Sitting trot can be a pain in the butt, and a pain in the “front butt” too. The bumping that accompanies learning to elastically sit a horse’s trot can be a real trial, and one you don’t probably choose to discuss with your non-horse friends on girls’ night!
The first inclination when things get painful in the nethers is to blame the saddle, and there are probably some small minority of saddles that are so ill-fitting as to be the source of the problem. However, if you’ve tried several, many or myriad saddles and you can’t find one that is comfortable for sitting trot for you, the one constant is not the saddles! For fun, let’s just entertain the idea that it might be technique rather than saddle. My Dad’s voice rings in my head: “It’s a poor workman who blames his tools.”
What is happening to produce discomfort? When a rider’s back is not relaxed and elastically following the movement of the horse, there has to be a bump between the moving thing (the horse, going up and down and forward) and the still thing (the rider, who wants to be still relative to the horse, but she thinks she can do that by holding herself still through the use of rigid muscles. “Still relative to the horse” in sitting trot means both keeping her hips and shoulders over the center of the horse at the front of the saddle as he moves forward (relatively easy for many), and elastically absorbing and releasing the energy of the upward bound and downward release of the trot (relatively difficult for many).
Picture a person learning to dribble a basketball. At first, their hand slaps the ball down with an audible bump. Over time, the person learns to catch the energy of the ball bouncing off the ground and then smoothly return and even re-direct that energy down. Soon the person can dribble the ball anywhere she wants. There is no bumping against the ball, only catching the energy of the ball going up, in an open, relaxed and elastic hand, and then releasing the energy back down. This accepting and releasing of the energy coming up and going down is what we do in good sitting on trotting horses. The horse is like the ball sending energy up in his bounds up and forward and releasing it in his return to the earth. In good sitting trot, the tripod of your pelvis is engaged with your lower back to produce the relaxed and elastic catching and releasing of that energy.
Most of us think we should be born knowing how to sit the trot, so we expect it to be immediately effortless. It is afterall, just sitting and we do that all the time. (More correctly, riding sitting trot is active stillness.) And it looks so fabulously easy when some riders do it. Because people tend to think that a connected sitting trot is their birthright, they get in there and wing it, and unless they are of the 1% to whom it actually IS their birthright, they find themselves surprised to be bumping the saddle with their pelvis somehow (some with the back of the pelvis, some with the front) and it hurts – just like slapping a basketball with your hand is not pleasant. Except with a basketball, we would be thought very silly if we blamed the ball for hurting our hands while we are slapping it!
To compound the problem, without patient development of the sitting trot skill, there is a natural tendency to tighten the thigh and back to defend oneself against the bumping that develops. This keeps the pelvis tensely tilted up off the saddle, which stops the bumping, but it disqualifies the possibility of real connection and influence on the horse, and, further, encourages stiffness in the horse, which then makes the gait harder to sit! It is a vicious cycle that can be circumvented with knowledgeable help and patient attention. Here is my blog about regaining the sitting trot after I lost it when I shifted my sacrum.
Watch George Williams (love his riding. Yeah, I know. I am kind of like John Madden talking about Brett Favre, but stay with me here.) in sitting trot in this video. Try not to be distracted by the gorgeous horse or surroundings. Look at his pelvis and lower back. They are moving. A LOT. Riders have to be fearless and elastic in sitting trot. You can only be those things when you actually have help in learning to sit the trot by slowing things down and being patient with yourself while you do it. The payoff is uber cool. Real connection with the seat in sitting trot is a cornerstone to really good riding.