Wednesday, April 29, 2015

post the canter to sit the canter

The much-anticipated bio-mechanics lesson was on Sunday! Trainer Kirsten comes up from Florida for monthly clinic-style lessons (except during winter) and our last session was five months ago, when we focused on moving Isabel from lateral imbalance to achieving front to back balance - ie, shifting her weight from the forehand to the hindquarters. 

We had to cancel last month when Isabel was officially deemed ill, womp womp. The plan for that lesson had been for Kirsten to ride Isabel and work on her crookedness. Theoretically Kirsten would help Isabel achieve a greater degree of balance and straightness than I could, which would then make it easier for me to get there myself.


the blaze-faced chestnuts conspire
This plan got tossed when my lessons with Peanut proved that my inability to properly ride the canter might actually be the bigger impediment to any semblance of balance, more so than Isabel's crookedness. 

So when Kirsten asked how I wanted to spend our 30 minutes, my answer was 'I want to be able to SIT THE DAMN CANTER FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY.' Lol. And this is why I love this trainer - she simply said OK and dug right in, and 35 minutes later I was crying for mercy haha - but with a very clear notion of how to arrive at the seat I want.


it was a busy day for the arena, with the bio-mechanics lessons on the left.... and a natural horsemanship obstacle course clinic on right

So on to the good stuff. And, per usual with these lessons, there's a LOT of stuff. TL;DR version: Post the Canter to Sit the Canter

The lesson didn't exactly proceed in the order I'm writing it - bc we had to stop and start over a few times when I was missing some key positional element. But this is the order I'll use in practice - and the order that finally worked to make it clear during the lesson. 

Kirsten adjusted my whole alignment - bringing my hips forward and my lower legs backward (I was apparently in a chair seat, tho she didn't use that term). She had me stand in the stirrups at the halt with my hips as open as I could get them. This meant my crotch was directly over the pommel, and my legs felt wayyyyy behind me. 


close up of the clinic. note the balloons and 'bridge', plus there were tarps, jumps, strollers and flags
She told me to play around with it to find the sweet spot of balance. It should feel EASY when everything is aligned - the muscles don't do any work as the joints absorb any motion. Knees and thighs shouldn't pinch, nor should the heel (tho the heel might creep up a bit, and that's ok). Upper body needed to come quite far forward too. 

I held the same position into the walk. Again, she wanted me playing around to find the optimal alignment such that it was easy. It felt really really far forward, and I was quite literally directly over the pommel. But it was plain as day when my knees or thighs pinched and I'd lose balance and either grab mane or fall backwards. 


isabel is always first to notice when we open the gate to the grass and comes a-cantering
Once I had a feel for it, she had me start rising and sitting at the walk. It's a BIG swing through the hips - the 'rise' part brought me to that 'pelvis super far forward' place, and the 'sit' part put my butt in the back of the saddle. And it's not about shoulders and upper body - upper body stayed forward but could not be tense or do the work for my hips. 

Kirsten said the upper body is shaped like a C - tho shoulders aren't rounded forward or pushed backward. I had to be neutral through my chest and back - no arching my back or sticking my chest out. It should feel like the angle of my hips just closes when I sit - belt buckle stays lifted and everything stays the same - but the hips fold closed and seat goes to the back of the saddle.

In other words, my upper body and back should stay the same through rise and sit, with just a big huge swing through my hips.



this is why my trainer tells me to always use splint boots... lumpy bumpy stuff under the spray coating is an open wound... hopefully i've learned my lesson now.
Next we trotted - continuing the same mechanics. This was way easier since Isabel's trot helped push me out of the saddle. Kirsten wanted that same big swing through hips, and no pinching with knees or thighs (which would signify my legs were creeping too far forward again). 

We've all heard before that posting speed regulates trot speed, and I thought I knew what that meant. But this exercise was kind of a game changer. When I had that hip swinging post (that apparently feels way more exaggerated than it looks), it was SUPER easy to rate Isabel's trot off nothing but my post. The swing in my hips remains exactly the same - but I could choose the speed. The difference in Isabel was immediate.


the aluminum spray is BRIGHT in the sunshine
Finally, we went into canter (I say finally, but in reality we spent most of the lesson here and holy shit was it hard...) and continued to 'post.' It was exactly the same thing - tho again the movement in Isabel's canter helped get me out of the saddle. I rose with the leading leg for a stride, sat a stride, then rose again with the leading leg. 

It should be that same exact swing through the hips - the same feeling of 'openness' in the hip angle that I felt when standing over the pommel. My upper body and spine needed to stay neutral through the whole thing - tho I actually needed to be a little farther forward than I wanted to be. And lower legs needed to feel 'behind' me (they were actually just underneath me haha) otherwise I'd start pinching in the knee and thigh. 

Again, the sitting part should just feel like my hips were folding up - no bracing in my upper body or stirrups, or holding my breath allowed! 



This was ridiculously exhausting! And we just went around and around and around... Isabel was super, too - loose and relaxed and stayed in the canter unless I really lost my balance. That's particularly noteworthy bc past efforts to sit the canter lead to lots of breaking from Isabel - probably bc I dig into a driving seat, which Kirsten says literally throws Isabel on her forehand. 


When I can neutralize myself and sit *with* her, she can finally get off her forehand and balance more effectively. 

After a while of 'posting' the canter, Kirsten told me to sit for a few strides and WOW the difference was unreal! There was a LOT of movement in my joints, but it all felt very fluid and in sync with Isabel's rhythm, rather than braced against it. She only had me do this a few times for short durations before going back to 'posting' - but I was kind of astonished all the same. 

And before we knew it, our 30 minutes had become 35 minutes and Kirsten was off to the next student. 


just isabel and her mini

So my homework is pretty clear - lots of practice posting the canter, with intermittent breaks to sit it. Kirsten said this is also particularly beneficial for jumping, as proficiency at this grants the rider a 'buoyant' seat that allows the horse to settle into that 'quality canter' our trainers are always harping on, with a fluid jumping position built right in. 

Phew... crazy how much I can write about a 30 minute lesson of going up and down... but lots of food for thought here that I wanted to capture before it's forgotten haha. Hopefully it makes sense - if anyone even read this far :)

34 comments:

  1. Sounds like a super effective lesson!

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    1. definitely! i love learning new tricks that actually *work* haha

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  2. Wow, really interesting! I've never heard of this method before - I'll have to give it a while. It sounds like a real workout!

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    1. i'd never heard of it either. i googled it and apparently it was kinda trendy in the h/j world for a while? kirsten said she learned it from polo players

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  3. Mind. Blown. What a game-changer!

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    1. seriously! it's not at all what i was expecting lol

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  4. Wow! I need a Kristen. Can you send her my way? :)

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    1. haha everyone needs a Kirsten - she's pretty much amazing. she does travel for clinics too so if you rounded up enough ppl from your barn i'm sure she'd come!! or, ya know, you could just take the ponykins on down to florida for some quality time at her farm :)

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  5. 1) I love silver spray (that's what I call it)
    2) I for some reason have issues sitting the canter when I think too much about it. If I'm mid-course I look nice but if I'm just flatting and thinking about it I get stupid occassionally. I actually post the canter when I can't sit just because it's better than trying to sit. I've never paid attention to whether I sit better afterwards. Will have to think more about it (and likely mess it up) soon.

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    1. haha i'm with you on #2 - the more i think about something the more i mess it up... but i can't seem to stop!!

      i really always thought i did a decent enough job of sitting the canter, right up until i started dressage lessons and learned that NOPE i suck at it haha.

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  6. I am going to a biomechanics clinic in a couple weeks--this has now made me super excited for it!

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    1. yessss! it's really amazing what can happen from just some minor adjustments. this trainer has completely changed my position - and i've only ridden with her maybe 4-5 times.

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  7. Getting that initial feeling memorized is hard, but once it becomes muscle memory you'll be sitting the canter all over the place! :)

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    1. that's exactly what i'm hoping! it feels like i'm having to undo years of different (and wrong) muscle memory... but hopefully it'll all click soon :)

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  8. Really interesting, and sounds like it really helped you. Awesome, I'll have to keep it in mind :)

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    1. it definitely helped! i don't really love how forward my upper body gets while doing this, but i'm thinking perhaps that's just temporary while the rest of my joints figure out how to move with the horse

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    1. good luck! i'm really hoping it solves all our problems lol

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  10. Love the detailed recaps! I['ve never tried posting the canter, but I did have a coach once have us go into two point for x amount of strides, then sit for a certain number, etc. I can see how posting it would be a super useful exercise for getting a feel of the motion and timing.

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    1. that's the hope! it seems to help isabel too - like maybe i'm actually finding better balance while working on it, which helps her be better balanced and more rhythmic. we'lls ee!

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  11. Hmmmm I'm going to try this myself and maybe make all my students do it too. I like the sound of it as an exercise to improve hip fluidity.

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    1. yes! i like the sound of it too haha esp bc i tend to be such a rigid rider. so far it really seems to be working well :)

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  12. Really interesting - wish there was a video to visualize this! I wanna try!

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    1. i actually took some video yesterday... but haven't decided if i want to share it or try for better footage first. it really doesn't look like much - and isn't at all as exaggerated as it feels. but i don't love the super-forward upper body in the video, tho i guess that's just part of the learning process? i say try it out anyway tho - it's easier to find the rhythm than i expected it would be !

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  13. I think I need to see some video to really *get* this approach. Meanwhile I'm slowly gaining confidence to drop my stirrups at the canter on my new mare to develop more of a seat for her way of going.

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    1. i have a crappy gif that i'll post tomorrow. it really doesn't look like much - actually kinda just like controlled bouncing lol - but it feels super exaggerated. dropping stirrups works too - except that i tend to pinch with my knees and/or thighs which only pushes my seat further out of the saddle... ugh it's so hard haha!

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  14. Ever since I learned to sit the canter for dressage, I struggle a little to sit it in my more forward jump seat and saddle -- something about the angles is off for my muscle memory. Murray does a bit better if I kinda "hover" above the saddle anyway, with just a tiny bit of air there, so I can half-halt with my seat and weight really easily. I do post the canter ALL the time though, and almost do it instinctively these days, as a method of pace regulation. It really helps ponies that just want to blast around all over the place come to a more rhythmic and reasonable canter, though I have no idea why!

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    1. i'm finding that the pace regulation thing is really working out with posting to isabel's canter - it REALLY helps her! so that's a definite plus haha. fingers crossed it helps me learn to sit too, regardless of tack

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  15. I read this post three times, it is SO interesting - what an awesome lesson.
    I imagine the continuous posting and sitting helps you get a totally independent and balanced seat - but I would never have thought of it before!

    LOL'd at conspiring chestnut blaze faces!

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    1. so glad you found it interesting!! i always have SO MUCH to write after these lessons - as they're always really eye-opening for me... but i'm never quite sure if it's actually as interesting as i think haha. in any case, we'll see how it works out :)

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  16. All this bio-mechanics stuff is fascinating to me! It seems like now you'll really be able to build up good muscle memory.

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    1. i find it fascinating too and wish the lessons happened way more often than they do lol.

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