Dec 28, 2010

USDF Changing Rules on First Level Sitting Trot

So, I'm late to the game on this one (see -- I really am blocking out news of the dressage world), but I just recently became aware that the USDF changed their rules to allow posting trot in First Level.  This is to take effect in the 2011 tests.  I was taken aback by that decision, though in retrospect I don't know why that should have been the case.  One can go on and on about how it's really for the good of the horse and his/her spine, rather than the dumbing down of dressage, but I find that very hard to believe.  I get the arguments in favor of posting, really I do.  It is better for the horse, in general, and I often post when warming my mare up for her reining sessions.  However, I also feel that it's not ridiculous to ask a horse/rider combination to be able to sit the trot in a First Level test.  You can practice a lot of posting at home, so as not to strain the horse's back, but in a show I don't see that it's a complete hardship to ask for sitting trot on the day of the test.  If you've properly muscled up and prepared your horse, s/he should be able to handle the sitting, regardless of dressage education and/or age. 

Really the larger problem here is that more and more people are completely unable to sit the trot properly.  Even in my days as an instructor I found this to be the case more than I expected.  And call be a bit old-school in my thinking, if you'd like, but I think that if you're prepared to show first level, you should be schooling second level at home.  And if that's the case, then you'd better damn well be able to sit your trot. 

Sitting trot is a very difficult skill to learn -- I get this, I truly do -- I spent months, years even, teaching certain students how to master the sitting trot.  But just because it's difficult doesn't mean that it should be skipped over or shoved aside because judges are tired of seeing riders bouncing all over and jamming their mount's back.  These riders should be properly penalized.  Trainers should be prepared to explain to their students why they can't show first level until they master the sitting trot, no matter how long it takes.  Call this USDF decision whatever you want, but it's clear to me that it's just a further example of the dumbing down of dressage.  If the reiners that I ride with (not all of whom are riders with a great deal of finesse) can execute a relaxed, engaged sitting trot without a lot of thought or concentration, then our dressage riders should be able to do the same.  Sometimes it's a matter of riders trying too hard and becoming rigid, sometimes it's a matter of riders being overmounted (how many 5'3" rider/17hh horse combinations do you see out there?), and sometimes it's just a matter of the rider having a weak core that could be aided by Pilates/Yoga work.  Sitting trot is not an impossibility; I believe any rider can do it, otherwise there would be far less Western riders out there (and don't try to tell me it's because the jog is so slow that it makes it easy - sitting trot is sitting trot regardless of acceleration and cadence).  We dressage riders just tend to overthink everything and/or overmount ourselves, which is outrageous in itself.  If more riders opted to ride a smaller moving horse with a bit less impulsion, they'd be doing themselves more favors. 

Funny story:  just the other day my reining trainer exclaimed that no one had any business riding a horse bigger than 15.3hh, regardless of rider size.  I don't totally agree with that statement, but dressage/hunter riders do tend to have a warped idea of how to match themselves with a horse.  If you're a strong enough rider this doesn't matter as much, but if you're just a hobby enthusiast or just starting out in the sport, it can make a huge difference in how quickly you progress.

And if nothing else about this post sways you, then think of this:  if you cannot sit your trot, then it doesn't just end there.  As an instructor you quickly learn that sitting trot is just the most obvious expression of a larger problem with a rider's core lack of core strength and ability to engage the core, yet keep the hips and spine relaxed and flexible.  The fact is if the rider is stiff in his/her sitting trot, you can bet that s/he is also stiff during halts, during transitions, half-halts and a myriad of other important movements essential to our sport.  I've seen it proven time and time again.  Removing sitting trot from first level, to my mind, just ensures that this problem will only become more endemic.   


Gentian said...

"It is better for the horse,"

enough said. You think the horse might be a teensy bit tense, and of course the rider? Let them do what they can at a show, not what they can't.
Young horses can & do explode under the pressure of a deep sitting trot.

I think it's a great idea.
Lighten up the riders. Can't hurt.

bunnyrider said...

Obviously I failed to make myself clear enough... What I specifically said was that "it is better for the horse, in general." And what I meant in actuality was that sitting all the time is not good for the horse (like a lot of dressage riders I see); there should always be a balance. I do not think that a properly performed sitting trot is harmful if the horse is in good shape and the rider is skillful. I was remiss in clarifying that statement.

I don't disagree that young horses do explode under various pressures at the show. Maybe even because of a sitting trot (though I hardly see that a mildly deep first level sitting trot should cause such trauma). But then again, maybe the horse isn't mentally prepared enough to be showing? Or maybe he should only be showing at training level until he can handle the perceived strain of a sitting trot? Frankly I find this a bit ludicrous -- some disciplines ask far more of their horses. Shall we baby our explosive horses more and more? Maybe the problem lies in breeding explosive and emotionally immature animals. Or maybe riders and trainers are pushing these animals too fast -- every horse moves at his/her own pace. I just don't understand why the culprit is suddenly sitting trot. Maybe I am living in a bubble, but I've seen a lot of things to change about the sport of dressage, but the first to come to mind is not that we are asking for sitting trot too early on in a horse's career.

Jane said...

I don't show, so this is news to me. I'm 53, a bit stiff, a bit out of shape (working on it) riding a horse that is very forward and engaged, has a marvelous big trot, and we have no problem with the sitting trot? I'm not even first level. I prefer to working ride the rising trot because it requires excellent strength, steadiness, balance, and the right amount of relaxation to do properly. But when I don't want to work so hard, I sit, and it's comfortable and easy. (And trust me, I'm no great shakes.)

I have noticed many of the dressage horses I catch rode were much more hesitant to offer up their backs than the non-dressage horses.

Certainly hunters are not doing western jogs, nor are they used to being "sat into". Yet the ones I rode happily gave me their backs. Same with the western horses. In a dressage saddle.

I'm don't know enough to opine about the differences, but I think you raise some excellent points, and it's interesting to read.

What was the thinking behind removing the sitting trot from the test?

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Perhaps the USDF is just responding to the FACT that there are too many riders/trainers who lack the patience and/or the desire to truly work their horses from back to front... to spend the time necessary to condition themselves and their horses so they are both ready to progress up the levels and actually master the skills necessary to do so.

I don't get to many shows as I live in the hinterlands, but in the last few I saw, the majority of upper level riders showing there (3rd and 4th) couldn't sit the trot worth a darn. It was so ugly, and I was cringing for those poor horses.
Worse than that, many of them were instructors of the riders showing at the lower levels. How is that situation going to improve?

Maybe the USDF is taking a (small) stand that relieves the pressure to push on through when you aren't ready as a rider... maybe they are putting the horses first.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't sitting the trot (no matter the discipline) be a skill every rider should have? I'm not saying that you should sit all trots all the time, but if you can't balance yourself enough to trot, what are you going to do when your horse has a bucking episode?

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