Sitting Trot. Can you truly get it or improve it if you don’t feel it?

Feeling the motion of the horse’s back

If you had to describe a movement your body feels in sitting trot to a non-rider, how would you do it? If you wanted to tell them how not to bounce in sitting trot, how to stay centred and help the horse via your seat in sitting trot, how would you do it? How does your pelvis move in the saddle and what part of your body absorbs the concussion?

If there is an issue with your sitting trot, if you have difficulty sitting to the movement of your horse, I recommend having a go at the above questions. If you are not sure, take a moment to think before you read further πŸ™‚ I’ll pop another photo below to delay your reading πŸ™‚

Feeling how the muscles move on each side of the horse’s spine

If your answer was that the movement is an up and down motion which needs to be absorbed by your lower back I recommend you try a little exercise pictured on photos above. Get someone to lead your horse, place your hands on each side of your horse’s spine where the saddle panels would be and have a little walk. Then get the person leading the horse to trot him/her in hand and try to follow. If you can’t keep up, stand back and watch the motion of the horse’s back.

You will feel in walk that each side of the spine, each side of the back moves forward and up/down but on alternate side. This creates both up-down and lateral motion which your body will need to absorb somehow.

Your lower back alone is not going to be able to do it unless your horse is a very flat mover with little to no actual propulsion from the hind legs.

The Hip Joins

The advice riders often hear is to “relax the hips” or “let your hips go with the horse”. The key is what part of the hips needs relaxing…

Have a look at the rider below. She is my brave guinea pig taking part in Aspire Video Library project and she is working on improving her sitting trot. She has mainly jumped with her horses and is generally a very quiet, neat rider. But…Her feeling was that the movement to absorb was up and down and she tries to deal with propulsion by a) holding on with her legs and b) letting her upper body absorb the movement (I showed it on a video and photos in another post – I will link to it in Related Articles at the end of this post for anyone interested). Such ‘technique’ means that she loses her effectiveness in schooling her horse that she could otherwise have.

Rider has her feet out of stirrups on own wish. You can see that the horse can cope with a moment of or two of lack of flexibility in the rider but as the discomfort continues and the rider’s tension travels up her hands and arms, he too braces his back and neck, drops his wither/shoulder and you can see by his facial expression that he is less than pleased.

Another result of bracing through knees and legs in general is that the seat is inevitably bounced up and away from the saddle. It’s important to realise that majority of issues in sitting trot and full seat in canter stem from rider’s hips/pelvis. Being the biggest joint in direct contact with the horse, rider’s pelvis is an unforgiving “detail”!

Breaking the vicious cycleΒ 

If you too have a habit of bracing or only feeling the up and down movement try to first feel the back of the horse with your hands. Then stand on the ground and gently drop the weight into one leg while resting the other and repeat this 20 times. Feel gentle rocking of your pelvis up on one side and down on the other. Now “hold” /”lock” your hip joints in place and try to do this again…Impossible isn’t it?

Imagine how you can “gel” with the movements of your horse’s back if you let your hip joints “give in” on alternate sides in sitting trot, picture the seat bones massaging your horse’s back, one at a time, not both “driving” together…

When sitting in the saddle try to feel those minute movements in your hip joints, first in walk, then in a very slow trot/jog. You will notice that any bracing in your knee or ankle also has an effect on your hip joints so keep checking for each joint and let it work.

One side down the other side up – the movements are very small and as such barely visible to the onlooker but you can certainly feel it.

There are many causes of issues in sitting trot and many exercises in the saddle you can do to help with improving your skill – if you want to see the ones we are using with the rider here, check the full video once it’s ready in a couple of months!

Oh, and if you are not sure where the hip joints are and how they can move have a look at this cool 3 D tutorial:

Related articles

19 thoughts on “Sitting Trot. Can you truly get it or improve it if you don’t feel it?”

  1. Learning to feel the lateral and forward and back movement of the pelvis will change your riding completely as it did for me. It is not easy though for someone like me who has been used to up and down, forward and back for way too many years. It is not habit yet with me, it is coming though and really makes a difference when you do get it. Love this article as it explains it very clearly. Thank you for sharing. πŸ™‚ x

    1. That’s super to hear! I actually wrote it in a much more complicated way at first, then decided to to challenge myself to do it simpler – sometimes I find it’s much harder to explain something very simply than when we have all the anatomy and bio-mechanics vocabulary at our disposal…
      Maybe when I am in your area I will pop over and we can film a tutorial with you and Folly? πŸ™‚ x

  2. In walk and trot I try to envision my hips being on alternate glider rockers–sliding gently with the horse’s movement. Not a perfect visual but has helped, though I still have a long ways to go! My boy has pretty big movement so I will be in for a challenge sitting his gaits when I get back in the saddle. πŸ™‚

    1. Glider-rockers as in armchairs? πŸ™‚ That’s a very interesting visual πŸ™‚
      I do think that with big moving horses there is also an abdominal/psoas muscles effort to actively lift each seat bone on the side that is coming up but most riders I teach don’t ride horses that produce that much power πŸ™‚

      When are you getting back in the saddle?

      1. Yes, like armchairs! It works for me–mostly I think it just gets me to relax enough to actually go with the movement! I first started working on that when I discovered I wasn’t even sitting the walk properly. Eeeps! πŸ˜‰

        River had an old abscess cleaned up and we are waiting for it to heal a bit; then we’ll be back with gentle hill work etc. on the grass till his feet are doing well enough for harder work again. Vet says a week, but we shall see…I’ll need to invest in some hoof boots for a while, I think!

      2. Ahh I’ve just read your blog – that’s a pain, hope this his last old abscess!
        Diet is such a hugely important element of hoofcare, perhaps previous owner neglected this?
        Good luck, hope he gains weight healthily and you are back in the saddle in no time!

  3. Oh my goodness- Wiz does NOT have an easy sit to trot! (which I’m hoping just means deep down he has an amazing trot just waiting to come out when he gets strong enough and learns to use his back!) because, I use to could sit the trot- but of course, that was on much flatter quarter horse type horses! And I do think it’s more of an up-down while forward and back kind of motion, but I never thought about it being an alternating of hips. And when my trainer had me sit the trot the other day, I almost cried. It was terrible! Granted, Wiz isn’t really ready to do much serious sitting trot work, as he still needs to strengthen his back first, but I’ll have to try this exercise πŸ™‚

    1. I just caught up with your posts – lesson you described sounds mentally painful but sounds like you are both on the up afterwards. The new farm sounds lovely.

      I don’t normally do this but I love your determination in getting things right so if you want to, take a clear footage of your sitting trot, email me a link to it (aspire @ and I’ll send you some personalised exercises. Only if you want to of course, no pressure! πŸ™‚

  4. I do work in sitting trot on a regular basis and I’ve actually come to like it!

    Things which help? Regular hip exercises, working without stirrups, and, …. Remembering to breathe! I think of the movement as pedals moving round on a bike i.e rotational.

    1. πŸ™‚
      The cycling exercise (rotating thighs/hip joints) is one of the exercise this rider got as her homework so we shall see in a few days what effect it will have had. I do like it a lot, it’s especially useful in trot on the lunge.

      Good point re breathing! Amazing what tension does to joint mobility…

  5. So true and so relevant to me! Just this week I had to re-learn to relax during sitting trot on a particular horse. I seemed to have a problem in sitting trot only on this one horse! How annoying, on every other horse sitting trot is easy. Found out that I was tensing my knees (not holding onto the horse, just tensing them!) So weird. Breathing helps, and I spent several days just doing sitting trot with this horse and focusing on relaxing my knees! Loved the video btw! πŸ™‚

    1. Hey Rosa, how interesting! I know you should never blame the tools but…I have narrow hips and if I ride in a saddle with wide twist/waist (area between the pommel and the actual seat of the saddle) I feel this adversly affects my hip joint mobility and I too tense my knees. It makes it hard for me then to sit the trot well. Just a thought as I also used to think there was a horse I just could not sit to until once his saddle got sent for re-flocking and I used a different one. Instant change! It might not be the case for you and perhaps this horse just has a massive trot but I found this interesting πŸ™‚

      Glad you found it useful πŸ™‚

      1. Yes, I agree about saddle fit to rider affecting ability to sit the trot. But it’s not the only twist (waist) but the total contours of a seat. If the seat is too wide, or otherwise prevents your leg from dropping naturally, your femur is forced forward into chair seat. When you move your leg back to proper standing balance, there is tension and tension causes bounce.
        So tools can affect performance. But even with good, well fitting equipment, sitting the trot well is incredibly difficult. At least for me it is.

      2. Hi Ruth,
        Thank you for your comment and it’s great to hear from a saddler on this subject.
        I do notice the width of the seat affecting my thigh position definitely but always thought it was related to the shape of the horse’s ribcage…are you saying you can actually have a saddle that fits a wider horse without it having a wide seat area? I know there are saddles where “rider’s part” can be shaped separately from “horse’s part” but is this the case in ordinary saddles?

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