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How (And When) To Sit to Your Horse’s Trot

sitting trot dressage

The very mention of sitting trot is enough to make many riders cringe.

Although sitting trot is not required in dressage tests until you reach Medium level in British Dressage, your seat is a very effective aid that you can use in combination with your rein and leg aids. Therefore, it’s worth learning how to ride sitting trot properly without inflicting pain on yourself or your horse!

So, in this article, we will cover when you should and shouldn’t sit to the trot, how not to start sitting trot, and take you through the steps on how to sit to your horse’s trot comfortably without bouncing. 

Why do sitting trot?

The biggest communication channel between you and your horse is through your bum to your horse’s back. 

Your seat is a valuable aid, and for you to use it to its maximum, it needs to be in the saddle, hence sitting to the trot. 

Related Read: How to Use Your Seat and Weight Aids for Dressage

Is sitting trot bad for your horse’s back?

When done correctly, sitting trot is not bad for your horse’s back. Both you and your horse should be able to move together in harmony. 

That being said, if sitting trot is done incorrectly and you’re continuously bouncing up and down and banging on the saddle, it can cause your horse discomfort and soreness, resulting in damage to your horse’s back. 

Therefore, your goal is to be able to sit to your horse’s trot without inflicting pain upon him. And to do that, you need to be able to follow his movement with your seat and hips. 

When should you NOT sit to the trot?

There are a few times when you should NOT sit to your horse’s trot, and those are: 

1 – During warm-up

When you begin warming up your horse, you should always ride in rising trot.

At the beginning of each schooling session, your horse’s muscles are cold, and rising to the trot allows his muscles to gradually warm up and stretch before having to support your weight sitting. 

2 – During cool-down

Similarly, at the end of each schooling session, your cool-down period should always be ridden in rising trot. This allows your horse’s muscles to gradually stretch and relax, reducing the risk of injury and soreness after exercise. 

3 – On young and novice horses 

For you to sit to the trot correctly, it is paramount that your horse can work correctly with a raised back. 

Young and novice horses, and those being re-trained from another discipline (such as ex-racers), are yet to develop the necessary strength and ability to keep their back lifted, and attempting to sit the trot can do more harm than good. 

In essence, until your horse has learned how to raise his back and work correctly, you should avoid sitting trot. 

TIP: For this reason, the lower-level dressage tests do not require you to ride in sitting trot, so don’t insist on sitting just because you’re riding in a competition. Your marks will be higher if your horse is working forward over a swinging back into a relaxed and quiet contact.

4 – When asking your horse to stretch on a long rein

Although this one is not set in stone, when you ask your horse to take the reins and stretch forward and down, it can be helpful to rise to the trot as opposed to sitting. 

Rising gives your horse more freedom through his topline and, therefore, can encourage more of a stretch and make the stretch more beneficial. 

How NOT to do sitting trot

When you watch an experienced dressage rider sit to their horse’s trot, you’ll notice that it looks like they are not moving, as though their bum is glued to the saddle. However, contrary to popular belief, they are not “sitting still.” Instead, they are moving WITH their horse, which gives the illusion of immobility. 

This illusion leads many riders to believe that, to sit the trot, they must keep their hips and bottom as still as possible. So, they clench their buttock muscles, squeeze their core, and grip with their knees in an effort to stop their movement. 

If you do this, this will result in you bouncing against your horse’s back, which causes your horse to hollow his back away from the discomfort you are causing him, which then causes you to bounce even more, and a vicious cycle starts.

Also, as you start bouncing in the saddle, you may inadvertently slow your horse’s trot down in an effort to make it easier to sit to, until, eventually, you would have killed all the necessary impulsion in the pace, resulting in your horse doing a slow hollow jog as opposed to a forward and swinging trot. 

To sit to the trot correctly (and painlessly), you need to remember that you are on the back of a moving animal. Your horse is moving upwards and forward with each trot step. Therefore, you must follow his movement and allow your hips to swing upwards and forward with each trot step. 

How to start sitting trot 

Here are four steps to help you start sitting to your trot and to do so successfully. 

Step 1 – Sit correctly

First, you must be sitting in the saddle in the correct position, that is, with the correct ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment. 

If you are not sitting correctly, you will be less able to control your seat and produce clear and effective aids.

You should have most of your weight distributed evenly over your two seat bones while, at the same time, maintaining light contact with your pubic bone and the saddle. This is known as a three-point seat. 

three point seat how to dressage

The underside of your seat should be in contact with the horse, and your pelvis should be upright.

This position is ideal because it aligns you with your horse’s center of gravity and puts you in the most balanced and secure position possible.

Related Read: How (And Why) To Maintain the Correct Rider Position

Step 2 – Maintain relaxation

We always talk about the importance of your horse maintaining relaxation, but for you to produce a good sitting trot, you must be relaxed. 

A good position should not result in you becoming stiff, but equally, relaxation should not be confused with sloppy riding.

Your hips and pelvis must be secure in the saddle while at the same time remaining soft, supple, and relaxed so that they can move passively with your horse and independently from the rest of your body (known as an independent seat). 

Step 3 – Ensure that your horse is working correctly

Sitting to your horse’s trot is much easier if he is working correctly forward from your leg to the contact with a lifted and rounded back. 

If your horse is behind your leg and working with a hollow back, sitting to the trot will be very difficult for you and, more than likely, sitting will not do anything to help improve your horse’s way of going. 

If you are experiencing the latter, it would be wise to stick to rising trot and concentrate on getting your horse more responsive to your leg aids and encouraging him to work in a rounder frame with more throughness. 

Related Read: How to Get Your Horse Rounder and More Through

Step 4 – Sit to the trot

Once you have the correct position with a relaxed and independent three-point seat, and your horse is working positively forwards in trot with a rounded back, it’s time to take sitting trot. 

Do not try to glue your bum to the saddle and hold it still. Instead, feel how your horse moves underneath you and try to follow that movement with your seat and hips. You should notice an upward and forward swing towards the front, which you must follow with your pelvis.   

TIP: Keep your upper body upright. Avoid leaning backward and shoving your seat forward. 

Sitting trot progression

When starting sitting trot, riders often think they must continuously keep their bums in the saddle for a whole lap of the arena or circle. For a beginner, this is a challenging thing to do. 

Instead, a much better way to start sitting to the trot is to sit for only 3-4 trot steps, then rise for 3-4 trot steps, and then sit again. 

Not only does this help you keep your muscles loose and relaxed, but it also gives you time to think about what you are doing, assess yourself, and make the necessary adjustments each time. It also helps you to keep your horse working forward with a lifted back rather than inadvertently causing your horse to slow down to a hollow jog. 

Once you have mastered sitting for the 3-4 steps, which may take several sessions, you can then slowly increase the number of steps you sit for while ensuring that you are moving your pelvis correctly with your horse. Eventually, you’ll be able to sit effortlessly and comfortably. 

Finally, keep your practice sessions short; remember that your horse is not a piece of gym equipment!

TIP: Concentrating too hard on performing a good sitting trot is often less successful than just riding your horse. So, ride school movements and exercises rather than going round and round trying to sit perfectly.

How to use sitting trot to influence your horse 

As we’ve discussed, your horse moves forwards and upwards during the trot, and for you to follow this movement, your hips need to match that upwards and forward swing. This is known as a passive seat. 

If you want to influence your horse’s trot, you can change how much your hips swing forward and/or upwards. This is known as an active seat. 

  • Allowing your seat to swing more upwards affects the height of your horse’s stride and can help aid collection. 
  • Allowing your seat to swing more forwards affects the length of your horse’s stride and can help aid extensions. 

By altering how much you swing your pelvis upwards and/or forwards, you can use your seat as a stopping aid, a driving aid, and to enhance the overall quality of your horse’s trot. 

But, importantly, before you can use your active sitting trot seat, you must first be able to passively follow your horse with your seat during the sitting trot because it’s only through your seat being passive that the aids of your active seat can be “heard” by your horse. 

Working without stirrups

Before concluding this article, we must discuss sitting trot without stirrups. 

Working without stirrups, especially on the lunge, can be a fantastic rider exercise to help improve your seat, balance, position, and sitting trot. However, trotting without stirrups is only beneficial once you have a basic ability to follow your horse’s movement.  

Uncontrollably bouncing around in the saddle and falling from side to side will not do you or your horse’s back any good. 

In conclusion

The key to developing a good sitting trot is first ensuring that you are sitting correctly and your horse is working with a lifted back, and second, learning to move your pelvis with your horse’s movement. 

Remember, when practicing your sitting trot, don’t insist on sitting for a whole session. Instead, intersperse your sitting trot with rising trot to help maintain your relaxation and your horse’s way of going. 

And lastly, don’t expect to master your sitting trot in one session. Like learning any new skill, your ability to sit to the trot will gradually develop over time. 

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