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It’s All About the Rise

By Carol Kurtz Darlington, Art2Ride Associate Trainer

What is the purpose of the rising trot? Some people don't think they’re doing dressage unless they're sitting the trot. Dressage is about the gymnastic development of a horse. If we sit the trot before a horse has the strength in his back to keep the quality of his work, he will become hollow and uncomfortable. That is not dressage. So we know it's important to rise in the trot until a horse can support our sitting without losing any rhythm. Done correctly, the rising trot makes your horse's work much easier.

In our earliest riding lessons we were taught to post on the correct diagonal. But why? We glanced down at our horse's outside shoulder to make sure we were rising with the outside foreleg, because if we weren't we'd get called out by our instructor. But was all that just to show we knew the secret of looking good while riding? Does the correct diagonal matter?

There is a very important reason for rising on the correct diagonal, but it has little to do with the outside foreleg. Think about how a horse trots. In a good connected trot, the horse lifts his legs in diagonal pairs in perfect cadence. So if you see the front leg lifting, you can be sure the opposite hind leg is also lifting. And that 's what it's all about, getting your weight off his back when his INSIDE HIND leg is in suspension. That inside hind leg is where we ask so much of the horse, to step under his body in order to lift his back which will naturally lengthen his neck. We want that moment when the inside hind leg is available to be as light and easy for the horse as possible. So yes, if you're rising with the outside foreleg, you are lightening the load on that inside hind leg, which is why rising to the correct diagonal matters.

Rising in the trot is not standing up and sitting down. It's not pushing your feet down into the stirrups and popping up like a jack-in-the-box. It is graceful and smooth with relaxed legs, as Will Faerber of Art2Ride demonstrates here.  There should be very little movement in the feet.  

Another way to help your horse is to remember it's called the RISING trot. It's not called the POUNDING trot or the THUMPING trot. Think only of the rising. Your goal is to get off his back so he can lift it. This is critical to horses in the first two years of their foundational training (which can be given at any age for any horse). They may not be strong enough for us to sit without the back dropping, and even when they are, the rising trot will always be valuable in helping your horse lift his back and stretch between challenging moves.

Here is an exercise to help you get the feel of rising correctly: Lie on your back and rest your calves on a bench or sofa with your knees bent. Your knees should be about as far apart as your horse. Your bum is resting on the floor. Now lift your hips up until your body is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Then gently tap your bum on the floor again and repeat in a smooth, rhythmic motion, thinking about the rise and only tapping lightly back on the ground. Open your hips as much as you can. Removing your feet and lower leg from this exercise gives you the feel that you should be rising from a kneeling position when riding, staying tall and erect at all times with your chest up and out. It's all about opening and closing the hip flexors. This is where the fitness of the rider comes into play.

When rising in the trot there should be very little movement in the leg below the knee. Picture yourself  rising from a kneeling position. Notice how Allison Emily Brunelli's knee stays bent and remains aligned with her  hip and shoulder to help Contigo's balance. Her hips open forward, but her shoulders do not move up and down much.

I believe the purpose of the rising trot is to take the burden off your horse's back and to be light in your seat until he is strong enough to effortlessly carry you. Yes, horses are huge. Their backs are huge. But their backs are actually weak before proper development, and the weight of a human can be quite a burden on them. In between rising, try to touch the saddle as lightly as you possibly can. If you're having trouble keeping your legs relaxed at your horse's sides, think of slightly lifting your toes upward. This will help your leg stay quiet. The rising trot can also help maintain rhythm.

When you are ready to transition down to the walk, do not stop rising until the horse is back in a four-beat walk. If you sit too soon, he will drop his back, and that will teach him to invert and hollow during downward transitions. Just patiently keep rising as he slows, and then gently be seated once there is no more suspension.

Developing the sitting trot will be done gradually, testing it out by sitting one stride, three strides, five strides, then going right back to rising, making sure your horse does not lose any rhythm or drop his back. Then you will know your horse is ready for a little sitting trot in his training. But in my opinion most people sit way too soon.

I practice the rising trot exercise on the floor regularly to remind my body to rise with my hip flexors and to keep my chest and shoulders from pitching forward when I tap the seat.

Think of your horse's back as a suspension bridge when riding. Your rising trot can actually help him lift his back if done correctly. It's all about the RISE.