To the uneducated eye, posting the trot is just a series of silly looking, seemingly purposeless, up-down movements. But riders understand what it takes to make rising and sitting to the two-beat rhythm of the horse’s diagonal gait complement rather than hinder his movement.
“The skilled rider uses rising trot to get the tension in the horse’s fascial net in sync with her own,” writes biomechanics pioneer Mary Wanless in her newest book THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, “so together they get in rhythm and ‘play the right note.’”
Here’s how Wanless helps us understand how this dynamic works:
“Imagine two people sitting opposite each other and playing a game of catch with a tennis ball. Each throw involves bouncing the ball once. This is a cooperative game, with its own distinct rhythm, in which neither person is trying to catch the other one out. ‘Bounce, catch’ mirrors ‘sit, rise’, and our analogy is essentially describing the exchange of force and energy between horse and rider.
“Imagine the human game in full swing – until one person cleverly substitutes a bean-bag for the tennis ball. When this barely bounces, it marks the end of the game! Or perhaps one person suddenly substitutes a ‘boingy’ ball, and the game immediately speeds up as the ball travels faster.
“The skilled rider maintains the equivalent of a tennis ball game, even when the horse would rather throw bean-bags or ‘boingy’ balls. It is as if the rider says, ‘Sorry horse, but whatever you attempt to throw me, I am throwing back a tennis ball,’ maintaining this resolve and technique until such time as the horse takes a deep sigh and agrees to throw tennis balls!
“Whilst some heavy horses have wonderful ‘boing,’ most ‘bean-bag’ horses are from the heavier breeds. They trot as if their legs were stuck in porridge, since the recoil energy in their tendons and ligaments – and the force transmission along their respective lines of pull – is not enough to enable them to ‘ping’ off the ground. Iberian horses can be like this too, and any horse with a ‘soggy’ fascial net will be heavy on the ground and lack the spring of elastic recoil.
“Most riders fall into the trap of throwing a bean-bag back to this kind of horse: they land heavily in the saddle and press down into it. This is incredibly instinctive, and is encouraged by phrases like ‘sit deep and drive the horse forward,’ but a heavy landing will inevitably deaden your horse. The game then becomes a vicious circle as the ‘bean-bag’ tendencies of each partner amplify those of the other. Understandably, most riders soon start to feel like a desperate, disgruntled, and thoroughly jangled bean-bag! The only answer lies in landing lightly and quickly – in a trampoline-like way – thus encouraging the horse to be lighter and quicker on the ground. The rider may also need to kick, and to tap with a whip, but she must not throw bean-bags or she will get bean-bags back.
“In contrast, ‘uptight’ Thoroughbreds throw ‘boingy’ balls. The rider who gets ‘boinged’ out of the saddle by the horse’s ‘boinginess’, loses control of the tempo, and the game speeds up unless she can make a momentary pause on each landing (without becoming soggy like a bean-bag). This keeps the horse’s feet on the ground for a fraction of a second longer. If the rider can also make a pause at the top of the rise (when the other diagonal pair of legs are in mid-stance) this again will act to keep the horse’s feet on the ground for longer. This slows the horse’s tempo, and changes how his fascial net rebounds from the ground. He has no choice but to throw tennis balls back to the rider.”
For more insight into how the rider’s fascia works, how the horse’s fascia works, and ways we can influence how they work together, check out THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.