When you’re not able to sit your horse’s trot without bouncing, it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s also hard on both your and your horse’s joints, spine and back muscles.
Sitting the trot well requires that you and your horse are balanced, relaxed and have the right posture. If your horse isn’t balanced, working off his hindquarters and lifting his back, this will be a challenge. However, if you don’t have the correct posture, you won’t be balanced or relaxed. And you won’t be able to help your horse. You’ll grip with the wrong parts of your body in an attempt to stay in the saddle, resulting in more tension. The more you bounce, the more you’ll grip and the harder it is for your horse to lift his back. It’s a vicious cycle.
Ride with the Right Posture
The foundation of your position is your seat, whether you are riding western or English. To be balanced, relaxed and move with your horse requires a neutral seat position so that you are neither leaning back (chair seat) nor tipping forward (forked seat), but have a straight line from your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle. The neutral seat provides the most stability in the saddle.
With your horse at halt, you should be sitting with your weight evenly balanced over the tripod (or three points) of both seat bones and the back of the pubic bone. If not, rotate your pelvis until your seat bones point straight down toward the ground and the curve in your lower back flattens.
Ask your horse to walk and engage your core muscles to support your lower back. When in the neutral seat position, your hips will move backward and forward in rhythm with your horse’s back. Your hip angle will open and close slightly with the swing of your horse’s barrel.
Stiffness that causes you to bounce in the sitting trot can also originate in your upper body. The upper back and long back muscles support the spine vertically so the shoulder blades can stay relaxed and responsive.
A complex group of shoulder muscles control the arm movements. If these sets of muscles are weak and unstable then the arms and hands will be rigid and unable to be independent of the rest of the body. The rider will tend to have rounded shoulders or a hollow back. Building a strong core and upper back muscles is key to sitting with suppleness.
To create soft shoulders, arms and hands, as your horse walks, establish the neutral seat then lightly rest your hands (without leaning on them) on your horse’s shoulders. Rotate your shoulders – forward, up, back, down – without moving your hands. The angle of your elbow will open and close in order for your hands to remain still.
Some riders bounce because their stirrups are too short, and they feel insecure when they are longer. The ideal leg position allows your hip angle to open and close while keeping your strongest calf muscles connected with your horse’s barrel. The longer your leg, the more you’re sitting astride rather than on top of your horse. When you can “melt” into your horse’s back and barrel you’re more able to move with him instead of bracing against his movement.
To lengthen your leg, let your leg fall naturally out of the hip joint as you lengthen the muscles in the front of the thigh and the back of the calf.
Avoid pushing your heels down or pressing your foot onto your stirrup, as that creates muscle and joint tension and brings your leg into the wrong position. Instead, gently rest your foot evenly across the stirrup allowing your ankle to flex naturally.
You’ll have a softer, more relaxed leg that allows your hips, knees and ankles to work as shock absorbers. As they open and close with your horse’s movement, you move with your horse instead of bouncing.