Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Correctly Sitting The Trot: Plugging Into Diagonal Pairs

Have you ever ridden that one horse who made sitting trot seem like some sort of medieval torture? Do your seat bones (aka sitz bones, sit bones, etc) ache and your leg muscles shake just to think about it? We've all been there.

The first horrendously choppy horse I ever had to sit the trot on was named Dexter. He was a quarter horse whose previous work had been as an amish cart horse, and we used to joke that the reason he was used for the cart is because no one could stand riding his trot. Sitting his trot was hell. Actual hell. On the first bounce, I'd get pitched forward; on the second bounce I'd tense my thighs and glutes and bounce higher, and from that point on I was a complete and utter mess. My instructor would tell me to "sit deeper" but at that point, with very little attention to rider biomechanics, there just wasn't much help for it. 
Over the next several years, I picked up several "tips" to get a more connected sitting trot and I learned to sit some pretty awful trots. It wasn't until many years later that I was introduced to the concept of "sitting the diagonal pairs with alternating seat bones"... 

Alright, let me set this up right. Several years ago I purchased an Arabian mare with beautiful gaits. She had suspension, reach, power... A young trainer couldn't ask for more. I showed her locally on the Arab circuit and when I got her to first level I was faced with a horrible truth. 

First level tests were, at the time, ridden only in sitting trot. 

Perhaps I should've said that this horse had beautiful gaits to look at because, presumably because of slightly long, upright pasterns, her trot was (and is) incredibly jarring with very little shock absorption. She has literally bounced little kids right off of her back. I showed her at first level for a season, and I scored in the low sixties in each test that I rode, but I could tell that I was stuck, and stuck good. There was no feasible way for me to progress beyond where I was, simply because I could not ride my horse's gaits and be effective (never mind my training was also full of many flaws that would have prevented me from progressing much further at the time, anyway.)

Over the next few years I became very defensive while riding her, and I ultimately turned her into a school horse so that I didn't have to think about the fact that I couldn't ride her effectively. It was embarrassing and disheartening for me. 

On a whim, I rode her in a local dressage clinic and asked the clinician to address my physical and mental tension and my general inability to ride her. Over the next forty-five minutes, I learned to ride my horse's trot and have been comfortable and progressing ever since. With tears in my eyes (like the big emotional sap that I am) I thanked the clinician for returning my horse to me. It was a life-changing ride in several ways. 

The following is what we worked on in the clinic, and it's one of those concepts that I'm embarrassed to say I didn't already grasp:

The horse, obviously, trots in diagonal pairs. When we sit the trot without consciously separating our two seat bones, we sit on the horse as one unit. As the diagonal pairs move, one pair is always pushing, while the other is reaching. Because of this two-sided movement and single-unit seat bones, one of the rider's seat bones will always be pushed up and out of the saddle. 

So what happens if you add a little swivel, or one-sidedness to the seat? By alternating the rise and drop of your seat bones individually, you can actually conform your movement to the contraction and release of the horse's back muscles. This doesn't have to be an obvious movement, nor does it have to be something you do all of the time, but it does "plug you in" to your horse's movement so that your body is moving in perfect harmony with the horse's back. This isn't just about sitting down, it's about acknowledging that the sitting trot involves complex movement of the pelvis, rather than just "sitting" as some would lead you to believe. 

If this is new to you, give it a shot! Next time you ride, try riding with alternating seat bones to plug yourself into your horse's movement. You may need to start with large swishing movements of your seat bones just to get familiar with the flow of things, and it may start out awkwardly, but by experimenting and working to follow the movement subtly you'll find that a new connection occurs. Not only will it help you follow the bounce of his trot; it will allow you to synchronize your aids for transitions and subtle changes within the gait. If you find this is particularly difficult, pay close attention to your lumbar muscles to make sure you aren't bracing there; it's an easy defense mechanism to develop. 

Yes, this introduces the concept of TWO seat bones to worry about, but when it becomes fully incorporated into your daily riding position it will become second nature. 

Do you ride with alternating seat bones? What are some other sitting trot tips that you know of?

1 comment:

  1. This was an intriguing read. I had never thought about being conscious of my two seat bones while riding. That makes sense. I like the "embrace the bounce" idea. It is so easy to just tense up and wait for the trot to be over. However, letting yourself flow with the bounce by relaxing and following like a beanie baby will make the trot so much more enjoyable.