Following up on one of my goals for this coming year, I’ve already make a (seemingly small with big impact) change in my riding. I’ve brought my lower leg further back under my hip, and shortened my stirrups.
After reading Megan’s blog series (especially this post) on the Mary Wanless (check out this article in particular for a great visual) clinic she attended, I was inspired. I’ve been riding a horse this winter that is challenging both physically and mentally in ways I’ve never had the chance to experience before. I absolutely love every minute of it – even though it often exhausts me. This horse is so talented, so athletic, and so…nice… that I have a renewed awareness of what my body is doing and a determination to improve.
With Crumble, of course I still want to be the best rider I can be. But he is also immensely generous and forgiving, and his natural gaits don’t demand a lot from me, fitness-wise, in order to ride them decently. Essentially, I can get away with more. That’s not to say he’s unfailingly easy (it takes a certain amount of skill to get him to perform well, i.e. with lightness, keeping him round, through, and not ground-bound), but just to say that he’s a different kind of horse.
This new horse, however, is challenging in both mind and body. I have not had to sit a trot this big before! It’s really bringing to light some of my position issues that I had not thought about this extensively in the past. You know, the things you think you know and were taught from the beginning, but now suddenly you see them in a new light?
For the first several gazillion years of my riding life, I couldn’t sit the trot if my life depended on it. It frustrated me to no end, because I wanted more than anything to be a dressage rider, and dressage riders sit the trot, dang it.
The first breakthrough happened during my stint working in a professional dressage barn around age 18. My instructor noticed that my shoulders were just a hair ahead of my hips, and whenever I brought them back a bit more, I could sit better. She had me practice on a pony whose trot wasn’t that big, and she wanted me to keep a slow jog. As I felt better maintaining my position, she had me increase the trot, but as soon as I felt unbalanced, I went back to the walk to start over. This was a huge help in teaching me to capture the correct feeling instead of practicing the wrong one.
Since then, I’ve been able to sit the trot pretty well. But the two biggest things that escaped me were (are):
- how to not lean back to ask for medium trot
- how to actually get my abs to participate in the whole experience
I could find these awesome moments off and on, but not consistently. I had (have, still working on it) a general feeling of lack of control over what my limbs are doing while the rest of me is sitting the trot.
Enter: new horse. And an increasing desire to work on my position.
I spent a few days pouring over articles and watching videos to get a good visual grasp over what I wanted to change. I then tested it out on a few different horses. I brought my lower leg back, which, in turn, meant I needed to shorten my stirrups by at least one hole – sometimes two. Since then, I’ve discovered a few major differences in my effectiveness as a rider and in the horses I’m riding, even though this seems like it’s such a small change. Take a look at the photographic evidence, and below that you’ll find my list of observations:
- My body wants to tip forward now. This position really pinpoints the weakness in my core. However, it also makes it more natural for me to identify when my core is not engaged, therefore making it easier for me to fix.
- When my core is engaged and my leg is back, my posture improves. This is so cool to see. My shoulders usually have a hard time opening, but in this new position, I am finding that I can work on it. I look straighter.
- I don’t have to be so obvious with my seat aids. I don’t need to lean back in order to engage my seat. I can tip my pelvis in a much smaller way and get the same results.
- I can stay down in the saddle more while sitting the trot.
- My seat is looser in the canter. I can adjust it quicker.
- I finally found that feeling of “kneeling” in the saddle.
- My arms find it more natural to be away from my body. It is harder to pull the reins back in an attempt to create contact when my legs are back and my core is engaged, because I am more stable. Why would I need to pull back?
- That feeling of holding the contact in my shoulders (rather than my hands/arms) makes more sense. It is a more natural place to be when everything else is in alignment.
- My legs are getting stronger. They are starting to be more stable.
- The horse underneath me has less restriction. More freedom in the back, more freedom to move forward from the smallest aids.
- I can create a space for the horse to meet me. When I am more stable, the horse can learn to be supple and light within the space I give him, instead of me having to work harder to achieve similar results.
- I can more easily identify other areas of weakness/crookedness in myself and the horse. Because I’m less in the way and more aware of my body, I can pinpoint those areas and work on them.
- The whole thing makes me more excited to learn and gives me more to look forward to when I ride.
Now, I’ve only been at this for a week or two, so this list isn’t here to say that I’ve solved all of these issues within a short period of time because of magic legs. Rather, I’m able to identify and find solutions for so much more than what I was able to previously. I’ve been able to catch glimpses of where I’d like to be, which gives me a good gauge for where I need to go and what I need to do to get there.
Has anyone else out there been inspired to work on posture and position this year? Have you made any small changes that had big impact?