Monday, 15 February 2010

Monday in Suffolk - Do You Ride Like You Think You Ride?

After a reasonable amount of sleep and a longish but relaxing journey I spent the day with Suzie and her lovely mare Echo. Suzie writes a blog on her riding pursuits which is always a great read and I thoroughly recommend: Diary Of A Young Horse.

My focus was on helping the rider with some crookedness in her position. Suzie is a very quiet, knowledgeable and experienced rider but as she has backed and produced Echo by herself she has also ridden her through all sorts of balance issues. As a result, she noticed that now that Echo is much more balanced and even the same doesn't apply to the rider!
As horses are that much bigger it's very easy for them to position the rider 'around' their preferred way of going. It takes a lot of body awareness, core stability, skill and perseverance to maintain the correct position despite the crookedness in the horse.

I asked Suzie to do a very simple stretch work out before her lesson. The aim of that is:
1) To prepare the rider's body in the same way as we prepare our horses for schooling via warm up/long-low stretching
2) To investigate any obvious off-horse imbalances, muscle preferences, tightness and level of flexibility.

Although the work out is of low intensity many riders struggle with it! I am pleased to say Suzie did very well :)

I find that with more experienced riders who ride a lot by themselves it's not the lack of feel that is the issue. Often it's the fact they get used to certain status quo and find it difficult to readjust when their horse goes through training.
Being rather powerful, horses can permanently change the way we sit on them the second we descend into the saddle and if we ride one horse we tend to reflect its bio-mechanical problems.
On a good note, since the horse is the mirror of its rider, if we can change the way we sit and influence them, they often change too.

First though, comes awareness. If you've had your stirrup leathers for a long time, do check if they are still as even as a couple of years ago...At first glance you may look like you sit well but it could because your body got used to being slightly lopsided and adapted itself so you sit relatively even when stationary.

However, when we look properly:

One stirrup slightly longer might not be the end of the world. But it won't help you with even position of your pelvis. As you will naturally tend to try to keep the irons down, you might notice side effects of this like horse drifting to one side, difficulty with turning your upper body with direction of the turn, neck stiffness/cramps and the list goes on.
Even up your stirrups and don't be disheartened if they then feel uneven. They will as your body got used to certain pattern. Try walking and trotting standing up vertically in the irons and finding your vertical balance. Then re-check your feel.

Suzie is a fab rider to teach as she has both a lot of feel for her horse and the ability to correct herself. The difficulty lies in keeping the corrections consistent. As with every change, it's not easy and does feel alien, uncomfortable even. Perseverance is the key.

Suzie was happy for me to share the below videos with you. Try to film yourself too and check if what you feel equals what you see...

Canter work. Suzie tends to keep her head low and body forwards. Here we were practising sitting deeper in the saddle with centre of gravity back a little. What's interesting here is that the rider's perception of her position was that she was leaning backwards strongly whereas in fact she was just sitting vertically most of the time. Sitting up will help Suzie to keep Echo off her forehand. As you can see, the mare has powerful front end and will tend to run down onto it if rider's position and influence doesn't stop that.

And a few videos of the sort I often take to help riders to match their feel with perception. Here the rider was re-positioning herself in the saddle to play with her body awareness. Interestingly, after re-positioning herself into the centre she felt like she was falling to the left side.

DO try this at home ;) You might be surprised with your findings.

I had a chance to ride Echo and loved it. She is a pleasure and although due to 99% of focus being on the rider today we didn't give Echo full chance to improve during the sessions, she gave me a lovely ride. Definitely a signature of Suzie's calm and consistent training she is relaxed and very responsive to the rider.
We ended the day on a horsey chat with hot yummy coffee by the warm fireplace :)

I am putting together little homework for Suzie and will look forward to re-visiting them soon!x
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