All of my life I have worked, watched, practiced and improved my sitting trot. Sitting did not come naturally to me and it was many hours in the saddle before I really start to understand how to move with the horse and then influence the horse from this place. My belief is that being able to move with the horse is a priority. Understanding how the horse moves naturally is possibly a prerequisite to this. Having an interest in the horse's comfort and freedom to move will also direct one to want to learn how to sit properly.
On one of my early trips to Europe I was extremely surprised to see some top competitors actually standing slightly in the stirrups when crossing the diagonal in extended trot. I was shocked that these elite riders did not even try to sit these phenomenal gaits. It was almost imperceivable, but it was happening. Yet there were plenty of top riders sitting fluently and beautifully to these amazing gaits, so I continued my quest to do the same.
Teaching people to sit is one of the hardest things I have to do. Especially since the word Lunge in America has become a bad word. I believe that learning to sit on the lunge line with a trainer that truly understands what is happening in the horse's body, and then in the student's body is imperative to success. The rider must not have the reins to balance on and there must be someone controlling the pace of the horse.
So, now we propose to make it optional for people to sit the extended and medium paces up to 4 th level in America.
I am 100% in agreement that this will be kinder to the horses. I am also in agreement that there is a very high percentage of people competing that cannot sit. However, where if anywhere, is this reflected in the scores, placings or even the ability for people to enter a class?
Saddles have become so restrictive that those of us who do move with the horses cannot! in one of these ultra deep saddles with knee blocks made for someone going to battle. People who cannot ride a horse through are allowed to put a double bridle on and enter 3 rd level. Renvers was removed from 2 nd level because the judges were tired of giving low marks.
Yes, dressage needs to survive. Honestly, we need to create shows that are more interesting, easier to enter and possibly on a grass roots level less expensive. We need to train the horses to be safe so that riders do not need to be scared of spectators and golf carts. I see more people at dressage shows out of control, because they are scared of disrupting the perfect neck posture, than at jumping and eventing competitions. We are meant to be training horses, not making pretend when we can't stop or steer.
I believe that posting to the trot in upper levels should be a different division. I do not look down on this in anyway, and you never know, perhaps I will have a horse that needs it or someday my back will be such that I need it.
However, I believe that instructors need to teach people how to sit properly. I believe instructors need to know there is a progression of the seat (and maybe new judges too). In the beginning of finding our seat, our leg may not feel as tight and perfect as it did when we were clamped on and our hips aren't moving. This is a phase and should be looked at as such, let's be careful not to send people back to gripping. It is easier, I believe, for a horse to move through a seat that bounces a little bit than one that is clamped and gripped on.
What is an incentive for people to learn to sit? For me it was the relationship I wanted to build with my horse. I am not saying my seat is perfect! I still work at it every day. Dressage is not easy. In this day and age everyone wants to make things easier. Students will move to another trainer that will be happy to blame the horse, get the double bridle or even buy a new horse instead of listening to the lesson; we need to work on your independent seat, leg and rein so that you can apply your aids correctly and your horse can work happily with you.
So, it is a super interesting conversation. I applaud Natalie Lamping for bringing this important subject to the light. I think it is fun to see the people conversing about it and all of the different opinions.
I personally have had riders discontinue lessons, often with their parent horrified, that I was unwilling to blame the horse for not wanting to make extended trot. When I wanted to discuss the seat and talk about how to work on sitting with the movement they stop listening. I will continue to teach this. I am grateful to my trainers who have taken the time to help me with this and not sweep it under the rug because it is a difficult subject.
I have taught in other less developed countries and found that the willingness of people to work on their seat and how to move with the horses is distinctly different from here. There are some mindset issues that play in and this is one of the reasons I did go "back to school", so that I could learn better how to communicate and encourage people to let go of preconceived notions about other peoples opinions. Letting go is a big part of learning to sit, and this is difficult when you want to be in control!
So, I invite everyone to join in the conversation. Contact Natalie and open the discussion wider. Have a view of where our sport is going and what it looks like five and ten years down the road. And what kind of riders can we start creating? Let's learn how to teach better and perhaps use the posting trot tests as a step along the way, but not the end goal.
Love to Ride!