Thursday 17 May 2018

All About Me

A couple of years ago I managed to take some dressage lessons with an instructor who focuses on biomechanics. I loved it. I am very aware that I am at the stage in my riding where I need to change myself before I can expect much improvement in my horse.

Unfortunately, I had a crap horse year with Phantom two years ago, so no lessons, and last year I had no money (second horse) and the instructor moved further away and didn't have a facility. She is probably 1 1/2 hours away from me now - doable if I really wanted to.
From a jumping lesson in 2011. Also, I forgot that Phantom once had a black mane!
One of the things that we really worked on was my rising trot biomechanics. First was getting my lower leg back and under me, then having less pressure in my stirrup and having my thighs snug to the saddle. And posting larger and opening my hip angle at the top of my post.

I rode hunter/jumper for most of my riding life. Which meant lots of weight in my heels, calf on the horse's side, knee off the saddle, and post small. Now I was being told to keep my heels up (as a start to reduce the pressure in the stirrups), bring my leg way back, turn my knee into the saddle, and post big. Change did not come easily. (The fact that my dressage saddle is not the best fit for me likely didn't help. I found my jumping saddle easier to keep my alignment. Unfortunately, Phantom decided that she disliked the fit of that saddle, so now it's sitting in my basement.)
From that same jumping lesson. Not a terrible position for jumping. I would have been riding for about a year again after not riding for 3 (and barely riding for the 2 before that)
The mind-blowing thing that I discovered is that I started the up part of my post with the muscles in my butt. Specifically, the right side of my butt. And guess where I hurt all the time? Yep, my right butt/lower back. She worked with me on the ground, kneeling on a blanket, on how to post from my thighs. This helped immensely.

That summer when I was working on my position I did a lot of short rides where I just concentrated on one or two things. I didn't care where my horses head was, or how straight she was. I just thought about where my feet were, or were my knees turned in, or how big my posts were. I tried to keep everything correct as long as I could, and when I lost the feeling I'd go back to walk, reorganize my body, and start again.

After every lesson I generally had something new that we worked on. So that was what I would work on for my next few rides. On the first ride, I might only last one long side before I lost the feeling and would have to start over. But gradually, over three or four rides, it would start to feel familiar, and I could keep the new position for longer and longer periods.
Working very hard on rising trot during a lesson in 2015. My reins are super long because I can only concentrate on one thing at a time and I wasn't worried about what frame my horse was in. My rogue right leg is back a bit, but not as much as it needs to be.
Unfortunately, I've lost what I had gained that year.

Not completely - my leg sits underneath me more than it used to. And I don't have as much pressure in my stirrups as I once did.

But I've definitely noticed that I'm not riding my rising trot the "new" way. And I'm not engaging my core like I should.

Part of this is probably because I didn't ride much over the winter, so you go back to what is familiar. And another part is likely because I'm riding a green horse at least as much as I'm riding the broke horse. On Cisco, I have to ride defensively so I don't try to fix my position while on him.

On Tuesday's ride on Phantom, I decided to start to find my rising trot again. This ride was all about me.

I started by concentrating on posting from my thighs. Which was exhausting. But I just couldn't find the sweet spot in my position. I couldn't decide what the missing ingredient was - were my legs back enough? Were my shoulders too far forward? Why couldn't I get the feeling of an open hip angle at the top of my post? I was a bit discouraged.
Nope. Still not there. Leg needs to go back more. Way more. This was the lesson where I discovered that I use my butt, so I was trying very hard to figure out how to post from my thighs.  I think the standing up exercise was my next lesson. But you can probably see from this picture that if I were to stand up, I would need to move my leg back to stay in balance. 
In an attempt to get my hips to open up, I did an exercise that I had had to do in a lesson. Basically, you stand up in your stirrups (make sure your knees are turned in). Like, stand on tiptoe in your stirrups. Straight up (the instructor used the analogy of reaching for the cookies on top of the fridge). There is a spot where you can stand there and feel like you could stand forever, in balance and without any strain. Can you immediately find that spot when you stand up? Or do you have to slide your feet back underneath you before you find the spot? Once you find the spot, slowly sink down in the saddle without allowing your legs to slide forward. That is where your leg needs to be. Try this at a walk and trot (which was somewhat terrifying).

So during Tuesday's ride, I stood up at a walk. And noticed that my feet did have to slide back to find the sweet spot of standing. I sat back in the saddle, kept my feet back, and picked up a trot. And bam. There was the rising trot I was looking for.

I struggled a bit to keep my leg that far underneath me. But every time that I came back to walk, stood up, then went back to rising trot, it was right there. I think I will play a bit with my stirrup bar placement (I have that option on my treeless saddle) and see if moving it back a teensy bit will make a difference.

I need to get some video, as I was trying to see the difference in the reflection in the windows. I'm hoping that it looks as good as it feels - but it probably doesn't!


  1. oh man i love a good biomechanics lesson - it's been forever since i had one! there are so many little tweaks and nuances tho.... i guess riding is like, hard, or something. lol....

    1. What do you mean? Doesn't the horse do all the work? Ha ha ha ha!

  2. Biomechanics fascinates me to no end and started hilariously enough with me by doing weight lifting. I really want to take biomechanic riding lessons.

    1. I wish I had been able to take more lessons - there is so much I still need to change.

  3. Ohhh I like that exercise of standing up in the sweet spot. These sort of lessons are gold.

    1. I'm going to try to get some pictures of the standing up exercise. I want to see photographic proof that it looks as good as it feels!