones.

Take care not to place too much weight on your seat bones. That will cause you to sit behind the movement and incline your upper body backward.

Conversely, if you put too much pressure on your pubic bone, you will find yourself perching on your crotch and tipping forward.

Your back should be almost flat. Carry your head over squared shoulders, and keep your chest open and raised.

Once you are sitting in a good balance, you must open the angle between your hip and thigh. That allows your legs to drop down almost vertically from your hip.

The open angle is critical to developing a supple seat, as that’s what will enable you to use your hips to influence the horse’s trot. An open angle also leads to a softly draped, long leg.

Don’t try to ride with longer stirrups. Until you are perfectly balanced, riding too long will encourage you to grip the saddle with your knees, lifting your seat out of the saddle and disrupting your balance.

How to Follow the Horse’s Movement in Walk

As the horse walks, you will feel your hips rocking naturally back and forth with the movement.

The movement extends right along the horse’s topline. Whereas in trot and canter, the horse’s head should remain still, in the walk he should be allowed the freedom to use his head and neck.

Your lower back and stomach need to be supported by firm core muscles that allow your hips to follow the movement of the horse’s hips with a swinging, upward tipping motion.

To achieve the long relaxed thigh muscles that will enable your hips to tip, you’ll need to develop a balance between hip flexor stretch and hamstring strength.

Any tension in your ankles or knees will lock your hips, making it impossible for you to follow the movement, so try to relax them completely.

When the horse is walking, try to feel the swing of his hips.

As the horse’s hind foot leaves the ground, your hip on that side will feel a very slightly forward and upward lift. When the hind foot hits the ground to swing forward again, your hip on that side will feel a slight back and down drop.

Stay relaxed and allow your hips to swing with your horse’s hips.

Be sure to sit straight in the saddle, not consciously swinging your body to the left or right. If you apply pressure through your seat, you will cause the horse’s stride to shorten, and the tempo of the walk will become slower.

How to Follow the Horse’s Movement in Trot

You must work on becoming supple enough to ride in sitting trot.

First of all, you must make your waist supple and elastic. That doesn’t mean soft and floppy; sitting trot needs a strong core too!

As your horse begins trotting, follow the movement by pushing your pelvis down and towards your hand, relaxing your waist and stomach muscles.

Timing is crucial here.

Straighten your body as your horse begins the trot stride, and then push down and slightly forward just before the stride is completed. That allows you to “bounce” the next stride with your seat, simply by allowing your body to relax down into the saddle.

Developing Sitting Trot from the Ground

Before you begin attempting sitting trot in the saddle, you can learn how to get the correct “feeling” from the ground.

Step 1

Start by standing against a straight wall, allowing your heels, hips, and shoulders to touch it.

Bend slightly at the knees and rest your hands over your stomach, just underneath your navel.

Step 2

Now, use your tummy muscles to push your back toward the wall.

That represents the “straightening” phase of the sitting trot.

Step 3

Next, relax your stomach muscles toward your hands, allowing your back to fall away from the wall again.

That equates to the “pushing down” or relaxing phase of the sitting trot.

Step 4

Now, practice performing the whole exercise while following a steady one-two, one-two trot rhythm.

You may find that playing a suitable piece of music helps you to get into the swing of things.

Influencing the Trot

Once you’ve developed the strength and timing that are required to follow the horse’s movement, you will be able to alter the trot strides by adjusting the pelvic motion.

Sit taller and straighter if you want a shorter, springier stride, and sit more down and forward to ask for the stride length to increase.

Don’t make the common mistake of grinding and thrusting your seat bones into the saddle in an attempt to sit deeper and drive the horse. That will lead to discomfort for the horse and will probably cause you to tense up and start bumping in the saddle.

So, influencing the horse’s trot stride involves riding the stride, rather than simply following the movement.

You must remain balanced in the saddle to be able to anticipate the horse’s stride. That will place you very slightly ahead of the horse’s trot motion, allowing you to influence the shape and size of his next stride.

How to Follow the Horse’s Movement in Canter

When the horse canters, his inside hip then his outside hip first move down and then forward in quick succession. Then, when the horse’s hind feet push off the ground to begin the moment of suspension, his hips rise, before the sequence starts again.

Your hips should swing in tandem with your horse’s hips, absorbing the motion and following it through the sequence of footfalls.

Your upper body should remain in “neutral” over the horse’s center of gravity.

You’ll need a strong core to be able to follow the horse’s movement in canter! If your core is weak, your hips will lock, and your seat will slap against the saddle, rather than gently swinging and “sweeping” the saddle as the horse moves.

A strong core will hold your upper body in the neutral position while allowing your hips to remain relaxed as they absorb the movement of the horse.

Many riders make the mistake of arching or hollowing their lower back when riding the canter. That can make it feel as though you are swinging your hips and following the movement, but in reality, you will be unable to keep your upper torso in the neutral position over the horse’s center of gravity. So, you end up pushing the horse with your seat, which will make him quicken the tempo of the canter. And you will probably finish up with lower back pain too!

Influencing the canter

When you get it right, you can use strong core muscles to regulate the swing in your hips, allowing you to slow or increase the horse’s tempo as you wish.

If you reduce the swing in your hips, you will slow the horse down.

If you use your core to hold the upward swing of your hips for a moment, you can redirect the horse’s energy forward and upward during the moment of suspension, effectively increasing the speed of the rhythm.

In conclusion

Learning to follow your horse’s movement is a crucial step in progressing your dressage career. Be sure that you are sitting in the correct classical position, develop a robust and supple core, and practice getting the timing right.

Once you’ve learned to follow the movement, you will be able to use your new skill to influence the horse’s engagement and impulsion.

Do you have any other tips for riders who are struggling to master following their horse’s movement? Tell us how you did it in the comments box below!

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  1. We often THINK we move/ should move our body in certain ways when riding. If we take the THINKING and Taught notion of moving back and forth during walk riding away and just REALLY relax one would be able to truly feel that our horse moves our body from right to left with a lil back- peddling motion.

    Experienced riders have the hardest time to let GO of what they THINK.
    Try it out! As most 3xperianced riders ought to be confident walking bareback- do that.

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