I’m going to organize what I will write about before I start… That way I do not go off on tangents. A) My history in simply the way I was taught to ride. B) My history in the way I carried myself OFF of the horse. C) My history in the way my horses carried themselves underneath me… Picture timeline to wrap it up.
A) I chose not to mention names, however I want each of my trainers to know that I am so thankful for each and every one of you because it has all led me to this moment. Whether I rode with you for years, or even one lesson, it all contributed to my learning and I will be forever grateful.
I started with a trainer who was very particular about equitation. As a seven year old, I had no idea why it was important, I just loved being around the horses. After a few years of lessons we started showing, I would get very high placings in my equitation classes. I was taught to stay off of the horse’s mouth, keep my shoulders back, heels down, thigh lightly against the saddle, toes forward, looking up, etc… This trainer emphasized position more than most trainers I worked with. She knew the horse was a reflection of the rider’s position.
Connecting B… While I was young in this stage of my life, I remember my posture being strong off of the horse as well. I did not have any pain or physical problems while riding in this style. Except when I would fall off… (I love Saddlebreds and Hackneys <3)
My first time on a horse… Tycoon was an Arabian… Worth his weight in gold.
My first horse show on High Steppin Harvard… Awesome Hackney Pony.
One of my favorite horses, Hajji. He will always be in my heart. RIP.
Back to A… After a few years of riding with my first trainer, I did what every little girl does, and decided I wanted to concentrate on jumping. So we decided to take lessons from a hunter jumper barn. They thought my position was atrocious and didn’t understand why my previous trainer taught me that way. (Now, I laugh). Anyway, they had taught me to tip my pelvis way forward with a duck butt, stirrups way short, and while my shoulders were pulled back, the angle between my torso and the horse had closed dramatically…. AKA, The common hunter jumper position.
Connecting B… This is when I started to have back pain. I would feel the constant need to ‘crack’ my back and I never quite felt comfortable.
A… I missed the feeling of a saddlebred under my butt so I found a pretty well known saddle seat farm and took lessons for a while. I found this to be an interesting style… They wanted my bum on the way back of the saddle, knees pinched tight on the saddle (they would often put a dollar bill under my knee), back arched, chin high, and of course… The hands. I remember not being able to lift my arms after each lesson because they expected me to hold the horse’s head up. I can only imagine how the horse’s jaw felt after each ride just from the pain I had in my arms. It was not a soft bit, either. After that, I found a wonderful 4H club where I was able to participate in multiple disciplines. My position stayed relatively the same throughout. I was in more of an upright position with this trainer, though. (Still had a hunter butt!)
B… The back pain still continued, not much change but I still walked relatively normal.
Riding western at a 4H show on a mare named Charlie.
A… This is where Fable comes in… I rode a few months at a dressage barn… They taught me to have a flat back, plug in my seatbones, and drive all of the energy to my hands. The horses had very heavy mouths. I got Fable a few months after riding there and decided to cease lessons and just ‘play’ for a few months while getting to know him. I had a few friends helping me out, but for the most part I still had my hunter butt and tilted forward.
I decided to call for help and this trainer started teaching me the concept of inside leg to outside rein. This trainer was also determined to see the end of my hunter butt… Pull belly button in, string on top of head, steady outside hand, play with inside fingers, and press inside leg. Once the horse lowered head, leave their face alone… Soft hands. I was able to flatten my hunter butt, but I still sat lightly in the saddle. I did not force a sitting trot or tilt back on my tailbone… Like we will see later.
B… Back pain went away!
C… Fable’s musculature started as an inverted llama as a 4 year old baby… and over a couple of years his back started to come up, his loin was stronger, hind legs came through, neck started to develop…
Fable as a 4 year old the first day we brought him home in 2006…
First ride as “MY” horse
Learning how to communicate with eachother
Figuring out the ‘buttons’… Finding all of the wrong ones along the way.
And sadly from watching YouTube videos of ‘dressage’ riders… I thought this was desired.
Still with my hunter bum, Fable was getting stronger though…
Still resistant to the bit when we started showing…
Canter downhill and hollow… Learning and living though!
Starting to get a feel of things…
A little bit of the roundness finally coming
Some more resistance as I gather more ‘contact’ on the reins
Ups and downs… Looking good here!
‘ON’ the bit… Loin is stronger though!
A… After a few years I found myself working with a new mentor. This style was to tilt the chair, close the fingers to get the horse round. So the connection was coming from seat and leg, back to front. This started out wonderfully! I had good equitation still, a soft back, soft leg… The hands started to become a bit rigid though which tightened the neck and back and created hollowness in the back.
B… Still no back pain.
Learning to get roundness from seat… Start to see dip in loin again from sitting heavy at back of saddle and stronger tension on reins.
A… Although I still worked with that mentor… I began to watch others and try to learn from other competitors around me as we went through the levels. I was told by others, “yes, you’re supposed to lean back in the extended trot”, “you need a stronger connection on the reins”, “his neck needs to be rounder”… Etc etc. If you’re familiar with the controversy between classical and modern dressage… I was a fine example of what NOT to do. I began sitting deep into my saddle and holding hard on the reins because I thought that was ‘connection’.
B… This is where the waddle came from. Slouching, and waddling. The more I tilted my pelvis back in the saddle, my chest would collapse and my shoulders would round. I became really strong and tight in the slouch position! That transferred to life off of the horse. I was walking with a slouch, which then affected my hip movement, and the bending of my hips and knees. I hiked my hip forward with a straight leg and tight back. Hence the waddle.
C… Fable’s back became tight and hollow, his neck shortened and strained, hind legs wide and out behind. Classic! I would often hide behind the excuse “he’s an Arab”.
Back to the hands… “driving seat” starts here. Notice the pull on his mouth. And of course my crazy right arm.
Fable’s lengthened trot was getting more powerful, so I got away with the positioning.
He could only take so much. We would often have moments lacking harmony…
Running in pasture… you can see his back is locked.
Very rigid in back… No shock absorption in topline. Almost sway back and no bend in hind legs.
A… Then came the lady who changed it all. This would be my Floridian trainer who works with, (I will mention this time, Bettina Drummond). She took time to explain what each movement was created for, and how the rider can provoke the movement from being in correct balance and actually STRENGTHEN the correct group of muscles. There is simply too much to say about this time because it took about 3 years to think it all through, from my first lesson with her, to now. She guided me through learning the horse’s muscle functions and exercises to change my horse’s body. She also stressed many aspects of equitation and taught me how our body affects the horse’s body. My position had been so glued to the old bad habits that this was VERY hard to change… The hardest part was rewiring my brain. I had programmed my body to respond for certain movements etc… ALL of that had to change. It took a toll on my emotions and I often felt like I had ruined my horse. I wanted to share that part because my journey has had many ups and downs, but there has ALWAYS been a good lesson waiting behind each rough patch… I wouldn’t change a thing.
B… My body is locked up from years of holding and compensating… Over my life I’ve gone to physical therapy for my upper back/neck, and I was prescribed physical therapy for my knee (pain came from an incredibly tight hamstring). Every morning I get out of bed and both of my hips pop several times. I went to my first structural integration session a week or so ago, and she agreed the flexibility in my back and hips were not at all normal for my age and ‘fitness’ level. Needless to say, I’ll be working on that.
C… Due to the brain farts all of this change has stirred up, Fable hasn’t been consistently worked since before he got kicked in Florida. He’s had a couple weeks of work, then a couple off, then a week on, a month off. So it’s time to get our butt back in gear. He’s going to be twelve this year… He’s got much potential hiding in that little Arab body of his and I want to see it shine. Life’s too short to wait… He’s such a blessing to me and has taught me so much already… I can only imagine what is to come from future lessons. Without Fable, I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much as I have. Thank you Fable!
Fable got into a bit of a kicking war… (He lost).
He/we had roughly two months off…
Finally getting back to work. A longer neck, allowing the back to raise, hind legs to come through. No pull on his mouth, just a soft touch.
Faster Horses Festival July 2013… Better muscling and carriage compared to a few years back.
Faster Horses Festival 2013.. He was having a little too much fun that day!
Western Dressage at Novi Expo… A little restriction in neck from the ‘nerves’ of preparing for and riding at the expo: pointy bum. Time for pilates again.
At a forward trot allowing the neck to be long and back to stretch and rise.
Some improvement on his back since the Novi Expo…
Fable eating his hay on a slight hill, but the outline is still much softer and we see what is POSSIBLE!
His whole outline as changed as he trots aside one of my students. Notice harmony in their matching legs, too.
So, what sparked this long spiel? Sylvia Loch’s ‘Balance and Bodywork’ video did.
She speaks of a 3 point seat… Where you’re not sitting too far on your butt bones, or too forward on your pubic bone, but you’re perfectly balanced in the saddle. You DO have a slight curve in your lower back. She says the human body naturally has a slight curve to absorb shock… once that is flattened the hips over compensate and drive drive drive… (BINGO!) When the rider leans back and drives, it squashes the horse’s back/loins down (And again… BINGO!) Then, the rider inevitably slouches and looses all strength in their core. (Yeah.) Leaning back then causes rider to grab tighter at the reins to compensate for balance. (And why not one more time? BINGO!)
Like I said… I was a perfect example of what NOT to do. HOWEVER…. I continued to watch the video and did all of the exercises she had the riders go through. By the end of it… I was walking like a normal human. I have not felt that good walking since… I can’t even remember. I am so excited to start putting these theories into play during my rides. Many great things to come. Thank you Sylvia, and all of my wonderful teachers throughout my life! (Horses included, of course!)
Now you can see for yourself the changes that happen to the horse with the style of riding. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, especially with MY posture, but it’s a process. “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” I am letting my horse be the mirror to my riding and training style. I want my horse to move well, feel great, and love his job.
It’s been a fun journey… but this is only the beginning.