Trotting Towards Success
With every new rider comes some familiar challenges. Walking is usually pretty comfortable but speeding up to the next gait can be nerve-wracking. Going from a slow, even pace to a choppier one leaves most riders feeling like they could fall off at any moment. To add to the equation, holding on tighter seems to make the ride even worse. All of which usually results in a rattled "WHOA!" and reins pulled tight.
Therefore, we try to help our riders work to overcome the uncertainty that the trot brings by applying a few different exercises:
1) Put your heels down. I cannot stress this enough and my riders know it because I say it... a lot. To do this correctly, your foot should not be pushed all the way through the stirrup but rather; only far enough that the ball of your feet are touching the stirrup. I like to tell my riders that they should be able to "squish a bug in their stirrup" or hold a penny in place. If your foot goes too far into the stirrup, you will not be able to lower your heels and may lock your foot into place in the event of a fall.
When your heels are down, your balance almost immediately improves at any gait, but most especially the trot. You may also find that it helps you to stay seated in the saddle if the horse makes a move you are not expecting.
2) Do not squeeze with your legs. As much as your brain urges you to hold on, try to relax your legs. If you are doing it correctly, you should be able to place your hand on the inside of your knee. If you cannot fit your hand between your saddle fender and your knee, you are squeezing and are likely unbalanced. You will likely find that your heels are up and your toes are down at that point, as well.
3) Catch your weight in your knees. Our most dreaded experience during a trot is when our back-end gets to bouncing. This usually indicates that the rider has heels up, they're squeezing, and/or they are catching all of their weight in their behind. To alleviate this, do the previous steps and then think to yourself, "Catch the weight in your knees", making use of your knees as if they are shock-absorbents. After some practice, you will find yourself able to sit through even the bounciest of trots with ease.
4) Let go! I like to let our riders start out by using the saddle horn but I try to encourage them to let go as soon as possible. Used incorrectly, the horn can be a deterrent to a good ride. If you are grasping the horn like you would hold a bottle, you will haphazardly end up pulling yourself up over the horse's withers. If you can train yourself to push against your horn, (similar to the motion you would make when honking a car horn) you can do less damage to your balance, but better yet; when just riding and not attempting any tight turns, you may find that you have more balance without the horn.
If it scares you to not hold onto anything, causing you to start balancing on your reins, (a whole other issue in itself), I ask my riders to ball up their fist, bend their elbow, and hold it tight to their body. This gives the mind reassurance and allows the rider to relax a little!
5) Be patient with yourself and your horse!
Every maneuver we do from the time we are born takes time so you can expect the same to be true when it comes to riding a horse. We KNOW you can do it!