Now that its cold and I'm more inspired to write than ride, I wanted to post about some of the reflecting I did over the summer. With a couple months needed to recondition and acclimate to the humidity, I took things slow, and my rides became much more of a mental game. Without lessons, I figured I could really benefit from trying to process some of the material from the spring in a setting where I could just think, feel, and try.
My plan for Lola's reconditioning was to step down the training scale. Forward, rhythm, stretching to a longer contact. With the humidity, forward was the last thing on her mind. Example of our rides:
7pm arrive at barn thinking it will be cool enough to ride, only to find Lola drenched in sweat (just standing)!
7:15 cold hose sweaty beast
7:30 let her graze
8:00 take slightly cooler and now dry horse to tack up
Usually by then it was getting down to the 80s!
I wanted to make things easy. So we tended to ride out in the field where she was more forward thinking, and I usually did a warm up canter on a fully loose rein. Basically I was trying to get the forward button before I tried to push the forward into any sort of contact. So much of our summer was loose swinging trots and long rein canter.
At the end of each ride I tried to play with something that we struggle with: my seat, canter departs, sitting trot and canter without stirrups. I figure I know what my issues are, so I should really make an effort to fix them outside of lessons too.
The real break through was my uneven seat. I tend to sit off to the right, which isn't much a problem going right, but circles to the left throw me out to the right more. I constantly hear, "Bring your right seat bone to the center of the saddle." Ya... you mean instead of hanging two inches off my horse?? The thing is I just can't! Or if I do, it lasts a stride. So it was something to process.
What triggered all this was a lesson from back in 2010 when I was very first trying to canter Lola. It wasn't going well, and in an effort to clarify my cues for her, my trainer broke down what I needed to be doing for the left lead: step into left stirrup, windshield wiper your right left back, stay sitting up tall. When she broke it down, I was sort of dumbfounded. I was all the opposite of what my body did, no matter how much I told myself to stop I still stepped back into the right stirrup and pitched my upper body forward to ask. She commented that you can't really swing your leg back if your weight isn't more in your left seat and stirrup. You can't. Hmm...
Of course Lola was gone a year in between, and while I had different issues with Bear, canter departs on both horses have felt like a basic building block that I can't rely on. Something so simple, yet they freak me out because I know they are our weak link. So its me, I own this, and I need to fix this to ever progress, because its not like I only need to weight seat bones and swing legs for canter! There are a whole lot of movements I won't do correctly if I can't control my body.
It led me to a whole lot of research on correctly asking for the canter. Of course you can watch YouTube videos for hours and get 10 different ways. I was willing to take any description I could, hoping one would stick. The absolute best online resource in my opinion is USDF's E-Track learning center. I stumbled across this last fall. In a world of different philosophies it is nice to have one with the USDF stamp of approval. The videos, articles, etc that have been selected to be included are done by well known and proven rider/trainers, and they have a sense that educating an unknown person can be dangerous (think child lunging a green horse in side reins only to have the horse go up over backwards). They are conservative in their approach, only the safest methods on lunging, for example, made it into the program.
Anyway, they have this whole series on seat and position. A few of the exercises in that lead to a total break through. I really don't sit evenly on my seat bones at anytime. Even while sitting on a chair to run through the exercises, I sat more on my right seat bone. Now to sit on the opposite seat bone, what you are really doing is lightening or lifting one. So to have even weight on each I need to lift my right a little. It was uncomfortable, and kind of hurt, but so does the sitting trot, right? So you just have to work the muscles to improve.
That nights ride showed immediate results. Lola is hollow to the right (too much bend) and doesn't bend through her body going left. Imagine if the rider is always poking that right seat bone into the right side of the horse's back. Going to the right they can avoid some of that pressure by moving away from it. Going to the left if they bend their body on the left curve they would be moving into that poking pressure. So not surprisingly when I lifted my right seat bone to weight the left she did bend much better through her body on the left! Ta-da! Even rider creates even horse.
So I play with this a few days, have a week off, then play with it another week. In this time I sort of throw my back out moving a mattress, but it seems to go away on the week off. I then fully throw my back out two weeks later by doing nothing but sitting at a desk. WTF? It was bad, like cry on the floor bad. So I go into the chiropractor and what do the x-rays show? My left hip is higher than my right. Yep! This riding problem was pointed out like 3 years ago! I don't know why I didn't just go to the chiropractor then and ask if, by any chance, I was a little crooked. Instead I've been fighting in, very unsuccessfully.
There is hope! Between adjustments to straighten me out, body awareness practice to check my even weight, and building the right muscles to have some body control, I might just conquer this!
Long story short, I have a long road ahead of me, but a better idea where I'm heading.