With walking and turning mastered, it is time to move on to the trot. There are two ways of riding the pace: sitting or rising.
How the pony trots
The trot is a two-time pace, so all four legs advance in two movements. The pony springs from one diagonal pair of legs to the other and in between is a moment of suspension when he is completely off the ground. This is why trotting feels so much more bumpy than walking.
To begin with, get the feel of the movement in sitting trot (a pony is often said to be ‘in’ a pace rather than ‘at’ it). Your instructor will first make sure that you are sitting properly in the walk. To make the transition from walk to trot your reins should be slightly shorter than in the walk as the pony’s head is a little higher in trot.
Close your legs against the pony’s sides and he should begin to trot. If he doesn’t, gently squeeze again, to underline what you want him to do. Firmly hold the front of the saddle (or the neck strap) with both hands, sit up tall and try to relax – especially your seat muscles. At first a few strides are enough. Then when you know how bumpy the trot feels have a rest!
Now trot for longer and count the beats to yourself. Bump, bump, bump, bump . . . one-two, one-two. Try counting out loud while you are trotting, but don’t attempt to do anything more than sit still at this stage.
The basic position for sitting trot is exactly the same as in the walk or halt. Most people tighten up as the pony starts to trot it’s difficult not to as the pony is not only going faster but is moving around a lot more as well.
Keep your legs wrapped around the pony, so you don’t get bounced off. Try not to grip with your knees, as this means your seat is more likely to be lifted out of the saddle.
The lower part of the leg makes the pony go faster or turn. If you grip with this part to stay on, the pony may speed up and you’ll lose control.
The change from walk to trot may throw you back a little. You can correct this by pushing your stomach forward when you are ready to start trotting. Avoid leaning forward; this is a weak position and actually bounces you around more.
Holding the whip
The whip is an artificial aid, as opposed to the natural aids of your hands and legs. It is for backing up your leg aids when a pony fails to respond.
You should start with the whip in your inside hand (the left hand when you’re circling left and vice versa). Hold the handle, and let the length of the whip rest against your thigh.
To pass the whip from one hand to another, put both reins into one hand (otherwise you might lose control of the pony) and exchange the whip. Then you can separate out the reins again.
Looking at the angle of the whip is a good way to check that your hands are in the correct position as you are riding. If the whip is dangling down the horse’s shoulder, your hands are too upright. If it’s sticking up, toward your hip, your hands are too flat and your elbows are probably sticking out!
You need quite a lot of riding practice before you use a whip. Once you do carry one, apply it as little possible and never use it to punish a horse.
Transition to walk
Coming down to the walk is easier than the trot itself. Whether you have been rising or sitting you must always be in sitting trot for the transition to walk. Press down in your seat and resist a little on the reins – not too much or the pony stops! Close your legs against his sides to make sure that he keeps going forward.
You may be tipped forward as the pony slows down, so be ready. Sit back and relax. For the time being, keep hold of the neck strap or saddle until you are walking again.
Practising Off the pony
You can practise the rising trot from the ground. Stand with your feet apart, toes forward, back straight, as though you were riding a tiny, invisible pony.
Start with your knees Slightly bent Now lower yourself toward the ground by bending your knees more, come up to your original position, go lower again and so on. This helps you to find your riding muscles.
1. The rising trot is much more comfortable than the sitting trot, for both pony and rider, and a lot less tiring. The idea behind rising is quite simple: stand as one pair of the pony’s legs comes off the ground and sit as the same pair of legs returns to the ground. You can practise the rising trot in halt and walk. Stand up in your stirrups and slowly sit down again. Never use the reins to pull yourself up, as this will hurt the pony’s mouth.
2. While you are learning to balance use a neck strap to keep you in position. You need this until you can stand and sit without collapsing on to the pony. A neck strap does not affect the pony and is better than clutching the mane because it puts your hands in much the same position as they are when holding the reins. Stand up and sit down in beat with the pony’s trot. As you did while you were sitting at the trot, count one-two, one-two until you get the rhythm. Your aim is to stand on one and sit on two.
3. As the pony makes the transition from walk to trot, you may lose your balance for a moment, especially during the first few lessons.
Keep working say to yourself ‘up-down, up-down’ in time to the trot. Once you pick up the correct beat you’ll notice that the pony pushes you out of the saddle just the right amount and it’s quite effortless.
If sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t rise to the trot, iust keep on trying practice soon makes perfect.
What can go wrong?
When you’re trying to rise to the trot, don’t lift your seat too high out of the saddle. Stay as close as you can, without losing your ‘rise’.
Another fault is working too hard with your shoulders so your upper body is wagging backward and forward as you sit and rise.
Try to push your weight down into your heels so that you use your leg muscles and not your arms to pull yourself up. Imagine you have something balanced on your head – a book or a bucket of icy cold water.
1. Rising to the trot means that you stand and sit as the same diagonal pair of legs comes off the ground and goes back to the ground.
The girl pictured above is riding on the right diagonal. This means that she sits while the off (right) fore and near (left) hind are on the ground (marked in red in the first and third pictures). She stands when the near fore and off hind (marked in red in the centre picture) are on the ground.
2. You should change diagonals every so often so your muscles and your pony’s build up evenly. To swap the diagonal, sit for an extra beat. Count it to yourself, up-down, up-down, up-down-down, up-down.
Balancing is easier for the pony if you sit on the outside diagonal (right diagonal on a left circle, left diagonal on a right circle). So change the diagonal every time you change rein (direction).
3. Until you can feel how the pony’s legs are moving, have a look at his shoulders as he walks and trots. When a foreleg is on the ground, that shoulder moves toward the saddle. As the foot is lifted, the shoulder swings away. In rising trot, sit as the outside shoulder comes back toward you, stand as it swings away.
Get into the habit of always checking your diagonal as soon as you start rising to the trot.