Ask Julie Goodnight: Why Should You Post at All?
Question: Last month I asked about whether all riders should know how to post on the correct diagonal. Now it seems the question has changed to “should Western riders know how to post at all?” Can you help refine our riding group’s ongoing debate?
Answer: Sharon, In every horsemanship clinic I teach, I start the mounted session by assessing all the riders in terms of their control, their riding position and skill and their authority over the horse. To do this, I put them through some regulated paces that involve changes of gaits and changes of direction. During this process I am watching the riders and their horses to try and figure out what are the most pressing things that need improvement and that will guide what I have each individual rider work on. As I make this assessment, I always ask for regular trot, slow trot, sitting trot and posting trot, specifically to see how much ability the rider has.
To me, it makes no difference whatsoever whether you ride English or Western; if you are riding the long trot you should be able to post and posting is a very fundamental skill. If your horse is so incredibly smooth gaited that you can comfortably sit the extended trot, then you are very lucky and probably a very good rider. But I ask for everyone to post the trot at some point to see if someone doesn’t know how to do it or uses poor technique (posting off the stirrup instead of off the thigh). Before the end of the day, they will learn how to post because it is an important skill for a rider and it would be silly to think that Western riders don’t need this skill.
Think about it, if you had 20 miles of fence line to ride today, would you do it at the sitting trot? When you need to cover ground on a horse over long distances, the long trot is the most efficient gait to ride and posting is easiest for both you and your horse. Besides, posting is a fundamental skill and a building block for more advanced skills—you wouldn’t want to leave a block out of your foundation.
So why don’t Western riders post in competition? Well, if you are showing at the long trot it is probably in some sort of pleasure class and if you are being judged on how easy and pleasurable your horse is to ride, you want to make him look smooth. If you are being judged on how great a rider you are, then sitting the long trot shows a lot of skill. In some cases posting in a Western competition is prohibited by the rules or dictated by the class procedures. In other cases, like versatility ranch horse competitions, you are allowed to post but in doing so, it may appear to the judge that your horse is so ungodly rough gaited that you couldn’t possibly sit the trot.
Anywhere you go where there are Western riders, you’ll see the riders posting– it is a pretty basic skill. Though they may not do it during an actual competition, it is a skill they need and use regularly. If you have the pleasure of riding a gaited horse that does not trot, you don’t really need to post and in fact may not be able to do it correctly on gaited horse since correct posting involves using the lift in the horse’s back as he goes into suspension in the trot. Riding a gaited horse can give a false reading on how skilled a rider is; they are definitely easier to ride (if they are well trained and well gaited). If the rider has never developed the skill to ride the natural trot or canter (the gaits with suspension) she/he may not have adequate skill to ride in difficult situations or even ride a naturally gaited horse; she may not have developed a strong leg position, adequate balance and the strength to hold on when the going gets rough.
I doubt you would find any accomplished riders anywhere, in any discipline, that do not know how to post. All riders should know how to sit the trot, post the trot and ride the standing trot and they each have their particular challenges. Learning to post seems tricky at first—it’s one of those skills that you think you’ll never figure out and then once you do, you can’t believe how easy it is. To me, it seems easier for people to learn the posting trot than the sitting trot (unless they are on an incredibly smooth horse).
Enjoy the ride,
–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician
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.
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