Real sitting trot!

In my defense, he’s hard to put together. Derby doesn’t have ideal conformation for dressage. He’s a thoroughbred, and is built downhill. (Nice badonkadonk, though!)

Today I had a real breakthrough , and it was totally unexpected. We achieved real sitting trot. By “real” I mean connected, round and working back to front. And it was amazing. More specifically, it was an epiphany!

But first, let me tell you what we’ve been up to lately. Ofter the debacle at the last show, I told Christy that 2013 starts now. She upped the ante on me, and started to require work in two-point and without stirrups.  The last few weeks have been difficult, but interesting.  As I work new muscles, really getting into my hip flexors and abs in particular, I’m starting to see the effect my biomechanics have on Derby’s way of going.

The work in two-point is a case in point. Contrary to popular belief (or at least how I learned a zillion years ago) two-point isn’t simply a matter of standing up in the stirrups and resting your knuckles against the horse’s neck.

“Which muscles are you using?” Christy said as Derby and I tootled around in what would commonly pass as a two-point.

“Ermm. None?” I ventured.

“Right. None. And your horse is shuffling along on his forehand,” she said. “Now try this …”

With constant coaching, Christy put us together, and taught me that you can influence the horse while in two-point. But it has to be an effective two point, I’ve learned.  At first, I thought Christy was crazy when she got after me to put Derby on the bit, get him round and bend him – in two point.  But as she put us together, guiding me into a balanced version of the two point, Derby miraculously began to round and carry himself.

“See?” she said.  “It’s not about training the horse.  It’s training the rider.”

Unfortunately for my muscles, she’s right.  The work in two-point moved into a variety of no-stirrup exercises, and then we started to put things back together, applying the new lessons, as I posted.   I had a couple moments where I generated real throughness with the new position – and I wasn’t demanding it from the horse, as much as I was putting myself into the position that encouraged the horse to go there.  Experiencing this was a real revelation in and of itself, especially when Christy had me practice going back and forth between  “doing it wrong” and trying to maintain a correct position.

Again, the effect on the horse was immediate and noticeable.  As soon as I’d arch my back and stick my butt out (whether posting or in two-point), Derby’s gait would immediately slow.  Re-positioning myself into my more correct and balanced position fixed the problem just as quickly.  At first I resisted Christy’s suggestion of going back and forth between bad and good.  However, now I realize that she was teaching me to feel my point of balance, and what happens when I deviate from that point.

So fast forward to today.  I had done quite a bit of work and was taking a walk break.  Derby started to fuss, resisting contact by flipping his head.  When he does this, Christy has had me working on getting him forward, holding the reins, and letting his pulling anchor me even more deeply into the saddle.  Today, as we worked things out, something different happened.  When I kicked Derby forward when he was resistant, I closed my legs and deepened my seat, holding the reins steady and anchoring myself with my core.  I’ve learned from Christy that when I do this,  any pulling Derby was going to do was only going to make my seat deeper – and it’s now one of my most important tools.  He softened and rounded, and I got a nice walk for a stride or two. Then he popped into a trot.  Because “forward” was absolutely the right answer, I didn’t want to ask him to downshift immediately.  So we trotted, and I chose to sit a few beats.  In that brief moment, I applied some of the learning imparted from Christy and actually rode it with some purpose, drawing on and our work on effective two-point and without stirrups, and made a point of finding my balance and keeping my hip angles open.

Lo and behold, we wound up doing a nice sitting trot.  Derby was on the bit, round and his hind legs were engaged.  And it felt great!
“Christy.   CHRISTY.  Look.  Sitting trot.  His back is up. I’m doing it!!!”  I shrieked to Christy, who was also riding at the time.

“Wow, that looks great!” she replied, stopping to watch.  We went all the way around the arena, and then did it again.  Was this a fluke?  I tried it again.  And got the same good result  I switched directions,and had to work to put Derby together, but we got it done.  We did a couple laps that direction.  I experimented a bit, asking for a big bigger trot with my seat and legs.  It worked.  Derby stepped forward into a bigger gait. I think I’m going to be more effective once I master the sitting trot.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and Christy was happy too.  I was particularly pleased to have put the sitting trot together by myself, by paying attention to what the horse was doing under me, minding my position and using the tools Christy has given me.  I feel like I’m developing some independent competence as a rider. It was a thrilling ride, and I can’t wait to try it again!


Good man.


It’s been a while since I posted, and I don’t have too much that’s new to report.  Right after the show, my husband and I went away for a few days. Some of the teenagers at the barn rode Derby while I was away – and he got some real work in with them.

Unfortunately, my unscheduled dismount at the show left me with a pulled groin muscle and a very sore sprained ankle – I think my foot hung in the stirrup a bit on my way down, rolling my foot over and injuring the ankle.  It’s better but not healed.  I have to be careful when I ride not to aggravate it.

I’ve had a couple lessons that were pretty ‘eh’ – it’s hard to ride well when things hurt!  And last weekend me made an attempt at a trail ride, but I threw in the towel when Derby refused to go by through a gap in a fence that is right next to a culvert.  He wasn’t being bad about it, and a rider with more intestinal fortitude would have kicked him through it, but that day, that rider wasn’t me.  I hate to give in but I didn’t have a whip with me (mistake) and, as previously mentioned, I’m not at 100%.

Last night the ankle was really bugging me, so Christy had me drop my stirrups. Needless to say, posting without stirrups isn’t something I do enough of and I didn’t last too long – those muscles are weak, and I’m feeling it today!  We also did some sitting trot work that was pretty fun.  I was able to get Derby to round for just a moment, enabling me to experience what sitting on a back that’s up feels like.  It’s much better than sitting on one that’s hollow.  But the no-stirrups work was great and informative.  I love how Christy can make lemonade when I hand her a lemon.

We’re entered in another schooling show next weekend.  It’s another unfamiliar venue, which is great practice for us.  Despite the tumble two weeks ago, we are making progress.  The key, when we’re away at home, isn’t to try to get Derby to relax.  It’s to take charge and really ride him.  When he is convinced that the human is in charge, he’s fine.  It’s convincing him that’s the challenge.


When one hole feels like one mile

We tried a little something different in my lesson last night, and I’m feeling it today.

We started out doing a little sitting trot, which isn’t something I work on much, but as we warmed up walking, I had a really nice walk going from Derby, and I commented to Christy that his active walk (and following it with my seat) was just what my achy, crampy self needed.

She had me essentially “follow” with my seat into a trot, closing my legs and inviting the upward transition with my seat.  Then as we got going, Christy had me feel (and control) my seatbones, un-clamp my knees and relax my lower leg, draping my calves around the horse.   While I’ve sat the trot before, last night was the first time I feel like I really started to get an inkling of how to sit the trot effectively.   And by inkling I do mean fleeting glimpse, but it was still an “ah-ha” moment for me.  With Christy’s coaching,  I was able to follow with my seat and get Derby to round a bit.  And then the burn started.  I knew I was doing it right and engaging my core when suddenly my lower abs started to burn.  It felt like I was doing micro-crunches in time with Derby’s stride.  It was a cool feeling and I can’t wait to work on this a bit more and get to the point where I can actually sit effectively.  In reality, this is stuff I won’t need for, oh years (in terms of competition) but it was still cool to do, and importantly, the exercise got me in touch with my seatbones.  We did some walk-halts, with me just shifting the angle of my seatbones  (really, that was it)  and each time Derby halted nicely – on contact, square and balanced.

As promised, I did drop my stirrups while doing some of the sitting work.   I really need to learn not to do stuff that gives Christy ideas, because she liked the way my leg looked when I dropped the stirrups.

I’ve been riding with them a bit short, because I was having some issues with my hip locking up, which then stilled my seat and caused me to arch my back.  Christy has had me work with a bit shorter leather, and that has done the trick.  She dropped my stirrups a hole, and had me give it a try.

It’s amazing what a difference that hole made.  It may as well have been a mile.  Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, I know ,but really it did effectively put my leg in a whole new position, moving my knee off my saddle’s knee block and changing my hip angle.  Posting felt very weird at first.  Christy had me focus on posting in a more upright posture, thinking of rising straight from my hips.   She also had me keep my calves wrapped softly around Derby’s sides.  It wasn’t pretty and didn’t feel good, but I’m going to stick with it.  Better now than never! I feel much better with the longer leather – it’s easier on my knees, and, as Christy noted, it puts me in the position the saddle was was designed for.   It’s never fun messing with your position but I know it will feel better soon.  In the meantime, I’m feeling the effects of last night’s ride in my legs today.  More Advil, please!


Two light bulbs

Learning to sit, effectively

My holiday hiatus over, I was looking forward to getting back out to the barn last night for my lesson.  However, though the mind was willing, the body wasn’t.  One of my knees was killing me and the motion of posting was painful.  So Christy reshuffled her deck, and announced that we’d do more warm up work in two point, and then work on sitting trot.

We’re using two point to build my leg strength, so I can start carrying my weight more correctly, instead of relying solely on my stirrups.  As I went around, I lightened my feet in the stirrups, taking more weight on my upper thighs. Then Christy upped the ante, asking me to take some contact and make the horse round. While in two-point.

Now, this took some doing for me. I’ve not done much in terms of influencing the horse while working in two-point.

“Think side reins,” said Christy.  I closed my fingers, and steadied my hands.  Derby started to pull into the contact, and rounded.

“Good. Now send him forward,” said Christy.  Still in two-point, I squeezed my knees.  Nothing.  Determined not to cheat, I squeezed my knees again.

“This trot’s getting worse, not better!” Christy observed.  “Send him forward!”  After another minute of pop-eyed knee-squeezing, I asked Christy exactly how one sends a horse forward when in two-point.

“You can use your legs and your core while you’re in two point,” she said. When she said that, the first light bulb clicked on. I realized that I hadn’t been using my lower leg at all – and the go button is best activated with the calves.   I tightened my core, which magically connected my body to my legs (um. duh.) and eased my knees, letting my calves drape around the horse a bit more, despite maintaining the two point position.  The horse rounded, and when I closed my calves, he went forward.

“There you go!” Christy approved.  So that was my first light bulb moment. From then on, I was able to ride the horse more forwardly, while maintaining some roundness, in a two point.  It was definitely a first.

From there, we took a walk break.  Christy had me focus on feeling the motion with my seat, paying attention to which foot was falling where.  Then she had me swing my hips, telling me to swing the horse up into a trot, and then continue following the motion with my seat.

After a few rough starts, Christy noted that I was starting to curl forward, and was tensing up in an effort to stay light on the horse’s back.  The result was a tooth-rattling ride that wasn’t any fun for the horse, either.

“Lean back, and point your seat bones towards the front of the saddle, ” she told me.  My next try was much more productive.  I was able to feel a few moments where the sitting trot felt really good and connected.  Best of all, the horse was pretty happy throughout.  Derby was staying fairly round – not popping his head up and going hollow.  I fed him some extra rein, as my hands were still bouncing around a bit, and I wanted to focus on staying with the motion.  Eventually, though, I was actually able to take and hold some contact while sitting, and Derby stretched into the contact, holding it nicely.  I was stunned. While I wasn’t really moving Derby out in any semblance of a working trot, nonetheless, this was the first time I’ve ever maintained any semblance of contact and roundness while sitting the trot.   One night, and two light bulb moments! Can’t wait to get out to the barn tonight!