Confidence From The Core

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As we age, our balance, core-strength and posture can be negatively affected and all of these things have an impact on your confidence. If you think of the image of an elderly person tottering down the street, the posture is hunched forward, with rounded shoulders, looking down and a shuffling gait. Now picture Superman’s posture. Posture and confidence are closely related, as are age and posture.

The good news is that we can reverse the ageing process, or at least slow it down, by building core-strength and correcting bad habits in your posture. Every day, I try to make myself taller by lengthening my spine, lifting my shoulders and flattening my upper back. Even though I am an older person, I don’t want to look like one. I work hard to maintain my core-strength and improve my balance by choosing workouts that focus on these areas.

There is an important connection between fitness and confidence, and I can prove it to you. Have you ever, at any point in your life, set a goal to lose weight and/or get in better shape? I do, almost every year, usually around January 1st. Let’s say you decided to power-walk a mile every day after work; so on the first day, you come home, put on your trainers and hit the tarmac. After your walk, you come home, grab a cold drink and already you feel better about yourself. There’s no better feeling than being done with a workout. You feel better about yourself, and therefore are more confident—even though you are in no better shape than you were an hour ago.

So it is not being fit and buff that gives you confidence, it is the simple act of doing something to better yourself and to build strength that makes you feel better and stronger. The beautiful thing about workouts that focus on core-strength and balance, is that by the second day you can already feel a difference and after a week or a month, the difference is tremendous. Knowing that your balance is better and that you can move with the horse easier, most definitely will give you more confidence when you are stepping onto that keg of dynamite (I mean, horse).

Winter Workouts – Ride Right With Julie Goodnight

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The Trail Rider ~ January/February 2015

 

RIDE RIGHT WITH JULIE GOODNIGHT

Winter Workouts

Hone your horse’s manners and your leadership skills now for a better ride in the spring with these tips from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight ~ Photos by Heidi Melocco

 

Unless you’re in the sunbelt, winter may mean less ride time and more turnout for your horse. Until the ground thaws and is safe for riding, what can you do to keep your horse focused on you?

When horses are turned out for the winter—they may quickly revert to a herd mentality. In that mode, horses follow the herd’s cues and aren’t tuned in to your leadership. Make sure to spend quality time with your horse this winter so that you won’t have to start over in the spring.

“If, in the winter, you only see your horse at feeding time –or when you step in to rub on him and bring him treats— and he’s otherwise turned out with buddies, you may be undermining instead of boosting your leadership,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “It’s not that you’re never going to hug on your horse or love on him, but respect has to come first and you need think about how you’re interacting with your horse every time you’re near him.”

How long does it take a horse to be turned out and become part of the big herd instead of part of your horse-and-human herd of two? Goodnight says that as horses approach middle age, they may become more herd-bound, but individual horses react differently with more or less time away from work.

Groundwork done well all year long can help you keep your horse looking to you for leadership. Your horse will continue (or become) a respectful partner who is looking for your leadership and permission.

You can do groundwork in a small space—in your barnyard or even inside the barn. You only need a small area that isn’t slippery and that is fairly level. Outfit your horse in a rope halter and a long training lead with a rope-to-rope connection at the halter.

You can always do groundwork and you and your horse will never outgrow it—just progress to more challenging skills. Over the winter, do these exercises as often as possible. Once a day is ideal, but once a week or once a month is much better than not working with your horse in the cold season.

Here, Goodnight gives you three exercises to work on throughout the winter. Plus, she’ll provide a rope-halter tying tip that kids can practice inside.

 

Step 1. Body Awareness

Help your horse tune in to your body cues and sign language and begin to have more deference for your leadership—and your personal space. A horse’s spatial awareness is acute—he has a greater appreciation for sign language and body language than humans do. It’s your job to mind your position and body language and make sure that you’re aware of your posture and consistent cues.

Define your personal space every time you are near your horse. Stretch your arms out around you in all directions. That is your space and space your horse should not enter without permission.  Free yourself of the need to be in your horse’s space all the time. That’s beneficial for you but not helpful for your relationship with your horse. If you enter your horse’s space all the time—kissing and hugging—your horse will not have a clear idea about your personal boundaries. While you sometimes want to love on your horse, start with a clear boundary and only allow that closeness after you have set up a clear expectation of his space and yours.

Practice your body postures. Away from your horse and in front of a mirror, practice your submissive and more aggressive postures. If your shoulders are rounded and your toes are pointed away, you’ll appear unthreatening to your horse. If your shoulders are up, your chest is puffed and your chin is high, and you look straight at your horse, he will take that as an aggressive or admonishing posture.

Think about when you’ll use each posture with your horse. If you want your horse to have a break and not be reactive to your every move, you want your posture to be less threatening. Roll your shoulders forward and divert your eyes to take the pressure off your horse—or to help your horse know that you’re not an aggressor if you are trying to catch him in the pasture. When you get ready to move with your horse, you’ll want to appear active and confident.

No matter what posture you adopt, know when and how you are moving.

 

Step 2. Stand Still

When you ride in the spring, you want to know that your horse will stand still for mounting, you also want your horse to stand still if you need to hop off and help another rider. Standing still is beneficial for many trail applications and learning to stand still reminds your horse to focus on you.

Your horse needs to be focused on you. Your horse should get in the habit of reacting to your cues—instead of looking for something to spook at or focus attention upon. Your horse needs to look at you and think before making a move. That mindset taught now on the ground, will apply to your saddle time in the spring. If your horse knows he needs to look to you first, you’re training him to listen and obey whether you are on the ground or in the saddle. You don’t want a trail horse to look around and react to external stimuli. You want him focused on you and the trail ahead of him. Teaching him to stand still and ground tie will help him stay tuned in to you.

As a bonus, adding in the command to “whoa,” will teach your horse to stop and focus on you—no matter where you are. When you’re on the trail next season, you’ll solidify your horse’s ability to focus on you. If he does spook when you’re riding, you will have a horse that knows that whoa means stop now. You’ll program in a command that may keep him from running off on the trail—and instead he’ll focus on you.

If your horse has been cooped up and confined, you might start with an exercise that allows the horse to move around, but if your horse has been turned out for the day and has moved a bit on his own, this is a great place to start.

This is an exercise you can do most anywhere. You’ll ask your horse to stand still like a statue and not move a hoof. Place your horse where you’d like him to stand then turn and face him—make sure you’re not standing too close. You don’t want to hold your horse still, you want him to know that he must listen and choose to stand still. Stand about 6 feet away and point your toes toward his left shoulder. Make sure you’re not standing directly in front of him, but just off to the left side of his body.

If he moves a hoof or turns his head so that his nose passes his shoulders, issue an immediate correction by sending a wave through the lead line so that it puts pressure on the rope halter. Use the amount of pressure needed to get his attention. Some horses need only a small movement of the rope to remind him to listen.

Your horse will quickly learn that every time he moves a foot without your authorization, he’ll get in trouble. That lesson happens quickly, in the very first session.

When your horse obeys, heighten the challenge. Step farther away and eventually lay the middle of the rope on the ground while you hold the end. When your horse is listening well, you can lay the rope down and teach your horse to ground tie. That’s an invaluable skill on the trail and something that will easily apply to your summer rides when your horse is saddled up.

Want more of a challenge? Ask your horse to stand still when he doesn’t want to—before it’s time for turnout or when other horses are moving into the barn to eat. Your horse needs to listen to you no matter what the horse herd is doing around him. Once your horse knows the lesson, it doesn’t matter how much energy he has-he should stand still when asked.

Even if you only ask him to stand for 30 seconds, you’ll strengthen your relationship as your horse looks to you to know what to do and how to act. Work up to 10-15 minutes of practice a day and you’ll have a horse who can successfully ground tie before spring.

 

Step 3. Leading Manners

Ground manners are paramount on the trail. You might be riding in an uncontrollable environment. If you one day need to pony a horse, lead line lessons will translate to being able to ride next to another horse. There are also many times when it may be safer to get off and lead your horse across difficult terrain. If your horse knows how to follow you well when you’re leading, it may help you both stay safe on a narrow or cliff-lined trail.

Sequence your cues so that you always do the same thing in the same order. Break down your cues into step 1, step 2, step 3. First you’ll look up and lean your shoulders forward then you’ll move your feet, then he’ll get a pull on the lead if he doesn’t move.

This is an important lesson for you as the handler to practice. If you can understand how to break down your cues and sequence every cue you give your horse, you can apply that skill to any lesson you’d like to teach your horse. When you learn to sequence your aids, your horse will learn and respond very quickly. You’ll build your relationship with your horse over the winter so that you’re ready to teach your horse anything new when you’re back in the saddle. Let’s apply that sequencing to teaching your horse how to maintain a respectful position as you lead him.

Get your horse to focus on your movements and maintain a position by your side—no matter how fast or slow you move and no matter what direction you turn. This is similar to teaching a dog to heal—there is a correct position where he should be and a line that he shouldn’t cross. You don’t want your horse to move into your space or move ahead of you.

Move deliberately and be consistent with your body language. When you start to walk, lean your shoulders forward and use a verbal cue to tell him to walk on. That movement comes before you pull on the lead. Don’t hold constant pressure on the lead, but hold the lead loosely so that your horse learns to follow your body language without expecting a pull. You want to teach him to move with you—not depend on a tight lead line.

Your horse’s nose shouldn’t move past your lead hand and his shoulder definitely shouldn’t move past yours. If your horse crosses the boundary, snap back hard on the rope, turn around and face him, stomp your feet and cause him to back up; admonish with your voice.

Use the amount of pressure that causes the horse to think “what did I do and what can I do so that doesn’t happen again?” Some horses may only need you to turn and look at him with a stern look, other horses may need more pressure and need you to stop, turn and back him up a few steps with authority. If you’re using enough pressure and good timing, your horse will learn the precise place he should be very quickly. If you find yourself constantly pulling or initiating a correction multiple times, check to make sure your corrections are consistent and escalate the pressure slightly and add a verbal admonishment.

Note: Make sure you aren’t pulling back on the lead line to hold the horse back. If you pull on the lead all the time, the horse will forever rely on that pressure to tell him where to be. You’ll constantly have to hold him back. You need to give him the responsibility to keep himself in the proper place.

If your horse doesn’t want to move forward enough and lags behind, you’ll also need to change your body language. When you move your shoulders forward (telling the horse that you’re about to move) then move your feet, your horse should step with you. If you have to also pull on the rope, bring your arms in close to your body and lean forward hard on the rope. Make sure your are not too close to your horse. If you lean forward quickly as a correction (and not as a constant pull) you’ll teach your horse to pay attention to the body language that came first instead of waiting for the pull.

Some people turn and swat the horse with the end of a lead if they don’t move forward. This can be confusing for the horse because you’re actually turning around and changing your direction. If your horse doesn’t move forward, spend more time asking your horse to move forward (especially into the trot) and make sure to lean your shoulders first, start to move, then lean forward into the rope to make the correction. Praise the horse when he moves into the trot then ask him again. Soon he’ll learn that when you first lean forward, he better move or he’ll soon feel much more pressure on the halter.

Escalate the challenge by changing speeds, turning (always moving the horse away from you and out of your space instead of pulling him toward you), then turning at different speeds and degrees. To turn, simply walk toward the direction you want to go. If your horse doesn’t move, pick up your hands and defend your space—waving your hands just behind your horse’s eye without touching him will help him know to move away from you.

Soon you’ll be able to walk in all directions with little to no pressure on the rope and only with your body language. You may even choose to work with a neck rope instead of a halter and lead to test your horse’s obedience while maintaining a way to correct him if needed.

The more you work with your horse over the winter, the more he’ll be focused on you when it’s time for more saddle time in the spring. Plus, you’ll keep up your own horsemanship skills and learn to be aware of how your body position and sequencing of cues helps your horse to learn quickly and easily. With that lesson learned, you’ll be able to teach your horse most anything you’d like to for great trail rides.

For more training tips from Julie Goodnight and to access her free online library, go to www.juliegoodnight.com.

For more information on equine behavior, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from HorseBooksEtc.com.

Tying a rope halter can be a challenge. Goodnight says she often sees rope halters tied with an incorrect knot and the excess “tail” aimed toward the horse’s eye instead of his tail. It’s time to practice tying so that you’ll always tie the rope halter correctly.

Take your horse’s rope halter inside and practice haltering a stuffed horse or have your parents hold the halter as if it were on a horse’s head.

Tie the halter knot by bringing the crown piece down through the halter’s loop. Then tie around the bottom part of the loop, making a figure eight appearance and ensuring that the excess strap is pointed toward the horse’s tail.

Need more help? Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPYy-3A8s8k

Fun Games And Exercises

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Clear Fun with Julie Goodnight
Fun Fundamentals with Julie Goodnight

These are fun exercises to do with a friend or with your riding club. We’ll start on the ground then play and work in the saddle. You’ll improve your horsemanship, riding and find a fun challenge at the barn.

1. “Wax On—Wax Off”, Power Grooming
Riding takes a lot of coordination. For example: you use your right hand and left leg to make a turn as you ride. That means you’re using both sides of your body and both sides of your brain (bi-lateral means both sides). To help strengthen your muscles on both sides and to help improve your bi-lateral coordination, warm up your brain while you groom with two hands. Choose two curry combs or two dandy brushes. Put one in each hand. Move both hands in the same direction—following one brush with the second. At first, it may feel awkward to hold a brush in your non-dominant hand. Stick with it! Your horse will enjoy being brushed twice as much!
Caveats: Make sure your brushes are sized for your hands; work both arms equally and in the same motion on both sides of the horse.

2. “Leader-Follower”, Where You Lead Me,
When you ride a horse, you’re the leader—it’s your job to guide your horse with confidence. In this on-the-ground activity you can do with a riding buddy, you’ll find out what it feels like to be guided and what it takes to be a good leader.

Stand close to your partner so that your jeans seams touch. Link your arms together; this simulates the contact between you and your horse. Decide which one of you is the horse and which is the rider. Begin to ‘ride’ your horse around the grounds, turning, walking, trotting, cantering, backing, etc. You cannot use your voice, but only your body to tell your horse what you want her to do. See if you can communicate slowly and clearly to your horse, using your eyes, shoulders and your feet to let your horse know what she is supposed to do. Ideally, your horse will move off smoothly with you, matching you step for step, as if you were dancing together. Switch roles and let your friend be the rider too!

Talk about what it felt like to be the leader and the follower. How will this help you communicate more clearly with your horse?
Caveats: Move your bodies in slow motion, moving your shoulders and arms before your feet; use your eyes as a hint to where you are planning to go.

3. “Tack Check Game” Safety Search,
Before you get on any horse, it’s important to complete a final check of all of your tack—looking at both sides. Check all the adjustments, keepers, connectors, fit, and any points of wear. This safety check may save you from a big riding emergency or may save your horse from undue pain during the ride.
To learn what to watch for, play this game with your barn buddy. Tack both your horses, but secretly set up some ‘problems’ in your tack. You might stuff the saddle strings under the skirt (an achy feeling for your horse), make the pad crooked (can lead to saddles slipping or an uneven saddle wear), keepers out (making it easy to catch your tack on a rail or anything you may pass ), throat latch too loose (making it easy for the strap to catch on debris, or for the bridle to slip), etc. Then ask your friend to check your tack and see if she can find all the issues you set up. Be sure to fix everything before you get on! Tip: have an adult or horse-expert friend teach you how all tack should look before you play the game again. You can double check your new learning by adding new ‘problem’ items each time.
Caveats: don’t do anything the makes your horse uncomfortable; fix all problems and perform another tack check and cinch check before mounting.

4. “Martial Arts Game” Martial Arts Master=Riding Master, Your Best Shot, Absorbing Action
This game will help you and your friend learn to absorb a horse’s motion. You’ll learn what it takes to ride with your horse as if you are one unit–just like martial arts practitioners learn to absorb the energy of their opponent, rather than bracing against it.
Stand facing your partner, with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart, your knees bent and all of your joints loose and relaxed. Take a far off focus in front of you and have your friend push you on one shoulder. Your goal is to absorb the energy and let it ripple throughout your body all the way down to your feet, without losing your balance; feel it ripple through every joint, from your neck to you ankles. Make sure your joints and muscles are loose and relaxed; if you tense or brace, you’ll loose your balance. See how much energy you can absorb and still stay in balance as your friend pushes harder and harder. Switch roles and let your friend try it to!
Caveats: Relax all your muscles and joints; only push on one side of the shoulder, never both at the same time; do not anticipate the push by sucking back—instead absorb the energy.

5. “Get in Sync with Your Horse”, Follow the Motion, Match the Motion
This game will help you and your partner learn what it is like to be a horse, when the rider is only a passenger, or when the rider is interfering with the horse’s movement, and best of all, when the rider is moving in synch with the horse and helping to enhance its movement. One of you will be the horse and one is the rider. The rider should stand directly behind the horse, with one hand on the front of each shoulder of the horse (this simulates the contact between the horse and rider). The ‘horse’ will begin to ‘walk’ with her arms, swinging them as if they were the front legs of the horse, but do not move your feet. First, the rider will just try to keep the horse’s rhythm, neither getting in the way of the movement nor helping the horse. Then feel the rhythm of the ‘walk’ and gently begin moving your hands in time with the ‘horse’s’ walk, adding a little pull back with each hand as her arm swings back. The ‘horse’ will instantly feel her ‘gait’ improve, swinging more freely and reaching out further. Now try the opposite rhythm and pull back gently with your hands when the ‘horse’s’ arms swing forward and see how the horse’s movement falls apart. Switch partners so both of you can feel what it’s like from the horse’s point of view to have a rider that is interfering with her motion instead of moving in rhythm.
Caveats: make sure you place your hands on front of your buddy’s shoulders, not on top.

6. “Leap Frog”
This is a fun mounted game to play with a friend or two; you can do it with as many riders as you want. Ride in a single file line, head to tail, but pay very close attention to your spacing, maintaining at least one horse length between each horse. The lead horse sets the pace and all the other riders have to rate their horse’s speed to maintain the same pace as the lead horse. Start at the walk and once the line is moving, the horse in the back will trot up to the front of the line and take the lead. After a moment, the last horse will again trot up and take the lead, continuing through the line-up until the original lead horse is back in front. You can also ride at the trot and have the last horse canter up to the lead or you can reverse the order, having the line trot, then the first horse pulls over, breaks into the walk, until the line goes by. This game is fun for you and your horse and gives you a lot of skills to work on such as transitions, rating your horse’s speed, leading the line and communicating between each other.
Caveats: watch your spacing—don’t get too close and don’t let the line get spread out too far; make sure all horses are in control; designate a leader who supervises and calls out who does what; ride at the speed of the least skilled rider in the group.

7. “Transition Game” On your Mark, Timing your Transitions
Set up a row of 4-6 cones in your arena, spaced about four feet apart. Ride in a straight line through the cones practicing a transition each time your shoulders are in alignment with the cones. You can practice both upward and downward transitions at the cones: from trot to halt, from walk to trot, from walk to lope, from lope to halt, etc. Try to make smooth and precise transitions so that you are perfectly aligned with the cones each time and you are riding in straight lines both before and after the cones. Have one person stand at the end of the line of cones and be the judge of whether or not the riders hit the mark; you can keep score by scoring a plus one each time you hit the mark, minus one every time you blow it and zero if you are close. This game will help you refine your communication to the horse and improve your ability to ride patterns.
Caveats: don’t let your horse come into the cones by cutting corner; make ninety degree turns off the rail and ride to a point on the opposite side, making another ninety degree turn, preferably in the opposite direction. Make sure you ride your horse smoothly and with good position and subtle cues; don’t punish his mouth for the sake of the game.

8. “Toilet Paper Game”, Teamed Up with TP
This fun game will require you to ride in pairs, with a friend right beside you. You’ll need a roll of toilet paper; pull off an eight to twelve foot section of TP and hand one end to each rider. Now the pair of riders, each holding their reins in one hand and the end of the TP in the other, is sent off around the arena and tries to keep the TP from breaking. If your horses are well trained and mannerly, you can make the TP shorter and ride closer together for extra challenge. This can become a contest between many pairs of riders if the leader/instructor calls out orders to the group such as trot, halt, reverse directions, back up, etc. The last remaining pair still holding one piece of TP wins. If it is just you and a buddy, try riding figure eights, serpentine and other drill maneuvers. This game is a LOT of fun to play and it will also help you ride your horse with greater control, use your legs, ride one-handed, rate your horse with another horse and ride drill patterns.
Caveats: make sure your horse is mannerly and knows he is absolutely not allowed to socialize with any other horses when you are riding him; be gentle on your horse’s mouth.

9. “Riding Aerobics”
These fun arm motions, practiced in rhythm to your horse’s trot, not only give you a fun aerobic workout but also will help your bi-lateral coordination, your balance and your ability to ride smoothly and rhythmically with your horse. Ask your horse to trot, then drop your tied reins. In beat to the trot, move your arms and shoulders in a creative routine. Be creative–making up new moves when you want. Be sure to maintain a good balanced position as you ride. You can even choreograph a routine to music and teach it to your friends! Tip: If you’re not confident at first, ask an experienced horse person to control your horse on a lunge line as you ride.
Caveats: start in a small confined area; stow your horse’s reins carefully and pick up the reins whenever you need them for control; if you do not have a safe, well-trained horse, keep one hands on the reins at all times.

10. “Count the Rhythm” Post the Pattern
No matter what saddle you put on your horse, learning to post the trot is a must. Posting can save your horse’s back when riding long distances. It can also save your seat if your horse has a bouncy or fast trot! Make posting fun by turning the chore into a game. By posting, you’ll also learn to feel your horse’s strides and improve your balance.
Ride at the posting trot and have a friend call out a rhythm to you, such as “Post four, sit two.” Then you will try to find that rhythm, posting up, two, three, four, sit two strides; post, two, three, four, sit two strides; continuing on in the rhythm until she calls out a change. You can mix the numbers up a little, like post three, sit one; post two, sit five, etc. This fun brain game will not only help you focus, but will help you move in closer rhythm to the horse and be able to feel and count his strides. For a variation, you can alternate between sitting and standing trot (sit six strides, stand for four), which will greatly improve your balance too.
Caveats: make sure you maintain a steady speed; sitting one stride of trot is actually two beats.

11. “Cruise Control with Your Seat”
As you walk your horse, make sure you are in good position (alignment between your ears-shoulders-hips and heels), and that your back is flat and your belly button is sucked in. Then you should be able to feel the horse’s back muscles move as he pushes off with his hind legs; you’ll feel your hips lift and drop in rhythm to his walk, alternating right, left, right, left. As he pushes off with his right hind, you’ll feel your right hip lift as the muscles on that side of his back contract; then you’ll feel him push off with his left foot, lifting your left hip. Once you can feel that rhythm, you can practice controlling the horse’s speed by controlling the rhythm in your seat and legs. Try increasing the motion in your seat and legs to extend the horse’s walk (add a little bump with your calves if you need to). Then try slowing down the horse’s rhythm by sitting a little longer and a little harder on each seat bone and slowing the energy in your seat and legs. When you get really goods at controlling your horse’s speed at the walk, try it at the sitting trot!
Caveats: do not let your shoulders and arms get into the rhythm, keep them perfectly still; do not try to slow your horse with the reins, the point is to get him to listen to your seat.

12. “Feel the Feet”
You’ll need two ground poles for this exercise, placed more than eight feet apart. You’ll also need a friend to watch your horse’s feet for you. Walk your horse in a straight line over the middle of the poles, looking far off in front of you at a focal point (like a tree or a telephone pole). Try to feel which front foot steps over the poles first and call out “right” or “left” as he steps over the pole. Your friend on the ground will watch for you and let you know if you got it right. Once you can consistently feel your horse’s front feet step over the pole, see if you can feel the hinds! This is very tricky and requires a lot of concentration and feel. Remember from last month, that you can feel your horse’s back muscles lift your hips when he pushes off. Hint: you’ll feel your hip drop when your horse is lifting his foot over the pole.
Caveats: resist the urge to look down, try to feel; the spotter will have to concentrate hard on the horse’s feet; make sure you are sitting up straight with a soft back so that you can feel your horse’s hind legs.

About Julie:
Julie Goodnight teaches horsemanship and horse training in clinics across the country. Check out more riding tips at http://www.JulieGoodnight.com or in her new “Exercises to Improve Your Riding” DVD.

Riding Skills: Sitting Trot

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Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: I ride an Arabian who has a very bouncy trot that I just can’t sit to. I ride in an event saddle that has a somewhat deep seat, but when I try to sit to the trot, my lower leg becomes unstable and bounces around. Do you have any ideas for exercises that might help me improve my sitting trot?

Answer: The sitting trot is one of the most difficult skills a rider must learn, especially if you are riding a horse with a bouncy trot or a trot with a lot of suspension. First let’s take a look at what might be causing your difficulties then we’ll take a look at some possible solutions.
The most common faults I see in riders learning to sit the trot are tense muscles/locked joints, a closed pelvis and pinching or gripping with the knees. Your joints, especially your hips, knees and ankles, are major shock absorbers that allow you to absorb the movement in the horse’s back. Anytime you tense a muscle, it locks a joint somewhere in your body and locked joints lead to bouncing.

Along the same lines, a closed pelvis prevents your hips from opening and closing to absorb the lift in the horse’s back when he trots or canters. An open pelvis refers to the angle between your hip and thigh; sucking your belly button in and rocking back on your seat bones opens this angle; arching your back and rolling forward onto your crotch closes the pelvis. It is important when you are riding to have your pelvis as open as it can be so that your lower back is flat, all of your weight is on your two seat bones and there is no weight on your crotch. Your hips will lift and open then drop down with each stride. Closing your pelvis or leaning forward will make this motion impossible. To open your pelvis, use your abdominal muscles, not your buttocks muscles. In fact, it is the psoas muscles that you use to open and close your pelvis. To feel these muscles, try coughing while sitting in a chair. You’ll feel your weight rock back on your seat bones and your pelvis open.

Pinching or gripping with the knees in an effort to hold on leads to locked joints and causes your pelvis to close and your heels to come up. When your heels come up, it causes you to push on the stirrup, which pushes you up and out of the saddle. Sometimes it helps to open your knees just a little bit to prevent gripping and to help open the pelvis.

To help you learn to sit the trot, here are a few exercises that you can do. First, make sure that you ride in correct position sitting vertical with your ear-shoulder-hip-heel in alignment, your pelvis open, your weight stretching into your heels, all of your weight on your two seat bones and with relaxed muscles and loose joints. Secondly, try riding without your stirrups. This will prevent you from pushing on the stirrup and pushing your weight up and out of the saddle. Finally, do exercises off the horse that will help you have better control of your abdominal muscles. Pilates and Yoga exercise classes are very beneficial to equestrians. Finally, there is lots of information on my website that explains in greater detail how to ride in balance and rhythm with the horse.

Julie Goodnight

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