Full Seated Sitting Trot

A little bit over a month ago I started off my rides on MJ by getting up into 2-point immediately after mounting and staying up in 2-point for 5 minutes. At least that was my goal. I did succeed in keeping my weight off my seat bones but there were times that my body sank down into a half-seat. This was in addition to all the times I would get up into 2-point because MJ's back was not moving correctly. I got exhausted doing this, but it was for the good of the horse so I persisted.

It worked.

I had my lesson on Wednesday. I started off with the 5 minutes mostly in 2-point and we went on to our usual big turns, some turns in place, and some three speeds of the walk work. Debbie wanted a trot, we did a posting trot. The next trot Debbie told me to sit so I went into my now normal crotch seat, using the taught muscles of my hips and legs to absorb the shocks from MJ's rather stiff back.

Debbie did not like what she saw. She told me to SIT UP, move my butt back into the saddle, and basically do a dressage type sitting trot. OK, I have reasons for avoiding doing this on MJ, with his back being stiff and uncomfortable, my deep desires not to subject my brain and spinal cord to unnecessary shocks, and my hope that eventually, one day, MJ's back will get strong enough and “invite” me to sit down. Maybe Debbie was telling me that MJ's back looked strong enough now for me to sit down fully at the slow trot. Not a big problem, I learned the dressage sitting trot seat 50 years ago. I did not bounce in the saddle.

I had to use some leg to keep MJ in the trot, not a surprise since one of my accessory aids for a downward transition from the trot to the walk is sitting down more in the saddle and straightening my torso. At least I had gotten MJ's back relaxed enough so it “swung” some under me at the trot, so it was not as jarring as it would have been many months ago. But still, all of the excess tension in MJ's spine is still there, and my body felt jarred every step.

So I could only do short sitting trots. Holding my torso vertical took away my sort of stiff hip muscles, thigh muscles and lower leg muscles that had helped absorb the jarring. I tried to lighten my seat in the saddle as much as I could but the necessary muscles were just not strong enough. I made sure to follow his “swinging” back, when the jarring got too much I would transition down to the walk, and in a minute or two Debbie would tell me to reverse and do the sitting trot in the other direction.

MJ got into the program. Slow trot, sure fine, Appendix-QH slow trot coming right up. MJ is sort of bred to do an easy slow shuffling trot, no problems. It is going to take a lot of work to get MJ's sitting trot from a QH shuffle to a proper sitting trot with impulse and spring. This may well take me several months of working at the sitting trot while at the same time I work to develop the muscles around MJ's spinal column.

For our last downward trot-walk transition I gave the rein aids, sat up a little straighter, “told” MJ he could take his time at it, and in two strides he was at the walk. During this downward transition his back softened up, his back felt comfortable and relaxed, and Debbie praised both of us for a really good downward transition.

Right now my first step HAS TO be relaxing his stiff spinal column somewhat, there has to be tension in the spinal muscles to avoid damaging the spinal cord so I do not want his back muscles to relax completely. I just want that subtle wave down the spine as the spine alternately flexes downward a little bit then comes up under the saddle, repeating each step of the trot, which will make sitting on his back a less jarring experience. Until I get this subtle back movement it would be worse than useless to go on to developing his sitting trot in other ways, especially adding impulsion to the mix. My aids would clash with his movements and not go “through” his body properly.

I am just hoping that if I prove to MJ that I will not bounce in the saddle and that I will faithfully follow all the movements of his back, that this necessary relaxation will take place. He is defending his back, and he had to learn how to defend his back because no one seemed to consider it important to develop the strength of his back before he was used as a lesson horse for the past two decades or so. By now MJ has the habit of stiffening all those little back muscles, and the only way I will be able to convince him to relax some is by strengthening his back muscles and never, never, never bouncing in the saddle.

And strengthening his back muscles starts with me getting up into 2-point immediately at the start of our ride and me keeping up in 2-point for the first 5 minutes. Ideally I would just stay up in two-point the entire ride, but I just do not have the endurance and strength to do that because of my MS. Still 5 minutes at the start is better than nothing, and I am getting positive results.

Last Sunday I rode Cider. After her somewhat painful time walking around when I switched to the Fager Alexander sweet-iron snaffle I decided to go back to the double bridle, with the Fager titanium Weymouth curb and bradoon. This time I decided to try the Fager Elisabeth titanium curb with a little vertical to the cheek pieces low rise right in the center, not quite a normal port. This time, unlike the time with MJ, I did it right, a 125mm Weymouth and a 120mm bradoon. This worked well, before I got up I made sure that the bradoon did not prevent the purchase of the curb from moving back when I released the curb rein tension.

Cider was completely fine with this set up. While she still flinched she did not act like a line of flame was burning all the way up her leg. She strode out fine, did not fuss with the new bit set up at all, and she was generally cooperative instead of just saying “I hurt, I hurt, I hurt.” Shannon gave me permission when I wanted to keep contact with just the curb bit, and Cider did not mind it at all. She kept her nose forward, her mouth closed, she did not drool, she did not get tense, and she obeyed my halting rein aid without any comments.

At the end of our ride Shannon told me that she wanted me to use ONLY the double bridle (with the titanium bits) on Cider from now on. Since Shannon mostly rides Western she is not familiar with the double bridle beyond what she's seen with me and Cider, but she obviously appreciates the improvements in Cider's way of going and Cider's demeanor when I use the double bridle. Yeah!!! Shannon sees what I feel, that with just having a curb bit in her mouth, even with sagging reins, Cider collects slightly, nothing overt, taking some of her weight off her forehand onto her hindquarters. And one of the beauties of the double bridle is that this just happens, I do not have to do any aids at all, just put the curb bit in, keep the reins sagging, and Cider adjusts how she carries her weight. Easy.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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Comment by B. G. Hearns on July 15, 2021 at 12:13pm

A bit of relaxation goes a very long way. I know those first few warm-up minutes make all the difference for the rest of the ride.

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