Whether you’re learning to ride or starting to compete at dressage you can guarantee rising trot will become an issue. For those learning to ride getting up out of the saddle is a problem. Yet the more you learn the harder it is to sit!
For new riders it can feel as if rising trot will never feel natural but like everything it really does get easier. There’s a knack to it that only comes with time. The rise comes as much from your horse as it does from you. When he’s going forward you’ll find the spring of the trot helps to push you up out of the saddle.
It’s tempting to put your whole weight onto the stirrup to push yourself up. Don’t do it! The first thing that happens is your leg shoots forward throwing you straight back into the saddle. If you get enough control of your balance to stop that happening you’ll find you stand on the ball of your foot. Result? Your heel comes up and you fall forward.
You’re not expected to rise miles out of the saddle. A couple of inches will do. You only need to clear your horse’s back for a stride and sit back down. The object of rising trot is to stay in rhythm with your horse. Standing straight up takes time. By the time you sit back down you meet him on the wrong beat. That gets you bouncing out of rhythm. Who hasn’t experienced the ‘double bounce’?
Instead of rising from your stirrup imagine you have no lower leg at all. Put your weight onto the top of your knee and squeeze the thigh muscle just above it into the saddle to push yourself up. It’s worth practising out on a hack with a horse in front of you to keep your horse going. Don’t look at its rider though. Their horse will have a completely different rhythm to yours. Your rising is unique to your trot.
When you are in a school don’t forget to turn your body in line with the curve of a circle in rising trot. It’s easy to rise and straighten up without realising. As you sit back in the saddle your outside shoulder and hip should be slightly ahead of the inside ones so you stay in line with your horse until you ride straight.
Diagonals are your next challenge. Trot has two beats to it – it’s 2 time. When your horse trots he moves one hind leg and the front leg diagonally opposite at the same time. (Right hind/left front and left hind/right front) Hence the term ‘diagonal’.
You rise on a particular diagonal so you’re out of the saddle as your horse’s inside hind leg steps forward under his body. That’s the leg that pushes him forward. You should use your leg as you sit. By using your leg before he lifts his hind foot up off the floor you’ll encourage him to stretch it further under his body as he lifts it.
It’s important to remember to change your diagonal every time you change the rein. To do this you sit for one extra stride. Up, down – down, up. That brings you up as the new inside hind leg is going forward.
So you’re supposed to rise when the outside front leg and inside hind are going forward - how do you know? Look at the outside shoulder. Rise as it goes forward and sit as it comes back. Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t see it. Some riders take years to get it right. Try sticking bandage or electrical tape on the point of one of your horse’s shoulder. That way you can see clearly when it moves away and towards you.
The best place to practise is out on a hack. Trot up a road in a straight line. That gives you time to focus solely on the shoulder. Look down and keep your eyes on it. Forget about ups and downs. Just concentrate on whether that shoulder is going forward or back. When you can do that can you worry about the timing of your rising.
Out hacking there’s no right or wrong time to rise but try to use both sides. Sticking to the ‘more comfortable one’ will only make the stiffer side worse.
For the more experienced rider the choice of sitting or rising trot comes in when you’re either showing or competing at dressage. In the early dressage levels it’s not compulsory to sit so unless you can sit on your horse and be totally relaxed don’t do it. Rising trot performed well looks as good as sitting trot and it will look much nicer than a horse that is tight because he is unhappy with his rider’s weight on his back.
Tension in your seat has a dramatic effect on your horse and your ability to sit. Try tightening the muscles in your seat in rising trot. You’ll feel your legs move away from your horse’s sides and forward. Your weight is tipped backwards.
Do the same in sitting trot and it has exactly the same effect. You may not feel it but your horse will. He’ll hollow and tighten his back which will make him uncomfortable to sit on. Result? You tighten your seat even more.
You are the only one who can change this. Practise going from rising trot to sitting for as little as ten strides. Concentrate on keeping your seat as relaxed as possible. When you sit in the saddle sit straight down. You should feel your weight on your two seat bones but also a little on your fork. Gradually increase the length of time you sit. The instant you feel your back or seat tighten start rising.
A final thought for all riders - don’t forget to breathe! Stupid as it may sound who hasn’t held their breath when they’re concentrating hard? The problem with that is it tightens every muscle in your body. That’s not going to help whether you’re rising or sitting.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.