The Other ‘Other Way of Stopping’.
Have you read The Other Way of Stopping? Regular readers of this blog will have undoubtedly heard about it (if not tried out) but if you haven’t take a look at it and teach yourself and your horse one of the best kept secrets in horse riding. Put simply it shows you how to use your knee and thigh to slow down or collect your horse and anything that means you do less with your hands is to be encouraged.
If you’re thinking “been there, done that” stop right there! Have you tried the other ‘other way of stopping’? You may unwittingly be using it already – especially if you’re nervous. There’s a knack to it though. Use it quickly and you have a really effective aid. Take too long about it and your horse will stiffen up/hollow against you or start to wonder what it is you’re worried about!
If you haven’t guessed already this other ‘wonder aid’ is your seat. You use it far more than you realise. Your horse can pick up the slightest change in your weight, rhythm or tension through your seat muscles. These small changes can have a huge effect. Aids like this aren’t only for the more experienced rider; they work on any horse and for any rider. You just need to know how to use them. Understanding what you may be doing wrong often helps.
As a novice rider rising trot is always difficult until you’ve established the rhythm. Who hasn’t experienced the infamous ‘double-bounce’? This extra bump as you sit comes from you tightening your seat muscles because you’re trying too hard to rise before you’ve had a chance to sit. The extra tension and bump on your horse’s back can be enough to make him tighten up his back and lose energy. This explains why novice riders often find it difficult to keep their horse trotting while they’re learning. If you’re learning rising trot have a look at this post which gives you some handy tips to help you get it right.
Canter is another pace that causes trouble. Does your horse hollow in the transition? Strike off incorrectly on one rein – or both? Is his canter hollow and tense or does he run out of steam after a few strides? Any one of these problems can be caused by tension in your seat.
In the case of a novice rider it’s understandable that the transition between trot and canter is tough. It’s nerve-racking to say the least but tension in sitting trot is a vicious circle and one only you can break. The best thing you can do is relax your seat. If your horse is relaxed in his back he’s easier to sit on. This means you’ll find sitting trot easier so your aids will be clearer and the resulting canter will be smoother and less unbalancing.
The more experienced you are the finer your aids become. The smallest change starts to mean something to your horse. As you ask for canter focus on softening your seat muscles which in turn will relax your lower back. Even the slightest bit of tension can be enough to unbalance him and lead to an incorrect strike off or rushed transition.
So how can you use your seat in your favour? Think of it as a tap on your horse’s shoulder to say “Hey, something’s coming”. If your seat is relaxed and spread evenly across the saddle your horse has no reason to react. Tighten it up for a stride and he’ll feel it and tighten up under the saddle. Your aid needs to be quick – just long enough to make him sit up and listen but not so long that he holds the tension.
A quick check from your seat can make a huge difference to turns, circles and transitions. Anything that makes your horse hesitate and listen will help you rebalance him. If he likes to lean on your hand and cart you round the school it can stop him in his tracks for a stride – giving you enough time to get him back in control. With a more experienced horse a check before a change of leg or transition into lateral work can be invaluable when you just need to rebalance or generate a bit more impulsion.
Have a play with it in all three paces. Opt for your horse’s easiest pace first. Go large initially so you have less to think about. Focus on keeping your seat really floppy in the saddle. (Forget about New Year’s diets and muscle tone – your bum is now allowed to look big – in the saddle at least!) Get your pace established and make sure he’s going freely forward. Don’t hesitate to tap him up with your whip to keep him moving forward so you can feel his reaction when you tighten your seat muscles.
Your aim is to tighten your seat until you feel your horse hesitate or slow down. Initially it can take a few strides but the more you practise the quicker he’ll react until one stride is all it takes. As with The Other Way of Stopping you may need to use a slight squeeze on both reins to help him understand but it won’t take long before you can rely on seat only. Remember as soon as you feel him hesitate relax your seat again and push on with both legs so he flows forward again.
The more you practise the more useful this aid becomes – you can even collect your horse using your seat alone. Try shortening strides for 1/4 of a circle and then relaxing to allow him to move on again. Or try tightening your seat before using your knee and thigh to ride a downwards transition – relaxing everything as you feel the first stride of the new pace. It’s important to remember things don’t have to be perfect. All you want is a reaction. You’re tapping him on the shoulder to say “Listen” not yelling at him to say “STOP!”
It’s hard work doing so little and it won’t happen overnight. Play with it out hacking, have a go while you’re cantering up a field or trotting down a road. The more you practise the easier it becomes and the more your horse will listen for it. How often do you watch a professional rider and wonder how they achieve so much yet do so little? You never really believed they did nothing, did you?!
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
Are you unsure about your aids? School movements or even how to ride a dressage test? Check out The Get Started Series of schooling guides in The Shop. At 99p they’re affordable and instantly downloadable.
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