Improve your sitting trot
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve ran a sitting trot series on my social media pages so I thought, after we’ve all been inspired by the Olympics over the past couple of weeks I would bring the series onto the blog!
We’ve all been there; bouncing up the centre line thinking;
“Oh my lord if my trainer saw me now!”
(You would have definitely had this feeling if your trainer was Pammy Hutton at any point too!!)
Bouncing up & down feeling like you’re banging up & down on your horse's back, not sitting into the movement. Maybe you’ve just got a new horse and you’re struggling to sit to his bigger trot or you find you’re constantly tipping forward in your sitting trot or your back is sore after practicing.
Sitting trot gives the illusion of the rider sitting very still, quietly, almost doing nothing. However when sitting trot is done badly or you’re unable to sit the movement properly it can really look quite the opposite, not what we want! We want to work to create this appearance of us appearing to be doing nothing & just floating along in unison with our horse.
In reality, sitting trot requires a lot of subtle movements from the rider, using the hips to generate movement to keep the impulsion and rhythm continually moving forwards. Your body is constantly working during sitting trot & it requires both a degree of mobility through the lower body, hips, and core but also strength.
As I have spoken about before if you think of where the centre of your body is in the saddle it’s your glutes and your seat. Therefore you must make sure you have a strong hip musculature and can use your glute muscles as they are intended to be moved through a full range of movement.
The glutes have various roles when riding including taking the leg away from the saddle (abduction) & bringing the leg inwards (adduction). Taking your leg behind you (extension), as you move your heel back & forwards & being able to move your hips forwards & backward.
You must have mobility in these areas through your hips to be able to give effective aids and to use each leg independently from the other. Often riders struggle with using each limb independently & it can be caused by tightness or a lack of mobility through the hips.
If you find you’re unable to create this independent movement then you’re most probably also struggling with bouncing up and down and not being able to sit to the trot properly, so the first thing you want to focus on is making sure you are mobile and have suitable suppleness through your hips just as you would with your horse.
If your hips are tight you’ll probably feel very tense and set in your position rather than actually being able to really sit deep into the saddle and ride with your legs, which in turn will create more bouncing rather than you being able to sit to the rhythm and really ride the trot. In walk & canter it’s less obvious as the movement is smoother so were able to get away with it a little more and sit easier but sitting trot really highlights the issue!
To start with you want to focus on your hip mobility; we are focusing on increasing the flexibility through the hips and allowing a greater range of movement.
You want to make sure that your hips able to move through their full range of motion and this will give you the ability to be able to use your legs independently to your bottom & body. Having a strong core and the ability to maintain a neutral pelvic position is needed alongside this mobility.
These two movements are a great place to start to focus on your hip mobility. In your warrior exercise try and really think of lifting your pelvis to the sky on the back leg and tucking your glute under.
If you squeeze your bum on that back leg, you should feel the stretch down the front of your thigh and into the hip flexor but be careful not to over-extend and dump into the lower back!
Hip articulations you want to start with your pelvis & spine in a neutral position to hold that tabletop posture. Don’t let your back extend away as you move the hip. The articulations will help you to take your hips through its largest range of motion but it’s important to work with your mobility don’t force the movement.
Think of drawing a circle with your knee; start small and get bigger over time. Begin with 30-40 seconds hold on each side or 8-12 reps for your articulations & aim to do them for 2-3 sets building up sets and reps over time as well as moving through a greater range of movement.
Once you have worked on your mobility and you feel that your movement has improved & you’ve got sufficient flexibility and mobility to take your hips to that full range of motion we can start to think about strengthening your hip muscles where we will mainly focus on the glute muscles.
You have three main glute muscles; your glute minimus, glute medius & glute maximus. When we are riding we use all three of these muscles & they have their own roles within our seat. The biggest muscle is the glute maximus and this helps control the front to back balance of the hips, so you can move your hips forward and back.
If tight or immobile it will really affect your ability to be able to fully extend your hips which when you’re trying to create supple movement through the trot & sit deeply will not help you. You may well find that another area of your body compensates for the immobility by trying to create movement from elsewhere which in turn could lead to injury.
The glute medius muscle is responsible for taking the hip outwards & inwards. For example, when riding the glute medius is responsible for abducting the knee away from the saddle, so it’s crucial for you to be able to have full control of this muscle which will allow for you to use your aids & legs independently to your seat.
All of your glutes muscles alongside your core muscles are stabilising you in the saddle, keeping you in balance and allowing your body to work as one unit. The stronger you are, the more balanced you’ll be & the better you are going to ride.
Your glute minimus is the final glute muscle. It’s not used as much as the other muscles when riding however it does still have a role in hip abduction so we want to make sure we are training all three of these areas to make our glutes as strong as possible.
If you’ve never done any strengthening work before then starting with some basic bodyweight exercises and increasing the demand over time using resistance bands or weights would be a good place to start!
You want to make sure you make your hips as strong as possible to give you the greatest range of movement through your seat whilst also giving you that balance.
Glute bridges are a great exercise to begin with. In time you can advance by adding a band above your knees or a Pilates ring in between your thighs to really get your adductor & glute muscles both firing! You want to focus on moving through the hips with good form & technique.
Start with somewhere between 10 to 15 reps for 2 to 3 sets, building this up over time and increasing either the resistance used or the reps & sets done. Increasing your range of motion will also build your strength.
Clamshells are a great exercise to strengthen your abduction muscles, which are responsible for taking your leg away from the saddle. Start bodyweight and really focus on having control through the movement and then in time you can add a light resistance band above the knees. These will improve both mobility and strength within your glute muscles & hips. They are a handy exercise to spot if you’ve got a big indifference one side to the other in terms of your strength & any imbalances. If you find you have one significantly weaker side always start your reps on that side first.
Side lunges focus more on the adductor muscles (inner thighs) & they also will help you to build stability through the glutes and hips. Start with 8-10 reps on each side for 2-3 sets to begin with. Over time you can add in some external load like a kettlebell and focus on moving through a greater range of motion to improve your depth.
Squats are another great movement that work all of the glute & lower body muscles. It’s a great full-body exercise to make sure that you challenge your core whilst working multiple muscle groups. Focus on really engaging the glutes and moving through a controlled full range of motion whilst maintaining a neutral pelvis throughout.
In time once you have built a good level of strength in all these exercises & progressed through heavier resistances you can think about maybe introducing some more advanced exercises such as a deadlift or a hip thrust.
Both these exercises are fantastic strengthening movements to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and posterior chain muscles but you must do them with correct form to keep yourself injury-free & get the benefits!
Like your previous exercises focus on moving through a full range of movement and in time progressively increase either the weight used or the reps completed.
It’s really important in these movements that you focus on form first rather than whacking more weight on the bar as that’s where you can have an injury! Leave your ego at the door & think about moving well.
Sitting trot can be hard to crack but it’s imperative that you focus on training both the mobility and flexibility needed whilst also having the strength so you can be stable in the saddle whilst generating movement. Obviously, your glutes and hips are the main area of movement in your trot however you musn't neglect your core or upper body training as well. Make sure your programme is balanced through the week of training!
I hope this gives you some ideas of where to go next and areas to work on your sitting trot so you can start to improve your stability and improve your marks down the centreline! No more nodding dogs!
Give these a go & let me know how you get on,