Tools on the Trail: Rotation in the Saddle

Last month, we talked about “transitions” and I shared the groundwork principle of Shoulder Press with you. This month, we’ll continue with the concept of transitions and introduce the concept of rotation in the saddle. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to rotation, while not sharing all aspects of the many ways to use and hence do, rotation! Please be aware that I’m only sharing the rotation aspect of the work here, and not some of the other corresponding leg movements that complement the effectiveness of rotation.

Rotation while you are in neutral has so many uses, one of which is keeping both you and your horse connected on the trail through movement in both the horses body as well as your own. Imagine a spook on the trail, and you stick with your horse through natural movement as opposed to “hanging on”! That depth, security and safety in the seat is but one of the benefits of continually moving in your body with your horse through rotation.

I invite you to view the video first, read the description below, and then view the video again. There is a fine line between rotating and twisting, so I’ll do my best to help differentiate between the two for you so that you have a clear picture of how to do and use the valuable principle of rotation!


As you saw in the video, I was mainly focusing on having you understand that true rotation comes from the searchlight so that head, shoulders and pelvis and follow. You could clearly see that if you lead rotation with your head you lose all the other components, which negates the positive benefits of rotation. To clarify, rotation will NOT always be that small movement that I demonstrated. Sometimes, in order to really engage a hind leg, you must rotate much more to “unstick” what may be stuck in the horse, as well as have free movement in your leg to help encourage and support your horse (more on all this in another newsletter!). I did not speak about this part of rotation here, because that’s a whole other topic. It’s enough to understand that by being in neutral and doing the small rotations in your body on the trail, you are continually allowing your body to be in movement, and you’re encouraging, to a degree, your horse’s hind legs to engage and therefore have your horse use his hind end to move forward.

Moving to rotation in the saddle, what I’m demonstrating is how rotation can help engage the horses outside and inside hind legs to better facilitate transitions. Again, please be aware that there are a couple of other things that I’m doing in my leg to engage a particular hind leg, but by starting with practicing your rotation, you may already feel a difference in your horse simply because you are allowing your body and bones to move with your horse as they move into the upward or downward transition.


The challenge that I see most riders face is that they over rotate their head. Having someone who can be “eyes on the ground” for you is invaluable, as they can give you true feedback as opposed to relying on your own proprioception! Even taking a short video is a great way to really understand what your body is really doing, as opposed to what you feel it’s doing.

In conclusion, in true rotation, the distance between the sternum and the sacrum expands. It feels as if the rider has to grow roots (a tail), float forward from their creases and stay soft in the ribcage all at once. This can and does happen synchronistically when the body releases tension, you maintain tone in your core muscles (engage your INSIDE muscles so your OUTSIDE muscles can be soft) and initiate movement from there (your searchlight). It is very important that the back stays soft, especially as you begin rotation. Enjoy this exercise, and don’t try to “get it” too hard; movements worst enemy is brace, and in trying anything too hard, you typically will create either a physical or emotional brace. Happy trails!