One of the first skills that you learn as a rider is how to ride in rising trot.
Rising to the trot is an incredibly useful tool that can be used in many different aspects of your riding, including warming up, regulating the trot tempo, and in some lower-level dressage tests.
But rising trot is also something that many beginners struggle with. So, keep reading for some helpful tips on how to master this useful riding skill.
What is rising trot?
Essentially, there are two ways to ride the trot; sitting and rising.
Sitting trot is generally used by more advanced, experienced riders. To sit to the trot effectively and comfortably, you need to be able to follow the horse’s movement with supple hips and a completely independent seat so that you don’t bounce or try to balance by using the reins.
Related Read: How to Improve Your Sitting Trot
Rising to the trot is easier on both the horse and the rider. Basically, you take your weight off the horse’s back on every other stride during the trot, allowing the horse to use his back freely without disrupting the rhythm.
When to use rising trot
Even if you have mastered sitting trot, there are several times when you should always rise to the trot, and they include:
When you first 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. Rising to the trot allows the muscles to gradually warm up and stretch before the hard work begins.
Similarly, at the end of each schooling session, you should allow your horse time to cool down before you finish, and the warm down should always be ridden in the rising trot.
That means that your horse’s muscles can gradually stretch and relax, reducing the risk of injury and soreness.
Regulate the tempo
Some horses set off trotting at a rate of knots that’s really too fast.
By slowing the rate of your rising, you can directly influence the tempo of the trot without pulling on the reins, which is a very useful tool, especially in a competition setting.
Free the horse’s back and encourage stretching
If your horse comes out tense and tight through his back, you can use the rising trot to encourage the horse to come looser through his back and swing through more.
In some low-level dressage tests, there’s an exercise that involves allowing the horse to stretch on a long rein around a 20-meter circle. That exercise should always be ridden in the rising trot so that the horse can swing through his back and open out his shoulders, adding more expression to his paces.
Young horses and those being re-trained
Young horses should always be ridden in rising trot, as their muscles are not yet strong enough to cope with the weight of a rider in a sitting trot.
The same applies to those horses who are being re-trained from another discipline, such as ex-racers.
In essence, until the horse had learned how to raise its back and work correctly, sitting trot should be avoided.
Common mistakes in rising trot
There are a few common rookie errors that can spoil the rising trot, including:
- Rising on the wrong diagonal
- Leaning backward and riding behind the horse’s movement
- Using the reins for balance
- Stirrups too short or too long
- Landing heavily in the saddle or on the cantle
Most of these problems occur because the rider doesn’t yet have an independent seat and good balance. These errors almost certainly spoil the rhythm and can also affect the horse’s confidence.
When rising to the trot, you must sit on the correct diagonal. Using the link below, you can read a detailed article about how to ride on the correct diagonal and why that’s important. However, here’s a quick summary:
As the horse trots, his left foreleg and right hind leg swing forward in a diagonal pair. The left hind leg and right foreleg follow in sync, which gives the trot its rhythmical two-beat sequence.
By riding on the correct diagonal, you help to keep the horse in a good balance around circles and turns.
To ride on the correct diagonal, you sit as the horse’s outside shoulder is coming back, which is when his outside foreleg and inside hind leg touch the ground.
You should change your diagonal every time you change the rein by sitting for one extra beat.
Related Read: How to (and Why You Should) Ride on the Correct Diagonal
Developing a “feel” for the rising trot
Most new riders put far too much effort into their rising, standing upright in the stirrups, as tall as they can. That’s only sustainable for a very short period, as the rider’s legs get tired and they fail to “go with the flow.”
As the rider becomes more experienced, they develop a natural “feel,” and the whole exercise becomes much easier and more fluent.
To develop that “feel,” you need to:
- Understand the mechanics of the trot
- Understand how your body should move when the horse is trotting
- Understand how those movements all fit together
Let’s look at those elements in more detail.
1. The mechanics of the trot
So, the horse trots by moving his left foreleg and right hind leg together followed by the right foreleg and left hind leg. This is known as ‘diagonal pairs’.
There’s a period of suspension in between where none of the horse’s legs are in contact with the ground.
That gives the trot its regular, rhythmic two-time beat and spring.
Related Read: About the Horse’s Trot Gait in Dressage
During the moment of suspension, the horse naturally pushes the rider up and forward. Horses with “big” movement, have a much larger “push” and are, therefore, bouncier to sit on. So, newbies to riding usually find it much easier to learn on horses with less movement, as the trot is easier to rise to.
2. The rider’s movement in rising trot
Most beginners try too hard to rise and make the mistake of attempting to push themselves upward, gripping with their knees, or attempting to stand in their stirrup irons and force the rise. Instead, think about the mechanics of the trot, and allow the horse to push you up and out of the saddle.
The rising trot should be easy, and you should be completely in sync with the horse.
To ride a good rising trot, you shouldn’t rise vertically out of the saddle. Instead, you incline your upper body forwards very slightly, open your hip angle and swing your hips forwards and up whilst straightening your knees.
You need to rise forwards because your horse is moving forwards. If you rise straight up and down, you will be behind the movement and will come down on the back of your saddle.
3 – How the movements fit together
So, how do all those movements fit together?
Basically, we come back to “feel.” When you feel the horse propel himself forward into the moment of suspension, you should rise. As the horse’s feet return to the ground, you sit for one beat.
The golden rule of working with your horse’s movement is not to force the rise. If you try too hard, you risk the dreaded double-bounce. Just relax, go with the movement, and let it happen!
Exercise 1 – For beginners
When you first start out, rising trot can feel fake and unnatural. This exercise is excellent for beginners.
In halt, stand up in your stirrups so that your hips come forward over your knees and your bottom is right out of the saddle.
Now, hold that position for ten seconds.
If you can’t keep your balance, rest your hands on the pommel of the saddle and don’t use the reins to balance.
Once you can do that, repeat the exercise in the walk.
Riding this exercise at a walk is excellent for improving your balance and teaching you to feel what’s happening underneath you.
Keep your legs directly below you and allow your weight to stretch down into your heels. If you have your legs too far forward, you’ll overbalance backward. If your legs are too far backward, you’ll tip forward.
Exercise 2 – Improving your rising trot
Here’s a great exercise that can help you to feel the rising trot.
Ride the horse in a forward working trot and by riding in the two-point jumping seat so that you’re off the horse’s back.
Once the trot is established, count “up, up, down, up, up, down, etc.” So, you want to stand in the stirrups in a jumping seat for two beats (“up, up”) and then sit down for one beat (“down”).
This exercise forces you to feel the horse’s natural rhythm, instead of forcing yourself to go up and down mechanically. Gradually, your balance will become more secure and your leg will be more stable.
Now, go back to regular rising trot and feel the difference.
Many beginners struggle to master the rising trot but that’s a very useful skill to have, especially for the dressage rider.
The rising trot should always be used to warm up the horse at the beginning of a schooling session and cool down at the conclusion of the work. You can also use a rising trot to regulate the tempo of the trot and encourage a tense horse to relax.