A Fresh Pair of Eyes

My trainer is out of the country all week so the barn owner (the original trainer I had when I started riding at FBF) is covering her classes this week. She hasn’t seen me ride in a little while so it gave me a chance to show some of the things I have learned so far and I was excited to get some brand new input/advice from her! I try very hard to be as open as possible to criticism and critique especially when it comes to riding. I have always been coachable. Sports have always been a big part of my life so I wouldn’t have survived had I been unwilling to take advice/critique from my coaches. But let’s be real, it is never easy to hear you are doing it wrong. And there is also something to be said about filtering and thinking through the things you are told, because there is usually more than one “correct” way to do things.

The way I like to think of it is:  you take a sampling of advice and techniques from each “coach” or “expert” you work with. You collect some advice and you discard some from each of these people. This collection forms your working knowledge on the subject. There are many reasons you might discard an expert’s advice that don’t all have to do with being uncoachable or unable to accept criticism. You might discard advice because through your own trial and error, you find it simply does not work for you. You might do more research and find that there a few different schools of thought on the matter and before you take what you were told as gospel, you want to investigate a bit further. Sometimes, and I have experienced this quite a few times over the years, a coach might offer an analogy or visual image relating to a particular skill. Usually, this image is one they learned and have carried with them because it helped them back when they were in your spot. You might discard this advice because you simply do not understand the analogy/image. It may be great advice for them, but individual experiences dictate our ability to understand analogies/images so maybe someone else’s way of explaining the same thing to you might resonate more. This is why it can be very useful to work with many different people. I find this to be especially true in the horse world. My current working knowledge is definitely a collection of advice from many different mentors I have had while working with horses.

But I digress… Monday’s lesson was great. I was lucky enough to get a private lesson because a few lesson mates were out sick, and there was no one else in the arena. The trainer asked me what I had been working on during my usual lessons and I told her that last time I rode we had been skillin and drillin on lateral work at the walk and then trying to get more consistent on laterals at the trot. Head-to-wall leg yield on the rail at the walk and try at the trot; shoulder-in at walk and trot; haunches-in at walk and trot; leg yield from the quarter line at the trot; and leg yield from the centerline at the trot. So I warmed Tia up and my trainer asked us to show a bit of cantering first to get warm and just to see where I was at. We picked up a decent right-lead canter from the trot, then we switched directions and my trainer asked us to pick up the left-lead canter this time from the walk. Tia is very responsive, we had no trouble either direction.

We then did a bit of leg yielding at the trot. Whether it was my issue or Tia’s more difficult side, I couldn’t tell but it took us quite a few times to get a good leg yield from the quarter line to the right off of my left leg. The other side was great, so it was obvious one of us (if not both) has a much easier time leg-yielding to the left. My trainer asked if I had tried any leg yielding at the canter. I told her I’d never done it before so she suggested I just give it a try- calm horse, empty arena it was a good time to try. I gave it a go tracking right so I could leg-yield from the quarter line on our better side. I tried to cue, and move my hips into the right place. Tia picked up speed to my inside leg pressure instead, and in trying to correctly position my hips I totally lost my connection in the saddle. hmmm back to the drawing board. My trainer  suggested that maybe we step back and work a little bit on my seat during the canter. I have become accustomed to making a sweeping motion with the bottom of my pelvis to follow the horse’s motion during the canter. That mental image totally worked for me. I understood it and could translate it to my body. My trainer offered a different visual of the hip motion I think designed to prevent me from rounding my back too much to tilt my pelvis under with the motion and to improve my connection in the saddle. She explained I should think instead of sweeping under, think of rolling my pelvis up and over.

This is how I have been doing it. You can see that it can have the unfortunate side effect of ruining a "neutral hip" seat if the motion gets exaggerated.

My trainer suggests the image is better as hips up and over to follow the motion. It is essentially the same idea (rise and fall, rocking with the gait) but this way of thinking encourages the spine to lengthen up and the chest to remain open rather than the rounding shoulders and compressed spine that can occur with visualizing more of a "digging" motion with the pelvis.

It remains to be seen if I can translate this visual to my body. I totally get it on paper…but that’s the easy part. I will try out this new visual image and evaluate if, for me, it is a keeper or if I’ll have to discard and figure out a different way to translate the idea to my body. I’ll keep you posted. And, of course, I would also welcome your thoughts on the matter as well!!