Unfortunately, there are other equestrian skills waiting like bouncers at the "doorway to collection". Get em, or you don't get in. As with sitting trot, I truly hoped that when the day came that I actually needed to acquire these "open sesame" talents, I could just google up some answers to whatever stood between me - and them - on the internet.
No - and - no. Sorry. These other skills are just as confusing to learn, and turning to your virtual sofa riding coaches will just make them all the more frustrating, I am sad to say (and this is only second level my friends. Use of the Double bridle - with ENOUGH contact, but not TOO MUCH contact, and not AVOIDING the CURB is all still to come...if you decide you need a double at all, you "short-cut to collection" seeking, rollkur, razor-blade-monkey lover, you)
Take heart. Should you ever find yourself entirely mystified by exactly what one has to do to learn to sit the trot, here is a suggestion.
Go to your favourite bulletin board and search for the term "footfalls" or "timing of aids".
Suddenly, sitting the trot will seem to be a total cakewalk. You will have the urge to do some tequila shooters with the monkeys, since they are so fun and easy to be around, as opposed to the footfall posse. Hoochie Koo boys, Hoochie Koo!
Yes. I am sorry to say it, but you really do need to learn where your horse's feet are, and when. And yes, you really do need to learn to time your aids. But seriously... NO, it is not nearly the rocket science you will be lead to believe by these people.
Horses - they have four legs. Four feet (What? You are kidding, right? I told you to do a vet check!). No calculus or other complicated math is necessary to tabulate the endless number of combinations and permutations that this vast array of appendages offers up. One. Two. Three. Four.
In fact, in two of the three gaits you will be dealing with on a daily basis, your horse will be using at least two of these legs *at the same time* - so you really only have to count to two, or three. And I am sure we have all had rides where we are happy if more than two feet are on the ground for the majority of our time in the saddle. If we stay in the saddle.
How then can something like "learning the footfalls" and "timing of the aids" possibly be as complicated as the internet bulletin boards make it sound?
I took a little walk down memory lane and searched for this myself on COTH today.
Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I found. Yes, all in one thread!
If you give an aid when the leg has already left the ground the horse has no way to respond to it.
If you give a forward leg aid when the horse's leg is on the ground, you risk quickening and shortening the stride
The horse cannot respond when his foot is on the ground
Err...okay... so I am then supposed to give the aid...when?
And of course, the go-to response to all questions, as told by classical dressage gurus was provided by someone:
Nothing replaces an understanding of a horses mouvement like the good old fashioned lunging lesson with a competant instructor.
(Mercifully, this poster does not give us any advice on where to go for a good understanding of grammar or spelling).
One of the more cerebral participants feels the need to ask:
Can you explain why my hips can't influence the horse in motion with his when I aid when his foot is off the ground?
Yes. I think I can. It is because you are making this all TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED - the fact that you are trying to influence your horse's motion at any particular time using only your mighty hoochie-koo hips is making his little walnut brain want to explode.
(I might be wrong though. The answer might really be found in a quote by Podhajsky. But I doubt it).
To make matters worse - the instructors that I have run into along the way that like to pontificate the most about "the timing of the aids" are the ones that don't seem to have too much else to add to the story. For example, a hat-wearing, fur coated classical guru can likely make progress with even the least athletic, most adoring clinic participant by following her around at a walk cooing "wan-ennn-tooo-ennn-treee-ennn-fooorrr....brav! Did you feel that dear! Now YOU try!"
My recommendation to you on this one is to use my two step process to learning "the timing of the aids"
Step One - use your fricking noggin.
Think about it. If you are doing a lateral movement and you want your horse to swing his leg under his body - is it going to be easier for him to swing it when it is in the air, or planted on the ground?
If you want him to push off more powerfully in medium trot or whatever, will he get more power if his foot is in contact with the ground, or floating around in mid air?
And so on. What do you want the effect to be - when would it make most sense to apply the aid to get that effect to happen?
Great. Now that we have that out of the way -
Step Two - try to make your flabby old middle aged body actually DO this. Because let's be honest here - we are talking about split second differences here between foot on the ground, foot off the ground.
If you are anything like I was back in the day... by the time it dawns on you that "hmm, I am making some fine looking origami with my saddle pad as I pull my heel up to my ass, but somehow Stormy just isn't getting the message - maybe I should try something new"... your diagonal-line-type-leg-yield-thingy movement is but a distant memory and you are already whipping around the corner on the short side.
Stormy's little hooves have up/downed through many an up/down cycle, all with his mute button firmly on to dull the monotonous nagging feeling of your spur poking him somewhere in the ribs nowhere near his girth, or one hand width behind it, or wherever the perfect spot for aids during lateral movements may be in your mind. Because let's face it - the biggest problem for a lot of us when starting out has nothing to do with when to put the aid ON, but when to take it OFF to reward the horse and let him do his thing without incessant nagging.
Sigh. Take heart. I do think this one is easier to figure out than the sitting trot.
Practice. It is a good thing to do on one of those days that you feel like wandering around aimlessly and not doing anything too taxing. (For example, maybe on a day when you had McDonalds for lunch, and know you will get a wicked side stitch if the ball of ensuing grease bounces around too much in your intestines). Remember, If anyone asks why you aren't *insert challenging athletic endeavor here* today, give them a dirty look and say "I am MASTERING the FOOTFALLS" ("asshole" implied but not said) or some equally pretentious response.
You are likely fixated with staring at your horse's head and neck anyways, why not start paying attention to where his shoulders are too. There is a foot down there somewhere - you can potentially influence with an aid someday.
Then, once you figure this out and know what foot is where - when...try to coordinate your legs. Swing them around and make them do something in time with your horses. See - it isn't that hard. Eventually this will morph from just "something" into "something functional that improves your horse's way of going". Give it time.
To be honest, I don't really get too hung up on "in the air" or "on the ground". You have to be pretty damned precise to get to this point - and I don't think I am a good enough rider. But if you can at least give the aid when the leg is next up in the sequence and just about to do SOMETHING... Seriously. It will make a huge difference, especially to your lateral work.
(And I hate to say it because it is like rubbing salt into wounds... but it really gets easier once you know how to sit the trot! Sorry!)