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Do you ever feel as though you just cant get with the movement of your horse? Like you are just bouncing around in the saddle?

It may sound like a question for new riders, but even seasoned riders experience this feeling – perhaps in a transition, through a lead change, or on a different horse with a lot more impulsion!

I find that “bouncing” in the saddle, in all gaits, is most often caused by two things…

The first is a rider’s body being out of alignment or balance. If a rider leans forward with their upper body, they are no longer balanced over the horse’s center of mass and can easily get jarred. The same is true for a rider sitting too far back with a slumped posture.

Good alignment of our body is important for balance (our center of mass over the horse’s center of mass) as well as for movement.

The main points of good alignment are: a flat back, open chest, feet under center, hip, knee, and ankle joints soft, upper arm hanging, and wrist straight.

When we feel out of balance, we tighten up in an attempt to hold ourselves on. This creates tension, the second big factor in “bouncing.”

Too much tension in any part of our body, and we can longer move freely and make those adjustments to our posture to effectively stay with a moving horse.

Tension also creates tight, hard muscles, and hard muscle bounces!

In this week’s video, I demonstrate how too much tension, whether from pushing into my heel, gripping with my knee, or pulling my shoulders back can quickly turn good movement into bouncing!

After watching this video, Click Here for specific exercises to help you ride with less tension.


Daily exercises for an immovable seat, steady hands, and a happier horse

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Instructed by: Callie King
A comprehensive program on horse behavior, training, and riding. Ride with balance and learn to communicate effectively with your horse. Learn riding in a completely new way!

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90 Responses

  1. it’s almost eerie how often your weekly video addresses something I just experienced in my riding. It’s not all the time, but I do get tense on certain horses that either have a less smooth gait or have a big gait – then, before you know it – I’m bouncing. I feel so bad for the horses. I think deep breathing to relax helps tremendously. Your video does too! Thanks!

  2. Fantastic video, thank you so much! I know I tense up whenever I’m feeling uncomfortable in the saddle (off balance or bouncing, or the horse is acting up), which in turn makes me even more uncomfortable and exacerbates the problem. I am going to do my best to focus on intentionally relaxing myself whenever I start feeling like I’m not going with the horse.

  3. This was a perfect time for this video! I’m learning how to trot in my lessons, and I’m just bouncing all over! I’m going to be watching this again right before my next lesson.

    I’m riding western and bareback (pad and blanket, for balance training), is there anything I should do different in bareback for this to work?

    Thanks Callie, your classes and videos rock!

    1. Hi Mark,
      Really nothing to do differently, just keep in mind that in bareback, there is no saddle to support your back from slumping, so it takes a bir more postural engagement to maintain a supported back.

  4. I have trouble sitting the trot, particularly on my horse. I do have the tendency to brace especially my legs/feet in the stirrups. I have watched tons of videos but the way you just explained and demonstrated how the tension hinders us was a ah ha moment for Me! The light is on and I now feel excited about trying the sitting trot with whole new approach and understanding!!! Thanks you!!

  5. Thank you, Callie! I’m a new rider who tenses up at the thought of trotting. No wonder I bounce. This video has been an eye opener. Actually I’m still a bit nervous just getting on a horse and have been working on belly breathing and softening during the walk. I do so appreciate your blog and all that I have been learning since I found you. Thank you very much .

  6. I have improved a lot on most horses that I ride at work and at home, but I have anew to me draft horse who has an extra beat during the trot and I’m unable to sit it without beginning to bounce. It’s of course also difficult to post his trot! Your videos are so helpful! Do you have any extra clues for such a trot as my new boy?

    1. Hi Pam,
      There is a point where if the horse does not have good quality to their gait, riding it can never be comfortable. Perhaps your best solution would be to look more into what is causing this extra beat – where is your horse holding tension?

      1. Great suggestion! I was wondering if he was maybe out of shape! Thank you Callie! And as always, your videos are super helpful!

  7. My upper,and mid back often bother me after loping. Probably tightening my muscles now that I’ve after watched your video. You do a wonderful job at demonstration and explanation. Kris

  8. This is great advise. I struggle in my transitions and also when I am on uneven ground, changing from uphill to downhill. Thank you. I will work at being aware of bracing and gripping.

  9. Just a few weeks ago after I had been riding mostly on Doc the QH and Romeo the Arabian mix, I got back on Daisy the big Tennessee Walker and it felt awkward. I felt a little out of balance while taking her down a trail she had never been down before and she kept looking back but continued anyway. As she began a running walk then trot I know that I was gripping and she finally freaked and ran up a very steep hill wanting to get back to the barn. Fortunately I was able to get off safely and by the time I caught her she was pretty well calmed down. Riding a lot of different horses doesn’t leave a chance to get comfortable enough to improve my skills but it’s my only way to gain experience. Help!!

    1. Hi John,
      If your only option is riding a lot of different horses right now, do you have an opportunity to do more practice in a more controlled environment such as an arena or small field?

  10. This is awesome, I was just having this issue working into the canter in my lessons (I’m an adult beginner). I’m starting to get it, but definitely bouncing. I think my biggest issue is alignment and balance (I tend to lean forward). Where I’m finding I’m losing the rhythm and balance the most is in the turns. I’m fairly balanced on the long straight stretch, but as soon as I work towards a circle or into a corner, I’m off balance, I start bouncing, and my horse will transition to trot and move off the line I’m asking for.

  11. Very good video! Really nice to see exactly what happens as you tensed different parts. I sometimes struggle sitting the canter. At my lesson this week I cantered the right lead (my “hard” lead) first and was bouncing. Then I cantered the left lead, which I could sit, then went back to the right lead and “magically” I could sit the right lead. My trainer mentioned I might need to “warm-up” with the left lead first.

  12. Hi Callie!
    I am very comfortable with my own horse , but have recently been riding my friends thoroughbred often . I find myself bouncing on him in the sitting trot and sometimes the canter. I know I have a tendency to lean forward and I never really thought about that causing me to “ bounce” more. I am going to take what you said in the video and try to apply it in our lesson tomorrow. 🙂

  13. I continue to struggle with have “soft arms” while cantering. I understand the theory of having my arms move with the horse but I cannot seem to put it into practice. Do you have suggestions for exercises to help me with this bad habit?

  14. I think I understand the reasons for bouncing. So as a next setp I would like to know more about how can I maintain good alignment without tensions. Is there any good way or tips for that? I appreciate if you could make a video for it! Thank you.

  15. I really enjoy your training style and your video’s . Thank you so much for assisting me as I am training my own horse Babe.

    Thanks again, Leilani Shannon
    Bismarck ND

  16. I swear, the canter is my undoing. I don’t do bad at the trot, the sitting trot, and have even improved at the bareback trot. I’ve cantered bareback and lets just say that’s a work in progress. In the saddle at canter I know I’m not smooth and I feel sorry for my poor boy who (so far) puts up with me. I have a trainer (a good one) but I’m not making much progress in this area.

  17. Awesome video, Callie, the slow-motion really helped, that was great. I have always had tight muscles and it’s challenging for me to consciously be able to relax. I have learned to not grip with my leg anymore and keep my joints loose. The biggest problem I have are my neck/shoulders/upper back area, and my glutes. I just can’t seem to soften them, no matter how much I focus on relaxing them. I sometimes visualize having a “pudding butt”. In case it might help someone reading this, I wanted to share that tight muscles in general can be caused by a magnesium deficiency. If someone gets cramps easily that is a tell-tale sign. Getting enough essential fatty acids and vitamin D is very important too-in other words: we need nutrients to keep us pain-free and flexible. This goes for our horses too. Now I will be checking out your exercises. Thanks for all your great teaching, it’s been so helpful to me 🙂 Blessings~

  18. As always, your timing of this video is impeccable! I’ve been working on becoming less tense and have found that it helps to start from the moment I enter the horse’s stall by being calm, breathing deeply, and focusing on my horse. While riding, I’m working on becoming more aware of the moment when I begin to tense up, and to simply tell myself to relax — it actually seems to work! My trainer suggested that I lift my legs off the horse’s side occasionally to keep from gripping which requires using my balance to keep me centered rather than holding on with my legs. Breathing correctly is also so important. I ride a nervous horse and have found that he can feel if my breathing is steady and calm. Sometimes in tense situations I’ve found that letting out a big breath, like a big audible sigh or by snorting like a horse really helps both of us relax, and the laughter that sometimes results is a great way to become less tense!

  19. I’ve been riding a new, and more relaxed, horse and find that letting my hips and legs feel “heavy” really helps when going from trot to canter transition. I also started listening to music while riding and find that it helps my mind from wandering to the “what if this or that happens” while riding place. I also feel more relaxed if I lunge my horse before riding as it gives me an idea of his mental state. Does he transition nicely into the canter or is he feeling frisky and kicking up his heels. If he’s feeling frisky I spend more time in trot before asking for canter.

  20. I noticed I hold in my chest/solar plex not even just when riding. in general. working on yoga to help fix this. breathing while riding has helped as well as thinking about expanding my rib-cage up. I’m practicing doing this while sitting and driving so that its not just practice while riding. thats really helped a lot too. the slow motion really helped, great edited video. thanks!!!

  21. Yes tension tension tension!mostly knee gripping and stiff shoulders! It almost feels like clostrophobic to canter inside, but too scary and big outside! I’m not a beginner but have a school horse who doesn’t give up easily.( 15 Arabian mare) It’s like a mental block I can’t crack!I’m 60 but fit and ride hunter paces well.

  22. I have noticed I tense my glutes causing me to pitch forward.
    This video was quite helpful as I can visualize body mechanics and the effect that it has on riding.

  23. Thank you Callie! The tensing in my body is making me bounce when I try to canter. Your videos are so very helpful because you demonstrate the right way to ride, but also show us the result of getting it wrong. It is difficult for me to see my body when I ride. I was defiantly able to see you bounce up out of the saddle when you tensed for the canter. That is exactly what is happening to me. I can maintain a relaxed position in the walk and running walk with my Tennessee Walker. He has a smooth gait, but he seems to leap into the canter and very quickly pick up a lot of speed  and that makes me feel out of control. I tense and then get bouncing and feel more out of control which causes more tensing and even more bounce. I will try to apply your advice and work with the practice exercises you have suggested. I don’t want to be a gaited horse owner who says “we don’t canter, we just gait” When I know full well my horse is capable of a nice collected canter.

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab® S

    1. Many gaited horses do have a very nice canter! We have a Kentucky Mountain Horse here at the farm and he is everyone’s favorite to learn canter on.

  24. Hi Callie,
    Thank you for this excellent video. I had a bad fall back in February this year and my confidence has been knocked. This has mainly manifested in a lot of tension in canter (glutes, shoulders) and me taking a hunkering down position, as you so accurately described in your video!
    I know I do it, your video has helped me to be more aware though, I’m pretty sure my bottom and shoulders aren’t the only areas of tension at each gait! Thank you for your insight. I truly appreciate you sharing your expertise.
    Hayley Cavanagh

  25. Hi Callie, I love your videos. You are so clear with your instruction. I tense up in the trot to canter transition and then lose my alignment and my horse just gets faster in the trot. When I relax my body and go with the movement as you explain, we transition so much better. Thanks for the reminder!

  26. My battle is that when I make the effoet to open my chest and sit straight those muscles are now working/engaged and therefore hold some tenseion. Kind of chicken and egg scenerio.

    1. Hi Chris, try practicing your open chest throughout the day – more time to think about feeling that small movement without creating the extra tension!

  27. Hi Callie, It s really helpful to see the demonstrations in slow motion . I have trouble keeping my seat in the saddle at the canter . I think I am working too hard to keep the horse going and then tense up in several places. I am going to try your suggestions in my next lesson. Thank you for another great insight and hope for improvement..

  28. Guilty! Glutes!!!
    And then it just progresses up and down my body from there.
    Fortunately it’s not every time I ride and happens less often now. But it can be so hard to stop doing it once I start!

  29. Canter, canter, canter…I don’t know what it is about us older riders but we all seem to develop some stress over the canter..even though many of us has done a lot of riding as kids/young adults. we come back to riding after having our families and there it is…stress over the canter. Results in tension and bouncing.

  30. I am tense in my lower back and shoulders because of an injury from a Fall last year. My body seems stuck in a protective mode. So yes the tension creates stiffness so Im having a hard time with my seat in the canter!
    Also some residual fear keeps creeping in . I’ve been working more at the trot while I train myself to relax again.
    Great video ,
    Thank you

  31. Callie, Callie, Callie!!! You outdid yourself on this video. This is so helpful. Also, blew me away that you would purposely ride badly on a newly trained horse to help him not be afraid. So smart! I’ve often thought it’s fine for a horse to be trained with a great rider, but what happens when a not so experienced rider gets on (with my horse who is still a work in progress and I don’t ride. Only more experienced people do) I keep buying lottery tickets hoping I’ll win and then come to your farm and take lessons 🙂 Thank you so very much!!

  32. Great video Callie! I’m a bouncer for sure! I will keep what you said in mind, and will come back to this video until I figure out what I need to change. I just got a Pixio camera, so now I will have a way to video myself (once I learn how to set it up), so I can critique it after I ride . It’s hard to train yourself and your horse when you’re by yourself, and I am mostly by myself. Thanks so much for putting this video together and posting it! By the way, I love your riding attire, saddle, blanket, etc. ! Everything looks really nice!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Video is a great way to learn! My own riding has certainly improved by doing so many videos over the years and having to constantly watch and critique myself.

  33. Thanks Callie, this is a great subject! I have been struggling with this quite a bit lately. I have been trying to sit my rather green horse’s trot, but after about 5 seconds I give up. I keep thinking it’s a combination of my legs not being very strong, and his trot. But when I asked my husband to video us, his trot seems fine. I suppose it is just me. I have been working on my leg strength, and trying to ‘go with him’ in his movement, but I am sure I am pushing my heels down too much and am trying to hard to feel more secure in my seat.
    I am going to try to relax more on my ride today and see if that helps!

  34. I do competitions with obstacle,. but just about in any competition, I get tight and I can feel how affects my horse and our performance.

  35. Hi Callie, I was cantering up a steep hill & was bouncing too much on my horses back. My riding friend told me I needed to keep my butt down in the saddle, but now that I saw your video, I’m thinking it was more about my alignment, maybe my feet were too far forward or my upper body muscles too tight. Still not sure about body position on such a steep run. Usually, if I catch myself not breathing, my body muscles have tighten up also! Thank you for your help & input.

    1. Hi Suzanne, going up a hill, the rider’s body angles slightly forward in order to stay over the horse’s center of mass. It does sound as though you are probably correct that it was an alignment issue that had you bouncing. Our leg joints need to be soft when we ride so they help to absorb some of the movement from the horse.

  36. Absolutely love the way you explain things. Described me to a T – I get nervous asking for canter n tense up. Need to work on asking for canters . Once I get going imo it i am fine, it’s that first tense step. Thanks for your videos.

  37. Thank u Callie ! These last 3 videos were super helpful and so well explained .!i realized once I stopped gripping with my knees it completely helped open up my hips and made the canter so much more comfortable.

  38. Glutes and shoulders… dreadful combo… my horse has huge movement and I think I anticipate transitions and tense… I correct once I feel the dis-harmony but this video has helped me identify what is happening and I will go into the next ride with more awareness…

    BTW – what the make of your saddle in this video? Looks so comfy.

    1. Hi Mary,
      This particular saddle is a Schleese JES Elite – I have many different brands to try to accommodate the different horses and riders here!

  39. Thanks so much for this video, it explained exactly what I was doing! I am relatively new to horse riding, and my weekly lessons are progressing to the point I am learning the cantor at the lunge line. I really do love it when I move with the horse, but experiencing the “bouncing” has left me a little frustrated. I really do appreciate these videos, they will help tremendously! Thank you!

  40. Hi Callie. I am not a beginner rider by any means but have a green horse that I’ve been riding for about a month now. I find that it feels like I am now not a very good rider! It may because I worry about what she “ might do” and I’m finishing it hard to find rhythm with her. She is a very speedy mover. Any suggestions for us?

    1. Hi AJ, how is she with her ground work – does she have a good rhythm on the lunge line or walking/ jogging in hand?

      1. Thanks for the reply Callie! I don’t do a lot of lunging but she is pretty good. In hand she has a lovely jog and she will speed up or slow down with me just by following my pace. She is very green still under saddle, 4 yrs old

  41. I absolutely love your detailed video with slow motion. It really emphasizes that when you tense your muscles you will indeed bounce more. I ride a mare with a very fast trot and I am learning to slow her down, but I know I am giving her mixed signals causing frustration for both her and I. Recently I injured my leg after she got spooked while I was riding her, so I won’t be able to ride for the next couple of weeks. I will certainly watch your wonderful videos while I recuperate. Thanks

  42. This is related to a theme in my most recent lesson – transitioning from a hunter/jumper position to a dressage position with my upper body. My instructor tells me that my upper body needs to come back a bit. I did this, and when I cantered, I felt the difference in the connection with the horse, but I also felt the pain in MY low back with that movement. So, I am trying to figure out some exercises and/or stretches to add to what I’m already doing to help prepare my back for that movement. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hi Megan, I don’t often hear complaints of back pain when lengthening the lower back, so I would question if you are trying to “force” the position, vs finding it with alignment. For example, sometimes lengthening the lower back is confused with tightening the abdominals and “tucking” the pelvis.
      Or bracing in your legs so that an impact travels to your back… I would see if you can find someone to take a short video of yourself so you can look for those details.

      1. Hmm, well it’s more a compression of the low back than a lengthening, as I’m bringing shoulders back more. I think what you’re saying is to tuck the pelvis more to avoid that compression. I’ll try it. I’m also doing more work to strengthen abs and low back muscles (plank and bird-dog). The video idea is interesting too. Thanks much!!

  43. Hey Callie, LOVE your videos which I’m FINALLY able to start watching again! Have had a long journey (still on it) of getting over over some physical issues this year, affecting everything in my life, including caring for and riding my horses! With regard to bouncing, this is something I started to experience after a bad fall that fractured my spine in multiple places. I now have permanent damage, and I am in PT for it, but it will always be an issue. I’m about to check out your exercises suggested, but, in the meantime, for older folks (or younger) that have physical damage that challenge their suppleness, primarily in my lumbar and right hip, do you have any suggestions while riding to help maintain softness? I realized that I was tending to tense up to protect my lower back, which isn’t as loose as it once was. Slow and steady will be my mantra getting back to upper level work. Any suggestions are gladly appreciated! Thanks! Jude

  44. Thanks for the video Callie, and I find that relaxing and not gripping really helps to follow the movement of the horse. However when I am relaxed in the saddle my horse sometimes spooks or makes a sudden movement and I fall off. It is almost as if I am too relaxed and can’t stay on when something unexpected happens. Recently I have started putting more pressure on the stirrups and trying to “hold on” so that I stay in the saddle if my horse spooks. How do I know what the right amount of tension and relaxation is? Do you have any suggestions for what I could do to stay with the horses rhythm but also stay on when she spooks? Thanks

  45. I have been avoiding the sitting trot like the plaque, however, my instructor (whom I love) had me doing quite a lot with my last lesson. I had to be doing something VERY wrong since afterwards I was in agony with rawness in my crotch area. My instructor did not see anything I was doing incorrectly & said I was getting much better. My body did not agree & I haven’t ridden since. I have another lesson today (one week later) & I’m almost dreading it. I adore riding my horse & I truly enjoy my lessons so I have no idea how to fix this problem.

  46. Hi Callie,
    At the stable where I ride, there is a big, young, perky horse that has a huge step in his canter. This makes it hard to ride, and I lose my balance. I really like riding this horse, but I get a little scared before I canter. Are there things that I can do to over come this? I’m eleven and not very heavy, this might be part of why I hesitate.

    1. Hi Lily, thanks for your comment! As you become more skilled at riding this horse, you will be more confident. Without seeing you I can’t make specific suggestions for what to do, but follow the advice of your instructor, go slowly, and when you are uncomfortable, let your instructor know so they can help you or make the exercise easier for you!

  47. Thanks a ton for the advice,
    I was trying out your recommendations on my 17 hand molly mule today, and it seemed to work very well. To not absorb, but follow her movement, seem to do the trick for us.
    Thanks again!

  48. I like your videos. When I try to do what the trainer tells me, I bounce more. I am asked to position my feet on the stirrups on the ball of my feet, heel lowered, etc… I did watch your learning to post video to ride with your heaps and thighs in position where everything is supposed to fall in place with the heel lower than the stirrup. My horse seemed to trout very smoothly then as I try to learn the feeling. Is it better to ride with shorter stirrups? to force the lower heel position? My trainer says I have a chair seat.

  49. Wow! At last someone has explained why I bounce so much! My instructors keep telling me to relax and go with the horse , but no can do. I am a thigh gripper! My tummy and gluts are like taught wire ( I’m an ex dancer and fitness instructor) And I lose my stirrups, too. I shall be thinking about everything you said on your video.

  50. Callie,
    I do sometimes bounce too much, and I think when I am experiencing tension because my horse is not doing what I am asking her to do, I push down on my heels hard that causes my to bounce out of the saddle.

    1. Eugene, to work up to canter I would start by practicing some of these techniques at the slower gaits then working to riding the trot asking for faster trot to get used to the speed of the canter! Do you have it available to you to have someone lunge you at the canter so you can focus on the techniques from this video?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Hey Eugene, I have recently started cantering and I am feeling really confident now. When I was trying to canter I was really tense because my horse would just trot faster and I got really nervous. My horse would just do a really big trot and I wasn’t used to that. So I practised the big trot and one day when I was trotting over some jumps he decided to have a canter! So I guess my point is that being nervous and tense won’t help, being confident in a big trot before the canter might help you get your confidence up. Try and keep your eyes up and lean back, don’t focus on where you are going too much. You can even get someone to lunge you in a canter so that you focus on getting into the rhythm and balancing. I really hope this helps.

  51. Good evening cally,
    Ive had 3 horses, 15, 16.3 and 17.2 hh, i get so excited that my heart runs fast, and i get very ansious,so i know the horses pick this up, and they get very figity,and i keep leaning forward in canter, and fall off please help, i wish i can come over to you so i can have one to one lesson
    many thanks leni

    1. Hi Leni, Sorry to hear about your recent falls! There are many different factors that can come into play here… I would first recommend slowing down and working at walk and trot to find a more secure position.

  52. Callie: First want to say “thanks” and now I’ll explain why. My horse (and I) are in rehab after he tore his right front suspensory ligament in February 2017. I say “and I” because this has been a long journey for both of us. We are riding again, but that has presented some challenges (1) I find that I’m tense when I ride and (2) he responds to that tension in negative ways (e.g., bucking). My trainer made a video of our ride yesterday and it’s quite evident that my biggest problem is the bounce. And the more I bounce, the more I irritate my horse because I’m not moving with him and the more irritated he gets, the more likely he is to buck or act out which will increase my tension (Catch 22). After my lesson, I found your video on “bouncing” and I must say that when I rode today one of your suggestions made a significant difference. After identifying the sources of tension and “gripping” (I watched the video on “gripping,” too) you did the demo ride and I could see myself in your stirrups when you rode “wrong/tense”. You also noted that when we find ourselves bouncing, it’s a good idea to go through the checklist (bottom, hips, thighs, knees and calves) and find out where the tension is. I did just that and was able to identify two sources right away: my hips and bottom! When I’d relax those, everything else fell into place and my ride at the lope was almost effortless today (I think my horse was even surprised). So thank you – I know I have more work to do but your simple suggestion really made a significant difference today. Note: I ride reining and reined cowhorse; hence, “lope” instead of “canter.”

    1. Valerie, that is so awesome! I am so glad this video helped you and you were able to go out and see a difference after one time! Keep us updated on your progress 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  53. I notice that I have trouble doing the sitting trot. I can do the rising trot with no problem, but I think I tense up while doing the sitting trot. I have no idea why I do it, maybe because I think I’m going to fall off. Anyway Your videos are very helpful!!

    1. Make sure you are subscribed to the blog, we will be posting a video on sitting trot next week! Subscribe so you don’t miss another video!

      – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  54. You hit the nail on the head. When I bounce, it’s because of the reasons you said! Heels down too much and gripping too tightly with my legs. I need to RELAX. I really enjoy your videos! Thank you!

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