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Horses - Riding At The Walk And At The Trot

( Originally Published 1940 )

HAVING LEARNED how to mount and sit in the saddle and how to hold the reins, as explained in chapter one, we will now proceed to actual riding.

Our first gait, naturally, is at a walk. A good, well-trained horse should travel at about four miles an hour at this gait. The horse should move willingly straight ahead, without urging; but this has to be accomplished by training, as many horses are very apt to loaf along or to seek to go. to one side or the other, to even stop to graze. We overcome this tendency by slightly tightening up on the reins to awake the animal to "attention" and by guiding the horse by using our leg pressure and the light touches of our spurs against the horse's flanks if the leg pressure itself proves not enough.

Spurs should NEVER be sharp. The tips of the rowels should always be blunted, so as never to cut the horse's skin. Such treatment is brutal and never necessary.

Never "CLICK" (some call it "clucking") TO A GOOD SADDLE HORSE.

Clicking (or clucking) is for the old family Dobbin of a horse used by an old country doctor or by a milkdriver as he urges his ancient and weary nag along on the route, between the shafts.

For a real horseman or horse-woman to do such clicking is to reveal an absurdity in the saddle, and such clicking is the hall-mark of the novitiate, who still has to graduate into being a genuine rider.

And DON'T acquire the habit of slapping your horse with the ends of your reins. Another act of the inexperienced rider, or the brutal ways of a man or woman whose idea of riding consists of inflicting punishment on the horse. And, likewise; never use a riding crop or quirt on a good saddle horse, except in emergencies such as when, approaching a stiff jump, the horse acts unwillingly, or when the animal really needs discipline for the moment.


The new rider is very apt to keep digging in the spurs, clucking, carrying back both his or her heels against the horse's flanks; and this carrying back of the rider's heels causes his legs to bend far too much at the knee, thus shoving forward the rider's knees and creating a very unstable seat and most abominable posture in the saddle.

Once a rider has learned to use his spurs correctly (with his lower legs swinging freely from knee down), he finds that he can still keep the inner sides of his thighs (his adductor muscles, which are on the upper and inner side of each of his thighs) still gripping the horse, thus maintaining the "friction" (grip) necessary to maintain a strong seat. Remember that the backs of a person's thighs possess no gripping power at all, and if these are turned against the horse's sides, the rider loses all grip.

We have seen strong riders whose thigh grip on a horse was so steady and secure that a silver dollar could be placed between the rider's knee and the horse and remain there at a walk, trot, canter and gallop; some even claim they can so hold a dollar even while the horse is bucking. This thigh grip MUST be acquired.

However, it must be realized that a continuous strong straining of the rider's thigh grip becomes most tiresome, even fatiguing to a very great degree; also, if exerted too long at a time and if used jerkily, this thigh grip may result in straining one or both of the rider's adductor muscles. When these muscles become strained, as sometimes happens when indulging in too much fast range riding over bad country or in jumping fences and ditches, the rider be-comes unable to grip at all, because of the intense pain; and only a long rest will get the adductor muscles back into normal condition.


To overcome continual, hard thigh gripping, we must learn how to use balance, and thus adjust ourselves to resorting almost as much to balance on the horse as to the thigh gripping.

The two go hand in hand and should always be so used. The be-ginner should do much riding, at first, at a walk, until grip and balance become second nature and, in fact, until the amount of gripping reduces more and more and balance increases in like pro-portion.

Now we must take up the trot, the most "pounding" of all gaits to the beginner; but riding at a trot MUST be acquired. There are two ways of riding at a trot—the "close" or "cowboy" seat, and the "posting" seat used by most park-riding civilians and horse-show folks and by practically all cavalry services.

The American cavalry, after using the close seat for many long years over all sorts of country, adopted the posting seat about fifteen years or so ago and still uses it. Both ways have strong adherents and opinions differ.


When riding with the close seat, the rider remains firmly seated in the saddle at all times and at all gaits, his buttocks never rising from the saddle-seat. This is a very strong way to ride at the trot or at any other gait. Those accustomed to it, hold to it for life. At what we call the "slow trot" (about six miles per hour) , the rider should NOT, as a rule, post. Here he should use the close seat. But at the regulation (normal) eight-mile-an-hour trot or at a faster trot, "posting" is used by the civilian riders and cavalrymen and some claim it is easier on the horse.

This is a much disputed question, as horses have not yet told us. But that "posting" is undoubtedly easier on the rider, seems rather well established, though no confirmed rider of the "close" seat will admit it. A good rider should learn both ways of riding at the trot.

When beginning to ride, it is advantageous to do so in some en-closed space, so that, should the horse "bolt" (run away) he cannot streak out across country, but is where those inside can catch him.

In "posting" (rising at the trot), there is a very definite method. We say a rider rises at the trot "on the right diagonal" or "on the left diagonal." By this we mean that the rider's body goes slightly up into the air in unison with the horse's front leg, either his right or left one, as the case may be. The rider leans slightly forward from the hips when posting.

A rider in the saddle can always tell on which "diagonal" he is rising, if he will watch the rising and falling motions of the horse's shoulder (left or right one) . He will always be rising and falling, when posting, on one or the other of the horse's front feet. For instance, when posting on the right diagonal, the rider is rising and falling as the horse's right front foot comes up and goes down. The right shoulder of the horse, of course, does the same, and, by watching the shoulder, a rider can always say on which diagonal he is posting. If a rider desires to post on the other diagonal, he merely sits down during a few strides of the horse (at the trot) and then takes up the rising and falling of the shoulder on which he wishes to post.

This, as a matter of training and intelligent riding, every rider should learn and be able to tell at a glance on which diagonal he is posting. Once a rider has learned proper posting, the merest fleeting glance at the horse's shoulder will tell him, instantly, on which diagonal he is posting; and many riders, expert in this posting, claim they can always tell, even without glancing at the horse's shoulder, on which diagonal they are posting. This is doubtless true.


WHILE the new rider is learning at a walk and at a trot, it is of the utmost advantage that he ride for considerable periods without using the stirrups.

This establishes balance and teaches both balance and friction rapidly. While riding without stirrups at a walk will hold no trouble whatever, the beginner will find it amazingly confusing and difficult to do so while at a trot. There is where the rider's stamina comes in first, for he MUST take the punishment, learn balance and friction and to properly combine them.

And, while learning these important things, the rider will also learn never to support himself on the horse's back by jerking and clawing at the reins (and thus hurting the horse's mouth), which almost every new rider does at first, through a sense of self-preservation.

There will come falls—"spills" some call them. These must be taken as a matter of course and laughed at, when no injury has resuited there from. And, if neither rider nor horse has been hurt, the rider should at once remount the horse and continue his or her riding. Otherwise, there will develop a timidity hard to overcome.

Passing through the learning stages at the trot is like passing through an operation to renewed health—it just has to be taken, accepted and accomplished; and if done that way, we go forward to the pleasure of riding, as we shall explain in our next chapter, by taking up those delightful gaits, the lope, the canter, the gallop, and finally, the run.

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