A solid, correct biomechanics of a rising trot is probably the simplest way of encouraging the horse’s seeking reflexes and as a result, the elusive roudness over the back.
For all grassroots riders I teach, there is no escape from this and although I don’t tend to drill mechanically into a “perfect position”, the goal of a good, horse back friendly rising trot will never disappear from the lesson content until it’s sorted.
If you follow us on Instagram you will have seen the below two photos of Lauren. The third, bottom photo, is from this past weekend, 3rd June.
Maintaining this position is not easy for Lauren and her perception of it is very different to the visual effect! In fact, she feels like she is diving over Gilly’s head with her upper body and that her lower leg is much further back than it really is.
This is normal as the brain gets used to the new movement patterns but over time, she will also be able to relax much more into this new position and it will feel much less alien.
The main reason I believe the correct rising trot to be one of the top basic riding skills is that it gives the novice rider a “seat tool”; it limits the use of reins for control and it allows the rider to build upon a robust, safe and functional foundations.
Unbalanced rising trot, i.e. one where at various stages of the rise and sit the rider is not in own balance (not in control of lower leg, upper leg, upper body, energy of the rise etc) is incredibly common even in more advanced riders who are otherwise skilful and have a good feel and it’s a shame because it encourages head riding instead of back and hind quarters riding. It creates a hollow horse every stride the rider has to then “repair” somehow.
Lauren’s rising trot re-education happens via:
gym ball exercises to help her with alignment, symmetry and proprioception
lunge lessons with intensive corrections
jumping lessons with exercises targeting lower leg stability like gridwork, pole work and light seat training in all paces
individual moments with me just observing and filming for Lauren to reflect on later
Super changes already and Gilly is definitely benefiting from them!
Available for training share with the Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy, Amber is a fabulous all-round schoolmistress who is safe and fun, well travelled, well schooled and turns her hoof at anything from dressage, through show-jumping to cross-country.
Ideally, we are looking for someone who:
is looking for all-round coaching 1-3 x a week (lessons at the yard in Northolt UB5)
would like to attend Academy’s training outings, events and Camps with this special pony
10 years or older (weight limit: 8.5st)
would like to become part of the team with Amber and develop their riding and horsemanship skills
We are offering:
Academy livery (full-livery) at Northolt with Kelly looking after her
Weekly lessons with Wiola at Northolt (up to 3 lessons a week possible)
Opportunity to take part in variety of training options outside the yard
Please contact Wiola for further details on firstname.lastname@example.org
Rider Question:“[…]thanks for my videos. Can we have a chat about rein length at some point […] They just always look so much longer than they feel on Gilly and look awful to me! I feel like it’s something I have the wrong feel for and need to fix.[…]”
Video feedback forms an important part of all the lessons I do and I try to send some footage to every rider at least a couple of times a month. Those videos are then open for discussion and I encourage the riders to send me their observations and thoughts on what they see on videos vs what they felt when the rode. I think it helps with being self-critical in a constructive way, reflect on what happened and how it happened. The “reins length” question is very common and in fact is asked often in the search function for this blog so I asked Mairi if I could use her session and her question to discuss this at more length (no pun intended here 😉 ).
She agreed so here we go. Remember that these thoughts might not apply to all riders and all horses. Just take out what you feel might be useful.
First, have a look at the frames below. They are taken at random out a 1min footage and rider’s reins do not change length significantly at any time…:
The interesting aspect of this session was that it was what you might call, a breakthrough session. There are some elements which we are training for and Mairi got a “real life” feel for them rather than only understanding them in theory.
I personally was not at all concerned about her rein length during this session and at the stage we are at so her question made me think…
why the length of reins was the element she most noticed while watching the video?
why it looks “awful” to her and why?
what “feel” do we need to build up for her to make further progress
Some considerations when deciding on the “right” length of reins:
do they create a neutral, supple, steady connection (not yet “contact” as that’s what the horse gives the rider not vice-versa) i.e. the rein is neither slack nor taut/pulling nor changes in between one option to the other from step to step.
do they allow the horse to carry his neck in a posture that matches his current level of training and conformation. In terms of Dressage training, Mairi and Gilly are working towards a quality Preliminary level (British Dressage). This level asks for minimal of engagement, forward basic paces (medium walk, working trot, working canter), progressive transitions between gaits and basic body balance and alignement that makes the Preliminary “test shapes” easy to perform.
do they allow the rider to act with passive resistance or encourage the rider to pull back
is the rider able to help the horse with balance through the connection (ask for poll flexion or a half-halt) without unnecessarily busy hands
Mairi & Gilly’s case:
the rider’s reins are a little too long at times but this is more due to her allowing them to slip between her fingers
her feel changes from “all good” to “my reins are too long” when Gilly lifts his head above the bit. As these moments are very short in real life but can be unsightly when watched on the video, her attention is drawn to those “washing lines reins” rather than other issues (like loses of rhythm, half – halt that came too late and cost them balance, her own upper body posture that is changing and affecting balance, the seat that can be a little behind the movement or in front of the movement which again affects balance and encourages Gilly to catch it by lifting his neck)
rider’s adjustments are done “in front” rather than “behind” – this means that the slack or heaviness of the rein is not a “rein issue”, it’s a balance and engine issue. If the energy produced by the hind legs is misdirected or insufficient, this will show in the quality of connection the rider has between their hands and the bit.
I like to tell the riders to try to feel the horse’s hind legs in their hands and by that I mean that they ask the horse to travel forward and then catch the energy from the hind legs with the bit. Carry the hands and let the horse’s neck relax into most natural and functional (allowing athletic movement) position for the particular horse. That’s the starting point.
To answer Mairi’s question: the way to learn to feel for the right rein length is to learn to feel balance in the whole horse. Once the rider truly feels how to balance the horse with seat aids, how to energise or calm the paces in order to help with that balance, how to truly ride forward without chasing/running and how to maintain own steadiness, then there is rarely any doubt as to what rein length to have. Simply shortening the reins might help in some cases, but not this one.
Sometimes what feels good, is good for that particular moment, even if visually it’s not yet ideal 🙂 Once Gilly’s balance improves and rider’s feel for that good balance improves, he will raise his shoulders/withers and will be able to work with shorter neck and shorter rein. At the moment, short rein causes him to react defensively, block the hind legs energy at the wither and become disconnected through his body.
In summary: the reins are a little too long but perfect for this stage of learning the feel and experimenting what’s right and what’s dysfunctional for this particular horse.
ATTENTION ACADEMY RIDERS: I WILL ADD A SHORT VIDEO FROM THE SESSION IN OUR CLOSED FB GROUP TO ILLUSTRATE THE ABOVE POINTS FURTHER SO HEAD OVER THERE IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE MAIRI IN ACTION 😉
Most riders I know and teach wouldn’t describe rising trot without stirrups as their favourite seat development exercise but I do rate it and use it as often as possible.
It’s one of a very few exercises that relatively quickly change a “busy” rider into a much more organised and “quiet” one.
It is very difficult to do rising trot with no stirrups if the rising mechanism is wrong, it will simply be a torture on many levels!
Almost by default, this exercise, when done well, only rewards the rider when they organise their body in optimal position and join the horse’s movement well. This in turn is a great ingredient in developing better feel for nuances in a stride, for timings of half-halts etc
It strengthens the muscles in rider’s legs and core. When done well, it will help the rider achieve optimal, positive muscle tension. It works well for riders who ride with “too much muscle” and the riders who ride floppy. The ones who put too much muscular effort in, will get tired very fast. The floppy ones will need to dig in and discover deep skeletal muscles to stabilise themselves.
It doesn’t require fancy equipment, all you need is a relatively calm horse that is used to lunge work. I wouldn’t do it on young horses unless you are an experienced rider looking to refine some aspects of your seat. I would under no circumstances do it on nervous horses, horses with history of back pain or those that seem to over-react to rider’s corrections. Stay safe and keep the horse happy 😉
Each phase of the trot will be distinctly “feelable” – the rider can catch the moment she/he is being lifted and how much tension she/he needs in her inner and outer thigh.
There is nothing to brace against (stirrups) so as long as the rider is well guided by the trainer. she/he can really work on the right feel of the thigh and the hip initiating the rise rather than push from the stirrups (more on rising trot mechanics HERE)
I like to warm up the rider off the lunge in walk, trot and canter both to make sure the rider is ready and the horse too
We start with a slow sitting trot to feel for frequency of the stride before starting short periods of rising trot with individual corrections
We build it up from 5- 6 rises to 5-6 minutes of rising trot 😉
We then practice smooth changes between sitting and rising trot back to sitting
Depending on my goals for the rider I might have them holding the reins (as Mairi is on photos in this post) but more often than not I prefer to do this with no rein connection so the rider can fully focus on their seat.
If you do try it, build it up slowly. Make sure you have good guidance to correct you in an effective and long-lasting way. Simply suffering in rising trot with no stirrups won’t make you into more sensitive, more aware rider.
To watch a short video from Mairi’s training rising trot without stirrups, head over to our Instagram, just click image below to watch it:
We’ve been meaning to incorporate online dressage tests into Academy programmes on regular basis for quite a while now and have done an odd test with clients here and there. It’s still my aim to make it into a more regular “event” as not only that it brings a nice motivational factor to the dressage lessons but it also makes it possible to acquire feedback from the judges without costly travel.
Today, we had a go at filming a Novice and an Elementary tests for submission to Dressage Anywhere. Aisha set up the 20m x 40m inside the indoor arena at Brackenhill Stud that is about 30m by 55m which gave a perfect space for placing the camera while having a good view of the whole arena.
I found it surprisingly hard to video the test well with my snazzy equipment (a very thoughtful Christmas gift from my riders a year ago) despite the fact I’d been filming snippets from lessons for feedback since 2009/10! Videoing a test in a flowing manner proved to be a little challenging so Aisha’s mistakes here and there were opportunities for me to correct mine.
I think one the biggest benefits of staging these sessions for the Development programme riders that occurred to me today will be in creating warm up circumstances similar to real-life shows. Schooling a horse during a flatwork lesson and even talking the rider through the possible ways to warm up for particular tests are quite different to achieving best “test readiness” in 20-30minutes prior the actual test.
The other plus is the option of repetition. Often the atmosphere at shows causes a lot of tension both in the horse and the rider and the fact there is only “one shot” at getting it right makes it worse. Some might say this is the essence of the competition spirit but I reckon that for training purposes, the repetition buffer can help train stress resilience and limit feelings of frustration brought by some small elements going wrong.
The pressure is still on, the rider still needs to be quick on their feet and minds so the job is definitely being done.
Aisha’s second go at her Elementary test had some of the best canter work I have ever seen her ride so I was very happy for her.
Until I realised she forgot to wear gloves and the 2h we spent setting everything up and filming will need to be repeated 😉
We will sure be remembering that one! Another good lesson there 😉
This exercise is a fun one for any rider who tends to balance with their hands, whether they end up pulling on the reins or not. Horses sense tension in the arms and shoulders so even if you don’t pull on the reins for balance but feel like your arms and shoulders try to help you way too much in achieving a good position in the saddle, grab a gym ball and have a go at this 🙂
You will need:
a few objects easy to throw
a Springer Spaniel is optional
Your first mission is to kneel on the ball. This alone might take you some time to master well enough to take both hands off the ball and have them free to catch any objects thrown at you!
Once you can comfortably kneel on the ball with your hands free, arms and shoulders relaxed, your centre of gravity low (feel like your upper body’s weight drops into your pelvis and settles there, then drops into your legs – the feeling of supple and “relaxed” upper body is important) you are ready to start
Ask your helper to throw something to you, catch it, then throw it back
Start with simple, slow throws and if you are good at catching those, ask your helper to challenge you with aiming for each side of you instead of only doing centred throws
To up the game: ask your helper to throw the objects faster, multiply the objects and throw back and forth, catch above your head, to your right, to your left, low below the knees.
Make up your own challenges and share them with us! 🙂
‘Creative’ use of upper body is one of the most common issues I see in riders during turns and circles. Collapsing through the waist or hips is the option many riders go for so today’s blog post is a chat about this poorly biomechanics.
If you observe the rider above you can see that on the photo on the left she has lost the horse’s shoulders to the outside of the circle and the horse is crossing her inside hind leg in order to cope with the turn. The mare is mildly jack-knifed and “falling out” with no boundaries that she could otherwise be given via rider’s outside aids. Both the horse and rider have lost their balance to some extent: they are gently motorbiking too.
The rider’s spine is more of a ‘C’ shape creating a hollow on her inside side, her shoulders lost symmetry and her ribcage is now misaligned with her hips. This posture is very common in riders riding many crooked, stiff horses that are difficult to correct.
The photo on the right shows the same horse and rider later in the lesson. They are now aligned spine to spine, shoulders to shoulders. If the horse was to lose balance, the rider is much more likely to make effective adjustments to help the mare. She has control of the outside and inside of the horse.
If you too have a similar problem, here are something anyone can try:
sit on a gym ball (or a stool) in front of a large mirror so you can see your whole body. Mark your mirror (with a cream or something easy to remove) with 3 dots: one directly in front of your belly button, one a couple of inches to the left of that dot and one a couple of inches to the right of that dot.
spread your arms so they form extension of your shoulders – check if they are level
take a deep breath out and drop the weight of your upper body comfortably down into your seat (i.e. don’t lift your shoulders or try to stretch upwards). Sit in neutral spine position.
Slowly rotate your arms, your sternum and your belly button towards the dot on the left, hold it for the count of 10, come back to the middle, slowly rotate to the dot to your right (now please take a moment and leave a comment which way was easier for you if you did try this exercise 😉 )
you’ll now have a bit of a picture of your own “crookedness” – if you find it equally easy on both sides, lucky you! However, most riders will be a bit like horses in this respect, they will find easier to turn one way than the other.
repeat this exercise until you collect certain feel for holding rotation both ways. Collapse in your waist a few times too to feel the difference.
Back in the saddle:
ride arena corners trying to replicate the same feel through your torso as you had in front of the mirror
you can also: visualise both sides of your upper body from armpit to the hip bone holding the same length as you turn
observe how “fast” your horse turns their shoulders and “wait” for them – many riders try to turn the head and rotates/collapses with it as the shoulders of the horse are not really turning
Correcting your upper body mechanics can transform your use and understanding of outside rein as turning well teaches you to ride “from outside – in” rather than pull on inside rein to turn.
We try to organise to take horses for an away training sessions or shows once or twice a month. It’s not always easy to coordinate all the logistics with horses being stabled at two different yards and riders based anything from 30 minutes to an hour and a half away but we have managed a good few great outings already and it gets a little bit easier each time 🙂
Our most failed attempt was to try to coordinate the two yards trip to a dressage show organised by South Oxfordshire Riding Club. We didn’t quite realise how popular the SORC shows are and ended up with a few riders entered and the rest left starring at “entries closed” screen. Lesson learnt! We re-routed some horses to East Byshe Arena & XC which turned up to be a great venue with a mixture of XC jumps and show – jumps in a superb, spacious arena.
Everyone (including my mad Springer) always has an awesome time although I must say I enjoy it all the most once it’s all over and horses and riders are all safe and sound relaxing during a de-brief chat 😉
Our next trip is to RAF Halton Sponsored Ride at the end of March. If you are based at a lovely venue in Berks/Oxon/Middlesex/Hampshire/Surrey available for hire or know of one you’d love to recommend give us a shout in the comments – we are always on the look out for interesting places to train at!
To Aspire riders: all the above and many more images are available for purchase from Christine so if you’d like to grab any, please chat with her when you see her on the yard or email her via www.cdphotos.co.uk 🙂
The first time you try to stand on the gym ball you might conclude it a mission impossible. Your joints might go all stiff, muscles all rigid and you might try to grasp for anything and anyone to grab hold of for balance.
If this sounds a bit like you when your horse is playful and fresh or when he takes off awkwardly over a jump or when you feel nervous in the saddle for whatever reason, you might want to try this exercise at home.
The ability to relax during an intense effort is something that is possible to learn. That “active relaxation” allows for a positive tension to keep muscles in a state of readiness without the negative tension creeping in and making you rigid and and stilted in your movements.
For the above exercise you’ll need:
a gym ball (65cm should work well unless you are very tall or very short! – go for 75cm if the former or 55cm if the latter)
a helper, someone to catch you 😉
safe area around you
we used a couple of poles to stabilise the ball a little and this worked well for Caitlin’s first go. You can slowly build up towards no outside help.
a Pilates band (black one we used gives a good amount of stretch without feeling too much like pulling on a chewing gum!)
somewhere to attach the band to (or you can have a second helper holding the band)
Benefits (if you persevere with this exercise) :
huge dose of balance effort – it’s like learning to walk again 😉 You’ll feel like an earthquake and white water rafting happened to you at the same time!
you’ll find muscles you never thought you had
you’ll make discoveries about your balance that you won’t make walking on an even pavement
you’ll learn to breathe through a state of mild panic 😉
you’ll learn that your arms can move quietly even if your body is fighting a crazy battle to remain on top of the ball (not to unlike a calm balance required during playful bucking episodes, jumping efforts, XC etc)
you’ll learn a different dimension of relaxation, one that perhaps you have not experienced before: relation inside an immense effort…It’s when you are able to let go of negative tension in your muscles but remain engaged and positively toned. The skill that takes riding to higher level.
stand on the ball (simple but not easy 😉 )
the position you are aiming for is a correct squat with your knees in line with your toes, your centre of gravity low (not up in your shoulders – feel like you drop your weight into your hips and like your shoulder blades relax down your ribs)
you want to feel supple and loose in your shoulder joint, elbow and wrists
your back needs to stay as neutral as possible (avoid hollowing your back or rounding your back). A nice little video about neutral spine below:
Great read from Kathlyn Hossack below. I use no stirrups work throughout the year so all my riders, from children to adults are used to this form of training. I use the No Stirrups November as a fun initiative to delve deeper into balance, seat awareness and to push the riders that little bit more.
However, I couldn’t agree more with caution. I think all exercises, whether for rider or the horse, have their stages. First is when everything is a little messy but productive and is finding its ways. Second when it enters the “oh oh it’s working stage” and third when it’s back to messy but counterproductive this time.
Hope you’ll enjoy the read below 🙂
Don’t get me wrong… I’m 100% for feeling the burn and making those riding muscles work without the aid of those things we put our feet in.
I just have a few things I need to get out about the entire month dedicated to riding without stirrups.
As any rider who came up through a lesson program likely has experienced, No Stirrup November is a time where either someone suggests politely to you to ride withouts stirrups as much as you can, or (more often) someone literally steals your stirrups and you spend a month without them, hacking, in lessons, jumping.. you name it, you’re stirrupless.
In my professional opinion, I believe riding with no stirrups has a great place within the realms of developing position, strength, and function in the tack. Hunter/Jumper/Event riders, we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a line approaching a huge oxer or in the middle of a combo just having conveniently lost our stirrups at some point, amiright? Having some background in being able to keep your leg and your balance without weight bearing is hugely beneficial.
We know the pros to this. Increased balance, strength, and confidence. These are great pros! But if NSN is done wrong, you may not get the full benefit and actually end up affecting balance, strength, AND confidence.
Yes, there are safety cons to NSN. Falling, muscle soreness/strains, higher chance of injury.. etc. However, that’s not exactly what I want to focus on today.
Too often what I see happen with NSN is an immediate jump into absolutely no stirrups (as in the cases where stirrups mysteriously disappear from saddles and aren’t returned for 4weeks).
While, yes this is a sure way to commit… it’s also a sure way to develop bad habits,
compensations, and put yourself at risk for newly developed poor equitation come December. Think of it this way.. if someone took away your desk chair and you had no way of modifying the desk height or finding another seating device, so you had to still get down low enough to work at the desk.. Let’s say you’re ambition and you try to maintain a seated position (now squat) position (because we all sit in that nice posture, right?!)… you probably wouldn’t last long, and soon you’d start trying other weird things just to keep functioning. You’d probably start out by hunching or crouching, then maybe try to kneel and crane your neck, then maybe standing in a lopsided posture looking down…
Now think about the last time you rode without stirrups. Were you fluid and efficient with your movements? Or did you immediately lock up your hips, clamp with your legs and knees, and stiffen your arms and the rest of your body in an attempt to maintain your “normal” eq? This is before muscles even got tired!
If the above didn’t happen immediately.. it likely happened as soon as you got fatigued. Which is very normal. My issue with this? Now you’re training bad habits, and strengthening in your position in the wrong ways. Yes, the more the month goes on, of course the stronger you’re going to get. But if you build that strength on top of incorrect equitation.. it’s not really benefitting you. Also, your horse won’t appreciate you bouncing around all stiff and clampy for the first few weeks either. Think of their back and yours!
All this being said.. I’m still in favour of no stirrup training. If it’s done appropriately. Here’s my recommendations for NSN.
Week 1 (3-4x/wk):
● Regular warm-up with stirrups
● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work (or as long as you can until you find you begin to lose good equitation and posture.. this could be only 1-2min to start!). All gaits. Trot is obviously going to be the most difficult gait, with walk and canter being a little easier to maintain.
● 10-15 min regular riding. Do any jumping or more intense work within this time.
● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work. Focus here on things like sitting trot and transitions to build that core stability. Make sure you’re still letting the hips move, and keeping the legs in an appropriate position and of course maintaining a correct posture!
● Cool down. Or continue with a regular ride with stirrups.
● Repeat this every second ride (if you ride every day) or 3-4x/week with days in between.
Week 2 (3-4x/wk):
● Reg. warm-up with stirrups.
● 10-15min regular riding with stirrups.
● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting, 2 min canter work and transitions from trot to canter no stirrups. ● 2 min break
● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting.
● 1 min break
● 1 min trot work with out stirrups, OR transitional work (walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to sitting trot, sitting trot to canter, canter to posting, posting to walk.. etc).
● 1 min break
● 3-5 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity!
Week 3 (3-4x/week):
● Reg. warm-up with stirrups
● 10 min reg. ride with stirrups.
● 2 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity. Trust me you’ll feel the burn in your legs!
● Jump-work with no stirrups (if you jump), or lateral work or advanced work with no stirrups. Do this only until you feel your position slipping… Take breaks as necessary.
If jumping, start at a level you’re comfortable with (obviously). Ideas here could be: ○ small gymnastic exercises or grids or small course work.
● 1-2 min break.
● 5 min regular hacking or jump work with stirrups.
● 5 min hacking with no stirrups, all gaits. ● Cool-down.
Week 4 (3-4x/wk):
● Reg. Warm-up with stirrups, including 3-4min two point position work at trot.
● 5-10 min no stirrups, all gaits.
● 5 min regular hacking with stirrups.
● Any jump work or advanced skills with NO stirrups. If you’ve been working on jumps, work towards a full course at a comfortable height for you within this week!
● 1-2min break.
● 5-10min no stirrups, all gaits.
Some general rules of thumb for this progression:
1. The times are a suggestion. If you feel you can do more or can only do less before your position and posture get poor, by all means modify!
2. The point is to challenge yourself, but not to the point of training a bad position. Be aware!
3. The two-point position holds will challenge your position in a similar way to not having stirrups. I recommend throwing these in at the beginning and end of every ride you do for 2-5 minutes. Challenge yourself to control your horse with your legs, while keeping good position, and maintaining balance. Use your saddle or horse’s neck for balance IF NEEDED ONLY. This will work legs, core, and overall postural stability.
4. Perform the above progressions every second ride, or 3-4x/week. On days off from no stirrup work, add in the two-point holds and ride as usual otherwise.
NSN is often viewed as a month to go hard or go home. While I’m all for challenging riders to improve their fitness in the saddle.. it has to be done appropriately and smart. If it’s not then that’s where we end up with injuries, chronic pain, and perpetually fixing bad habits!
If you’re interested in a consult and a more personalized program for your NSN… contact me at email@example.com