Friday, January 21, 2022

sitting the trot?

So. Ok. This blog is home to a long and tortured history on the various ways in which I kinda suck at riding. Specifically -- that whole bit about how to actually sit on the horse. Rider position and all that. 

This last year FINALLY felt like we opened a new chapter in that regard, tho -- aided almost entirely by the roughly half dozen(ish) lessons I've taken with Molly since September. 

photo of my attempt at sitting trot, circa 2019 dressage clinic at Thornridge. this pic basically serves as a comparison for all the others included below -- note the rotation of my legs from hip to toe. pc Austen Gage
(also, if you're reading this post on your desktop computer using a feed reader and the images aren't appearing... ugh, i'm sorry, i don't know why it's happening but it seems widespread across the platform... the mobile app doesn't seem affected tho, and of course all images appear directly on the site itself!)
Long story short, in that September lesson, Molly basically completely changed my leg position. Or, at least, she guided me toward the "feeling" I needed to recreate in order to commit this new position to muscle memory. 

The "feeling," for me, is like having my toes point toward Charlie's armpits, and when I want to turn, positioning both legs as if I'm on skis. So, if I'm turning left, both toes (and accompanying attached limbs) rotate left, bringing my inside left leg onto the horse at the girth, and my outside right calf off, with right thigh on

video evidence of said attempts here: link to youtube

It was not news to me (or to any of you, or to any of my many past trainers) that my clinging, nagging legs were counterproductive and poor form. But ya know. Knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. 

throwback picture to this summer, during the lesson where Molly first started addressing the rotation of my legs, working to get my calf and heel off the horse 
So finally being able to develop the right feeling and positional awareness was apparently what made all the difference. And we've been practicing that feeling ever since. 

The craziest part, tho, has been the almost immediate and undeniable positive validation from Charlie. I literally trained this horse with my legs glued to his side full time. Everything -- and I mean everything -- he has learned from me, was learned via a shit ton of leg

putting the new positional mechanics to work in 1-3 a couple days later
So imagine my absolute shock when I took my leg off..... And suddenly Charlie just, idk, breathed deeply (thanks to a newly liberated rib cage, I'm sure), and proceeded to instantly transform into a soft and supple and delightfully capable dressage horse. 

I'm not even exaggerating -- we rode First 3 in a show something like two rides after that transformative Molly lesson, and it was hands down the happiest and most attentive Charlie's EVER been in a dressage show environment -- despite being his most advanced test yet, natch. 

ok i know i know it's a different saddle from the very first picture, but i see real differences in how my leg hangs from the hip
I always thought part of what makes dressage so hard is that it's not "self evident" for horses. Like, you don't have to explain a jump to a horse. They don't need help understanding when a distance feels uncomfortable, ya know? Or when they knock a rail -- that's their own appendage hitting a pole. They experience it directly. 

Dressage tho... How do you explain a perfect 20m circle to a horse? Or a "late" transition? How does the horse know what is "good"?? 

Turns out.... It really is all about that feeling. Charlie knows when something feels good. Like stretchy trot. Sure, he can still lose balance and run onto his forehand... But he can feel that too. And the more Molly adjusts my position on the horse, the more easily I can stay out of Charlie's way so that he can just sorta innately achieve that softness and balance and suppleness -- longitudinally AND laterally. 

stirrups are at least 3 holes too short here haha but i like this pic bc you can really see how the change in leg rotation gives me a whole new foundation from seat through torso
This is playing out in our rides in two main ways:: 

Laterally.... Charlie just.... goes now. I used to think that lateral work with this horse required massive amounts of energy and manhandling and literally molding all 1,400 pounds of Charles into shape using my own 5'3 frame as rebar. But.... Now that I'm not death-gripping his rib cage with my calves, it's like I can sorta just adjust hip position, thigh contact, and rein flexion and Charlie just merrily floats right on along. Crazy. 

The second main way these changes are playing out is that... All of a sudden, I can actually sorta sit the trot. Like, don't get me wrong, it still kinda sucks. But I can DO it. Compared to that first video at the top from 2019, where I could only go a couple steps at a time then had to post again -- all the while being almost completely useless with the rest of my aids while attempting to sit.... Yea, it's completely different now haha. 

thank you charlie for being such a good dog while i try to learn this stuff!!! pc Amy Flemming Waters
And it's not like I can even specifically say what I'm doing differently either -- there isn't like a bulleted list of "My Top 5 Tricks for Finally Sitting the Trot!"  And naturally I currently have exactly zero videographic evidence that I'm even telling you the truth haha. 

But. It *is* happening. And to me, it's crazy. Honestly kinda exciting, too. Especially right now with the nasty weather and limited riding options, it's nice to have some new tricks to play with during our otherwise monotonous evening rides under the lights. Nice to have some "winter bootcamp" goals that are all about me, knowing that Charlie is basically already primed and ready to go once I get my shit together. 


  1. Soooo much of riding is just messing around until things feel right. It's kind of frustrating, but when you get it, you get it, and the horse makes it known that you're doing the right thing. There's a great video that I watched the other day that loosely explains the mechanics of the sitting trot, and I think it relates exactly to how you're feeling. I can find it if you want!

  2. Sounds like you have some good breakthroughs! Sitting trot is so difficult but I see some great progress in those pictures!

  3. I wonder if Charlie is able to give you a better/more comfortable/stable place to sit now too? And since you're more sit capable he can hold that place better in turn? I've always found my attempts at sitting trot to be pretty positive feedback loop-y. Once my sit starts to go bad the trot and back devolve and my sit gets worse and it's all downhill from there.

  4. I always read your blog on the actual site, just makes commenting easier. <3 That's so cool that Charles is just blossoming as you blossom too. I want to feel really optimistic for your show season!

  5. I love these kinds of breakthroughs! Like one little tweak and everything suddenly makes sense! So exciting!

  6. Gotta love those "ah ha" moments! I enjoy riding bareback esp during the winter months so being able to sit the trot is a must however I've definitely have some bad lower leg habits...your post was a good reminder to be mindful of how little adjustments can do big things.


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