Q: Since I have the option to do either, should I sit or post the trot in my Novice-level eventing dressage test?
A: Your goal in every dressage test is to show off yourself and your horse to the best of your abilities. Judges don’t award any extra points to riders who choose to sit the trot, but they do reward riders who wow them with smooth, rhythmic, relaxed, accurate tests. Depending on your skills and your horse’s experience and temperament, you may find it easier to produce a performance closest to that ideal by either sitting, posting or doing a little of both! So take the time to analyze your particular situation with the help of your instructor to decide what works best for you.
Most riders choose to post the trot for the majority of the Novice test for a variety of reasons. If you are mounted on a nervous, young and/or green horse, posting may help him maintain a good rhythm and relaxation. Young horses often lack the back strength to carry a sitting trot easily for long periods of time. As a result, even if you’re an experienced rider, if you sit too much your horse will get tight in his back, losing his natural swing and limiting the freedom of his gaits. The same thing can happen with tense horses who aren’t comfortable yet with the feeling of a rider sitting the trot. In both cases, judges’ comments frequently include phrases such as “tight through the back” and “needs more reach.” Such fundamental training holes will be reflected in lower scores.
Riders who lack an independent seat can produce similarly disappointing results if they attempt too much sitting trot in the show ring. To sit the trot well without interfering with your horse’s motion, you must be able to use your hand and leg aids without bouncing, tightening or bracing anywhere else in your body. Even the slightest bounce in the saddle or in your hands can inhibit your horse’s ability to perform the movements well.
If you do have a good independent seat, however, there are instances in which the sitting trot may benefit you in the show ring. For example, if you have a lazy horse who is comfortable carrying your weight in the saddle, it may be easier to keep his hindquarters engaged if you sit the trot. Ask your instructor or a friend to observe his movement while you post and sit to see which produces a more forward, fluid trot.
There is no need to commit to either posting or sitting for the entire test. In fact, you may produce your best performance by doing a little bit of both. Sitting during certain strategic portions of the test can help you balance, center and organize yourself. A good place to do this is a few beats before transitions, especially ones that come up quickly, one after another. Another good place is just before your halt on the centerline. Sitting evenly on your two seat bones before asking for the downward transition can encourage your horse to stay straight and square in his halt.
On the other hand, posting can help to keep some horses moving freely forward in moments of the test when they might otherwise stall. For example, it may help to post through the turn onto the centerline, which will encourage your horse to keep pushing around the turn. After you’ve straightened up, wait until you’re about a quarter of the way down the centerline before sitting down for the halt.
In general, a good rule of thumb is to ride the same way in the show ring that you do at home. If you do most of your flatwork schooling in posting trot, do that in competition. If you mostly sit the trot at home and feel that it enhances your and your horse’s performance, do that. It all boils down to what works best for your particular partnership.
Steph Kohr grew up in an eventing family. Her mother, Gretchen Butts, is a four-star eventer, FEI technical delegate and eventing judge. Her father, Robert, is a cross-country course designer. Steph rode in her first event at the age of 8 in 1992. She went on to become an “A” Pony Clubber and a U.S. Eventing Association Level II certified instructor. Along the way, she purchased a 4-year-old Canadian Sporthorse, Bungee, and trained him through Advanced level. She also trained with top international eventers, dressage riders and show jumpers in England and Holland. Now specializing in developing young prospects, she frequently competes in the USEA’s Young Event Horse Series. Steph trains and teaches at her family’s farm, Waredaca, a perennially popular host of recognized events, camps and lesson programs based in Laytonsville, Maryland.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.