Today I had THAT ride.
You know the one I’m talking about… that ride where that one thing that has been most difficult for you (and that you’ve nearly given up on a million times, but keep pushing and trying anyway because it is something you know you have to try to improve as much as possible) finally clicks and you feel it! You feel that glimpse of correctness and you and your horse come together in that perfect little moment of harmony and you flow together. It’s what keeps us trying. It’s what keeps us coming back. It’s our ultimate addiction. That glimpse that the thing you’ve struggled with for so long might actually become something real one day.
Today I felt the wave. It lifted me forward from behind and I felt it! I felt the wave and that “push” that I’ve heard so much about and yet have never fully understood.
The wave I am referring to is that pushing and lifting feeling you’re supposed to feel when you drive your horse into a lengthened or extended trot and their back is engaged and they drive from behind to lift you (or suck you down) onto their back and carry you forward.
I have a nice sitting trot, according to my trainer and others. But finding that following seat in a lengthened trot has been very difficult for me. When the horse’s power kicks in and you’re not quite following through with your position, it’s enough to make you feel like you’re going to be launched out of the saddle and up onto the horse’s neck!
In our journey, however, Aragorn’s toughest gait has been the trot lengthening. He has always been prone to running forward and being just enough on the forehand that he is slower in front than he is behind and this makes it virtually impossible to have a true lengthening. For close to 2 years I have been working this gait with various exercises trying to convince Aragorn that he can carry more weight behind to push himself forward into a lengthening while staying round and supple. And he’s finally, FINALLY, beginning to show a true understanding!
In this process of improving our trot lengthenings, I school many different exercises to assist in engaging the hind leg and developing more pushing power from behind. Over time, these exercises have evolved to become more challenging and expect more from both myself and Aragorn. Today, I will share with you my current favorite.
Here’s How I rode this Exercise (See diagram below)
- Begin at a medium or working trot tracking left. As you come through the short side of the arena past C, use a series of half halts to prepare your horse for the shoulder in as you come out of the corner and approach H.
- At H, go forward into a shoulder in left without losing impulsion and rhythm- maintain a forward flowing medium/working trot.
- As you approach E, straighten your horse for 2 strides only! Use this time to half halt and prepare your horse for travers.
- Travers (haunches in) to K. Again, maintain a forward flowing medium/working trot with good impulsion and correct rhythm.
- At K, straighten your horse.
- (This is my favorite part!!) As you come through the corners before and after A, think about “Powering up” your horse to further prepare him for the coming lengthening across the long diagonal. Use a ton of half halts and think about loading a spring.
- Explode across the long diagonal from F to H in a proper trot lengthening being mindful that your horse is not running or rushing forward, but is pushing from behind. If you need to help your horse take longer strides, post the diagonal staying up longer in your posting and sitting down a bit later than you should.
- Immediately at H, come back to your medium/working trot and repeat this exercise the opposite direction.
Some Helpful Things to Remember When Riding This Exercise
For every stride I ride of this exercise, I am constantly checking in with Aragorn to be sure I am truly loading his hind end as much as possible. Many horses, when developing a shoulder-in or travers, will lose their impulsion and desire to move freely forward with the added challenge of moving laterally at the same time. This is why it is important to also think about using the few strides before each of these movements to think about “powering up” in order to load the hind end enough that the horse is able to maintain his forward impulsion and rhythm and move in and out of the movements easily.
As you come past B and E, take the time to truly straighten your horse for 2 strides- don’t go right into the travers from the shoulder-in. This increases your horse’s responsiveness to your aids, forces the horse to pay closer attention to you and what you are asking, and also gives you that time to “power up” again before moving into the travers.
As you explode across the diagonal in a lengthening, do not allow your horse to fall on the forehand. Maintain that feeling of the horse lifting up through the withers- that feeling is created by the hind end engaging. If your horse starts to fall on the forehand, you can straighten and ask for a few strides of leg yield to engage the hind leg again and then go forward in another lengthening. More on this below.
This is going to sound a little silly, but it really helps me during those “power ups” to get myself rev’ed up. I try hard to get myself pumped up and excited for the explosion of pent-up energy and the possibility that I may, once again, feel the wave. And, by using this excitement within myself, I am able to more influence my horse’s level of preparedness- after all, he can feel me getting very excited about something and he get’s excited too!
I did this exercise only two times through each direction because I expected a lot from Aragorn. We were thoroughly warmed up by the time we got to this exercise and we had more to work on afterwards as well. But, I expected him to give me his best effort through every movement of this exercise and he gave me just that. He was forward, willing, supple, happy, focused, and giving me more than 100%. He had to focus carefully on me because of the changes came quickly. He had no time to become lazy or complacent because we did not stick with the pattern long enough for his disinterest (which can come quickly) to settle in. Those moments in which he gave me more push than ever and in which I was able to truly sit and flow with his movement felt so good that I rewarded Aragorn profusely and he, of course, couldn’t help but feel proud.
Ideas for Modifying This Exercise
- Is your horse not yet to the development level that he can perform shoulder in or travers? Move in and out of a leg yield along the railing (keep your horse at a 45 degree angle in the leg yield). Try to leg yield to just about the center letter, straighten for 2 strides, and leg yield again.
- Want more of a challenge? Canter the long sides in travers for the first half, straighten, and travers again for the second half. Medium trot through the corners before and after the long side.
- Does your horse struggle with setting up for shoulder in? Begin each long side with a 10 meter circle to aid in positioning him properly for this movement. You can also set up for the travers with a 10 meter circle at E or B as well.
- Has your horse not quite figured out how to bend his body around your inside leg for the travers? Start with a counter shoulder in: put your horse in the shoulder in toward the railing. Begin encouraging your horse to look more into the direction of travel with each stride with half halts on the outside rein, a strong inside leg at the girth, and the inside rein asking for bend in the direction of travel.
- Does your horse fall on the forehand or lose engagement during the trot lengthenings? Lengthen the trot for only a few strides, then move into a leg yield for a few strides, then move back into a trot lengthening. Gradually build up to maintaining a trot lengthening for the entire diagonal.
- Working on developing your following seat at the lengthenings like I am? Do you start to lose your position and bang on your horse’s back or feel like you’re about to be tossed in the sand? Sit a few strides, post a few strides, sit a few strides, etc. until you’re able to develop your seat enough to sit the entire diagonal.
Let’s revisit “The Wave” for a moment.
I want to tell you what piece of advice helped me finally become one with my horse’s back for that small moment.
I found this piece of advice on an old discussion thread. The discussion was about learning how to sit a lengthened or extended trot. The piece that stuck out to me was when someone said to try thinking about using the inside of your boot soles to feel like you’re hugging up under your horse’s belly and only using that part of your leg to “hold on.” The reason she said this is an effective means of first training your body to follow the movement is it allows you to relax the necessary muscles in your hips and legs, find the correct lifting feeling, and have the sense of security that is required in this stage of the learning process.
Now, does that mean that you need to be forever gripping on for dear life with the insides of your boot soles? No, of course not. But, I will say that the person who suggested this method was a major player in the role of me finally feeling “the wave” for the first time. The same day as reading this thread, I put it to work during my ride that evening. And I felt it- I felt the wave for the very first time. This is the entire inspiration for this post!
It’s what keeps us trying. It’s what keeps us coming back. It’s our ultimate addiction.
Do you have tips to share for developing a better following seat at a lengthened or extended trot? Do you have different ideas for modifying the exercise I have shared with you? Do you have comments or observations you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! Please comment!