Negotiating Doing the Sitting Trot

When I started my lesson on Wednesday I gave Debbie my litany of the physical woes resulting from all the sitting trot I did for my lesson last week. Debbie's response was sensitive, showed that she heard me, and full of concern about my physical well-being “Well, I will stop asking you to do the sitting trot.” That was not my goal, MJ NEEDS some educated work at the sitting trot, so I told her that really short sitting trots were fine, just to understand that when I go to the walk or start posting it is to defend my brain and spinal cord.

Debbie told me that she has riders who can sit MJ's trot effectively, and then she has riders who just can't stop bouncing in the saddle. I told her I had no problems with being able to sit his trot, it was the jarring from his stiff spine that caused my problems last week. If I was not defending my body I would be sitting his jarring trot just fine, I have ridden worse.

At the start I did not remember to get up into 2-point until about a minute later, then I got up out of the saddle for 5 minutes or so. During the 2-point period I added trotting, big curves, sharper turns, and some slowing down and then speeding up. I wanted MJ warmed up before I tried another sitting trot!

After recovering from all the 2-point I nudged MJ into a slow trot. I sat up in the proper dressage sitting trot position, body erect and my butt back in the saddle, and MJ's first two strides were smooth and did not jar at all. Then his body leveled out and his spine got stiff. I could only take it for 3 or 4 strides, then I asked him to transition down to a walk and his spine relaxed again.

This week I got DOUBLE the number of strides with a relaxed back. I got this with both of the very short sitting trots we did. Yeah, I know, 4 strides isn't very much, but it is much better than just two strides. PROGRESS! Always celebrate even the smallest signs of progress, this is how the horse learns he is doing it right.

This time my body had no long lasting effects from the two short sitting trots.

After I told Debbie about the added two strides of relaxed back, I told her that I felt like I was loosening MJ's back vertebra by vertebra, and that it would take a while to get to where I wanted to go. The way I see it is that I have to PROVE to MJ that I will not pound on his back, and that I will follow his back motion. This is the minimum requirement to get the horse to relax his back muscles just enough not to jar his rider. I also have to give his back muscles freedom to do their work by not squishing them down with a heavy seat, which means my pelvis/seat bones move side to side, alternate up and down, and forward and back alternating from one side to the other as I sit erect in the saddle. Of course he is being ridden by other riders, several of them beginners who do not know how to do this so he does not relax his back under them. At least my saddle, saddle pad, and bridle are different than what he wears for lessons, this helps me because from the first step MJ and his body knows that I am a different rider than his usual lesson riders.

My long term goal is for MJ to just relax when he sees that it will be ME riding him. I have done this before, it is an achievable goal, and it ends up with the lesson horses moving much better under me because they do not have to worry that I will hurt them in spite of what their other riders do to them.

When I ride a horse I always have this “vision” in my mind's eye of how I want the horse to move under me. Everything I teach the horse adds to his physical fitness and his responsiveness to my aids, and as the horse's body gets more into the groove he learns that what I teach him helps him move better and with less pain. Then the horse starts relaxing into his learning, often asking tiny questions with his body and mouth, giving me comments about my riding, and offering up his own experiments with moving. My reactions to this are YES to the good reactions, and little subtle hints to the horse that if he tries it THIS WAY everything will get better if his reactions are not so good. I am not a dictator just saying “do this, do that”, I suggest movements and reward lavishly when he does what I want, and I negotiate with the horse if his movement it not where I want it to be, it is a constant back and forth of “yes” all the way to “maybe this will work better” and then back to “yes”. I always work toward the goal of the horse's first reaction to an aid being “yes, let's do this, it will be fun!” Sometimes it takes a long time to get there.

There has to be a lot of “yes” from both horse and rider to build a strong team. That is how we learn from each other. We help each other to become better than before.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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