Sunday, February 22, 2009


I love the way sometimes an insight hits you like a ton of bricks.

You've heard people talk about this thing before - maybe all the time. You had a vague sense that you were missing something, but it wasn't that big of a deal. You thought everything was going great.

Then someone says something to you that clicks into place, and WHAM!, you've got some serious new things to think about. I got one of these a few months ago. It was at the catch-riding lesson that I may have described quite awhile back. A fellow Pony Clubber rode Pandora. After we switched back, she said, "You gotta get her to stop off your seat. And get in front of the leg - but she needs to stop off your seat."

"Okay, specifically do you mean stop off my seat?"

"Close your thighs and calves, sit up and stop your back, and make her stop. Just go back and forth from halt to walk. Then you can use the same thing for a half halt, just don't ask all the way."

Seriously. This was the aspect of The Almighty Half-Halt that I'd been missing. Sure, I knew it involved your legs - of course it does! You're recycling energy. Sure, I knew it was a momentary resistance through your back and arms, which your horse immediately responds to, followed by a release.

But I didn't get it.

I worked hard to get Pandora to stop off my seat. Lots of repetition: close thighs hard, hug with calves, straighten up, close hands, halt. Pause, praise, walk on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now I have a horse who will halt right away -- BALANCED and SQUARE -- from a walk or trot. I also have a horse who does not rush with me. She gets a little excited in the trot after a canter? I have an instant rebalancing tool at my disposal. I briefly close my thighs and hands, and she's right back with me.

I guess I did something to deserve good karma, because I got another fantastic insight from the clinic I rode in yesterday. In short, she fixed my biggest position flaw. I ride with my legs too far forward. It's always been a habit, and I've never figured out how to fix it. My other big flaw was riding with my upper body too far forward, but my last clinic helped me fix that problem. I stopped jumping ahead. But I could never figure out how to get my lower leg beneath my body without screwing up the rest of me.

This clinician had me bring my lower leg back, and I had to hold it there by really using my thighs and abs. It hurt. And oh boy am I sore today - especially those hip flexors, which really have to open up to hold that position! But I felt so much stronger and more secure. My parents weren't at the clinic, so I didn't get any video or pictures, but Pandora was really initiating forward movement and responding well. We did some low-key jumping, focusing on getting Pandora to really listen to me and make her own mistakes to figure things out.

I will definitely have to practice to maintain the position fix consistently, especially over bigger fences, but I feel like I just took a huge step forward. With this final piece of the puzzle in place, my D-3 Pony Club rating in July will be a piece of cake. She noted that this was really the last piece of the "balanced position" that Pony Club requires, so I'm starting to feel a little more optimistic about possibly rating up to C-1 in September.

From Pony Club materials: "The C-1 and C-2 is a Pony Club member learning to become an active horseman, to care independently for pony and tack and to understand the reasons for what he or she is doing. The C-1 and C-2 show development towards a secure, independent seat and increasing control and confidence in all phases of riding." The fence max at C-1 is 2'9", which doesn't sound big at all, but when you factor in the complexity of knowledge required as well as the fact that they expect your position to be totally solid almost 100% of the time, it's a little more difficult!

Anyway, I'm super excited to work on this position fix. It's the piece that's been missing! Now that I can hold a proper position, I can also work stirrupless. The way I felt before was, if I can't get my legs into the correct spot, won't riding stirrupless just reinforce the bad habits? I'm excited to strengthen my riding by working on this. I'm also thinking I should start some regular fitness, because my abs clearly need a little help!

I'm so glad I went to the clinic, even though I was sick and tired and my parents were out of town. I've kind of gotten my motivation back in the last week or so. Funny to think that so simple of a fix (read: simple does not equal easy!) can totally affect your riding.

You should tell me a story about the last time you had some serious insight whack you in the face, so I don't feel quite so silly.


equus said...

I don't think you should feel silly! I feel just as happy and excited when I have those "Ah-ha" moments. It's nice to hear it still happens to those at your level of experience!

My last big one was realizing the cause and effect between my position and one particular mare's reactions. She fixed my seat quite a bit, lol! She also taught me the importance of outside rein.

Just yesterday, I was reading (re-reading!) "Centered Riding" and realized that my legs are a little too far forward (I think), so I laughed when I read your post!

Incidentally, I was flipping through "Centered Riding 2" and session three is titled "The horse is your mirror" I wondered if you had read that before writing your "use your mirrors" posts, but I don't think so :) I thought you'd find that interesting if you didn't already know about it...

manymisadventures said...

Oh how funny! No, I haven't even read all the way through Centered Riding 1, let alone Centered Riding 2. I got the idea from a section taught at a band leadership camp I go to, called The Band is Your Mirror ;) I gave a short seminar at camp this year tying this in with horses, and decided to turn it into a blog post.

I should probably work my way through CR1 and 2 - again and again, I run into people referencing them. Seems that there's a lot of good ideas in those books.

Stelladorro said...

My mare is on the forehand A LOT. Because of this, we haven't been able to hit those nice extended gaits, or get decent canter transitions, she liked to hang on my hands and generally be a nuisance. It was very frustrating, especially because I knew what was going wrong, I just coudn't fix it - and I hadn't had this problem with any of the others I've ridden and shown.

Everyone kept telling me I needed to 'ride her up', and I kept seething over the fact that I was riding her up. I drove her into my hands, didn't get into her face, sat back like is correct for a hunter... and then the other day, inspiration hit. Maybe I should try riding my horse like I'm up sadddleseat instead of hunt - Tada! I loosened by lower leg and simply allowed her to move forward instead of driving, I lifted my hands another 4 or so inches, and I'm staying extremely light on her back while sitting back much further. In one ride my horse suddenly was beginning to nail walk/canter transitions, we're hitting a few strides of that massive trot she's had locked up (and then she breaks into a canter because she just doesn't have the muscle to hold herself together, but that will come in time.)

I feel like such an idiot, this is not new knowledge for me, I know how to 'ride up' a saddleseat horse, I've just never transferred the knowledge into my hunt saddle apparently. Heck, I even do when I'm up western.

I feel the need to hide my head in shame!

Ms.BarnBrat said...

I don't think you will ever get too experienced to not have these moments......and trust me the half-halt is a huge one for EVERYONE. Mine was recently on how I was riding the canter I was staying balanced and out of my horses way with good contact but only when I started to support during the stride with my thighs did she then round up and collect.....I wasn't working hard enough to help her out!!

Also it will KILL you to keep the proper position for a while until you really honestly get it, and even then you need to be aware and checking on yourself, when I first made a major change (for the better) in my position I always knew I was doing it right when it hurt :)

I also second Equus on the Centered Riding books, I live by them, you'd be amazed how they can really help you jumping too.

manymisadventures said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that gets the occasional lightbulb moment, and sometimes feels a bit silly for it. Stella, don't worry - it happens to all of us, apparently!

I will definitely read through both Centered Riding books. It seems that they have a lot of valuable information, and every time I think I have things figured out, I realize how much I don't understand about the way my position affects my horse.

Related Posts with Thumbnails