Sitting The Trot Logo

Riding Right with Julie Goodnight
Please Help me Sit the Trot!

Dear Julie,
My horse is a Friesian/Warmblood cross. Even though he moves beautifully, he has a big trot and he’s not exactly smooth. I am hoping to show him in Dressage— at the higher levels—and I won’t be able to post the trot. How can I learn to sit the trot smoothly instead of bouncing all over the saddle and jarring my back?

Bounce A Lot

Dear Bounce A Lot,
I think sitting a trot can be one of the most difficult skills to master in horseback riding. The fact that you’re riding a big moving horse with rough gaits at a strong pace—which dressage requires—makes the challenge even more daunting. Like any athletic skill, if you get your technique right and develop strong muscle memory, you’ll get it! As your horse moves up the training levels and begins to work in a more rounded frame, his gaits will smooth out some. However, you’ll have to be able to sit the trot to get him there.

The trot is a gait of suspension. That means all four of the horse’s feet come off the ground at the same time. His back lifts and drops with each beat of the stride. Your goal is to move your body exactly with the horse’s movement— lifting and dropping to absorb the motion in his back without losing contact with the saddle. You’re not trying to sit down on the horse to burden his back. Instead, your goal is to move in rhythm with him, like a dance partner.

To start practicing for a perfect sitting trot, you’ll need to have soft and open joints that act as shock absorbers. You’ll also need to use your abdominal muscles to lift and drop your pelvis in time with the lift in your horse’s back. Riding a big horse with a strong trot, you’ll need excellent coordination and well-toned core muscles.

First, check your position. To be in balance and rhythm with the horse at any gait, you need to have your skeletal system aligned—ear-shoulder-hip-heel in a straight line—and have all of your joints soft and relaxed. Your joints are shock absorbers, especially your hips, knees and ankles. Tense muscles lead to locked joints—which is the number one cause of bouncing on the horse. Check that you have a balanced position and that all of your muscles and joints are soft and relaxed. Balance and rhythm in the saddle are covered in volume one in my DVD series Goodnight’s Principles of Riding.

Next, you’ll need to develop muscles and coordination that will allow you to move your hips in perfect timing with the movement in your horse’s back at the sitting trot. This will require you to isolate your abdominal muscles and master the pelvic tilt—which is why Pilates has become such a popular exercise routine for equestrians. Fine movements in Pilates help you isolate and control your pelvic movements.

In the sitting trot, your hips move both vertically (up and down) and laterally (side to side). Your horse’s back also moves in these directions as he trots. When he pushes off with his right hind, the right side of his back muscles contract and you feel a lift in your right hip; the next stride you’ll feel your left hip lift. At the same time, both hips will lift up and drop down in a vertical motion. You do not create this motion, the horse does, but you’ll have to use your muscle memory to follow the motion with your hips.

Here are some visual aids to help you sit the trot. First, think of sitting on a trampoline or exercise ball and bouncing your bottom up and down, without actually lifting up off the surface. To generate that motion from your seat, you’ll use your abdominal muscles, a pelvic tilt and the spring in the tramp to create the up and down motion. Bouncing your bottom on a trampoline or exercise ball is very similar to how you sit the trot and move vertically with the horse. You’ll be like a ballerina who pre-jumps in a lift so it’s easier on her partner to lift her up over his head. When you can move in rhythm with the horse, you can control the horse’s rhythm with your seat—a skill you’ll need to excel in for dressage (or any discipline for that matter).

Another useful image for sitting the trot is to imagine you’re pedaling a bicycle backwards as you trot. This helps you coordinate the lateral and vertical motion that your hips make at the sitting trot. You can try the exercise while sitting in a chair with both feet on the ground. Pedal with your hips—not your feet— and you’ll feel the vertical and lateral movement that’s similar to trot. This and 23 more exercises to improve your riding are on volume 3 in my riding series, called “Perfect Practice.”

Without question, it’s easier to learn the sitting trot on a smaller, smoother horse at slower speeds. The faster and bigger the trot, the harder it’s to sit. Many riders have had success practicing and conditioning on an exercise ball that emulates the horse. Make sure you use a high-grade ball strong enough to use as a desk chair, 55-75 cm.

In my riding videos, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, Volumes 1-5, position, balance and the rhythm of all the gaits are addressed, as well as many other topics to improve your riding. It helps to have visual guidance as you learn to perfect your riding. You can order DVDs and exercise balls online at

Good luck with your riding and with a little work, you can easily become the rider your horse deserves! Keep up with your lessons and be sure to visit my website for help on your riding skills.

Enjoy the ride!

Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician

Riding Skills: How Do I Find My Seat? Logo

Question: Dear Julie,

First I wanted to let you know that I truly enjoy your website and reading your training library section. I have picked-up many good points which I have been able to put in to my riding. I started riding lessons about three years ago and bought my very first horse this past June. She is a four year old quarter horse mare and although she had been broke and received training at three, she did spend a few months without a rider and was still green to some degree when I purchased her. We have now spent just over five months working together and we have made a lot of progress and have bonded together quite nicely.

The problem I wanted to discuss with you is mine, of course, and it is one of balance. I am having difficulty finding and maintaining my seat, especially with my right seat. Because of this, my horse is not receiving the proper commands and therefore she is not responding the way I want her to and I find I have to correct her with the reins too much. I know it is not her fault and she is extremely patient with me but after a while we both get frustrated and things fall apart. Spending time with my horse is the most rewarding thing in my life. Something I have always wanted to do and I want to be able to fix this problem so Nellie and I can enjoy our time together and be in harmony with one another. Can you please help me?


PS:: Do you know if your television series can be seen in Canada?? If so, could you let me know which station, day and time?


Answer: Dear Jocelyne,

I am happy to hear how satisfying the time you spend with your horse is and even more pleased that you look to yourself to improve your riding skills so that your horse can perform to her best capability. I wish all riders had this point of view, instead of blaming the horse.

Some riders really struggle to “find” their seat, especially if they have not done any kind of training that helps you isolate parts of your body and have good abdominal control, like yoga, Pilates, ballet or even sit ups. I do know quite a few exercises to help with this and I enjoy teaching these exercises in clinics. In fact, the exercises are so popular that I put them all into one video (GPR Vol 3, Perfect Practice), which includes both unmounted and mounted exercises and they are divided into three categories: balance, rhythm and communication. The seat is a major factor in all three.

Balance is the number one skill required of riders and the position of your pelvis while riding is one of the most critical issues. My guess is that you are riding on your crotch instead of your seat bones, which causes tension in your back (and your horse’s), bouncing, and an inability to use your most important aid (your seat) in cueing.

You can start finding your seat right now, off the horse, by trying this simple exercise. Sitting in a chair, with both feet flat on the ground underneath you, sit on your hands, palms up, so that you can feel one seat bone in each hand. Now inhale deeply and lengthen your spine; as you exhale, push out every last drop of air from your lungs by compressing your shoulders down toward your hips and rounding your back. Now inhale and stretch up; exhale deeply again and feel how much movement there is in your seat bones. Also, try sitting up tall and keeping your spine centered while you look up and back around behind you; come back to center and look up and around behind you the other direction. If you keep your spine centered, you’ll feel weight shift onto the outside seat bone and your inside seat bone lift as you turn.

Of course, it would be easier to help you if I could actually see you riding, but this should give you a better feel of where your seat is and also how you use your seat for going, stopping and turning. There are many articles about this in my Training Library and also, Volume 2 in my Principles of Riding video series, Communication and Control, goes into explicit details about using your seat for cueing and becoming less dependent on the reins. Volume 3, Perfect Practice, has many more exercises that help along these lines. Good luck in your riding. I firmly believe that you can improve your own riding if you have awareness, knowledge and self-discipline. As you improve, so will your horse—there’s no question about that!

P.S. You can watch all 11 seasons of Horse Master from anywhere you have an internet connection with a monthly or yearly Library Membership on my Academy website! Click here for more information.