Wednesday, June 3, 2015

bio-mechanics lesson: spinous processes + bend

I rode with Kirsten the bio-mechanics clinician from Florida again this weekend, and per usual there isn't any media from the lesson (unless you include those giraffe pics posted on Monday haha). But we talked about anatomy so I found semi-supporting graphics via our friend google. (Didn't quiiiiite find what I wanted, but hopefully you'll get the picture anyway.)

Onto the good stuff. Kirsten observed us walking for approx 0.02 milliseconds before concluding: we are still very heavy on the forehand with Izzy's whole front end balancing way far forward over her forelegs. 


our april confo shot is a good example of this
This, um. Well this shouldn't really come as a surprise. 

I told her about our recent focus on 'inside bend' too and she decided that we'd start our ride with what she calls a 'therapeutic' shoulder in while staying on a circle. Not to be confused with a competition-style shoulder in, this was more about achieving lift through the shoulders and ultimately shifting weight back off the forehand. 

Which meant we had to discuss what 'lift through the shoulders' actually means (it should be noted that lessons with Kirsten can be quite lecture-dense, covering topics on theory and anatomy etc.). 

image via google

Disclaimer: please bear with me here as I have zero background in anatomy and am only trying to regurgitate what Kirsten told me. If I get something wrong please say so in the comments (or snicker mercilessly from your side of the computer - your call lol!). 

Ok, that disclaimer aside, my understanding is that those little protrusions from the top of each vertebra are called spinous processes. When the spine is straight, they point straight up. When the horse is bending correctly, there is lateral flexion in the vertebra, but the spinous processes remain upright. However - more often, the horse is NOT bent correctly and the spinous processes kinda twist out to one side (in the opposite direction of the bend). 


image via google
So let's say I'm trying to achieve a 'therapeutic' shoulder in with Isabel while tracking left. And let's say she's very heavy on her forehand (obvi). The resulting feeling might be that her inside (left) side feels higher bc her spine is kinda twisted out to the right. Does that make sense? 

Therefore my objective is to make both sides even while maintaining the bend. Meaning her spinous processes stay upright through the bend. Which then allows her to 'lift' her front end and get more 'push' off her front feet while allowing her hind feet to spend more time on the ground with each step. 

Ok, are you still with me? Writing this is actually a bit challenging bc I'm not entirely sure I understand and am kinda confusing myself haha... 

'this is a sick joke' - isabel
The directives for me as a rider aren't much different than what we've heard before (always reassuring!) - but Kirsten's explanations perhaps added clarity to the picture. 

The reins needed to be SHORT and STABLE. I even held on to the front of my saddle for the first 10-15 minutes. Isabel fussed quite a bit, but could only pull against herself. I eventually let go of the saddle after getting the feel for it, but the reins were to stay neutral. 

My hips needed to be pointed in the direction of bend, and I needed more weight in my thighs than in my seat. The aids were mostly distributed between my inside calf (at the girth) and thigh, and tons of outside thigh. Outside calf kinda floated out in no man's land unless Isabel's haunches drifted that way and needed a push back in. 

Kirsten mentioned that I should use my legs to create a channel for Isabel, which isn't a new concept. Except that she meant using my upper thighs in particular as a way to literally hold Isabel's spinous processes upright. Somehow that seems to make more sense to me?

Kirsten said my weight should be distributed evenly from side to side, but I have a really strong (incorrect) tendency to heavily weight the outside, so I needed to think back to my lesson with Grant Schneidman about weighting just the inside leg. 

I also tried to remember to keep my chin up, core engaged and shoulders open, as I was concentrating so hard that everything got tense and curled up - kinda like my horse, go figure!

'fml' - isabel
The directives for the horse actually kept changing. We stayed on a circle the whole time, but everything else needed to change in rapid succession. Kirsten said that Isabel's too smart to keep at one approach for too long since she'll just keep coming up with new evasions (shoulder out this way! overbent that way! flexibility in every dimension but the one you want!). 

So we'd stay in that 'shoulder in' type position until Isabel would kinda get stuck in her evasions. Then we'd try going counter bent (really, the direction of bend didn't matter since the objective of keeping her spinous processes upright remained the same). We'd walk, or we'd trot - going for inside bend here, outside bend there. 

Isabel's favorite evasions were speed and going way far behind the vertical. Pretty typical for us. The trick became getting a couple good steps, then immediately transitioning to a different gait or changing bend to get a couple more good steps, then transitioning again.

'seriously tho. wtf is this noise?' - isabel
So what was a 'good' step? This is maybe the part I'm fuzziest on... which honestly is not at all how I like to leave a lesson. But it is what it is, and I *think* I understand. 

It was a struggle too bc each good step came with a fair amount of 'chaos' from Isabel bc everything felt so different for her (and I suspect it was quite a bit of work). So parsing out the feeling I wanted to replicate was difficult. 

But my impression was that I'm looking for the following feelings or visual indicators:
  • Isabel must be going very slow - whether walk or trot, she can only currently find her true balance at speeds much slower than her natural proclivity
  • Staccato steps - the 'lift' in Isabel's shoulders is derived from her push off the ground with her front legs. When she's really pushing (and going slow enough to do so) it almost feels like one step at a time. As she gets stronger the steps will presumably feel less disjointed. (staccato def: each sound or note sharply detached or separated from the others)
  • The base of her neck directly in front of the saddle really filled in and became much wider. The dip that is usually visible there actually filled in to look more like a mound (almost haha). 
So really it was kind of a tough lesson. Isabel had more than her fair share of frustration, especially when I was trying to figure out what in the fresh hell I was supposed to be doing. 

It was interesting tho - and obviously ties in quite neatly with the work I'm doing with my regular week-to-week trainers (esp Dan and his constant insistence that I 'lift' Isabel's shoulders). We'll see if I can recreate the magic haha. 

Sorry this was kind of a long post that may or may not make any sense... but hopefully it will serve as a point of reference. 

22 comments:

  1. That actually did make sense to me! The more I learn about riding the more I realize I don't know ANYTHING!

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  2. This is exactly how I feel after a biomechanics lesson. My brain hurts and my body and horse are confused. Good stuff though and worth the struggle.

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    1. yep - that sums it up pretty accurately!

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  3. This sounds so awesome! I need one of these lessons! I have a feeling that when you really get this idea, you're going to have a whole different horse! That's so cool!

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    1. i really hope so. isabel hasn't been so frustrated during a ride in a long time, and was perhaps a little wary during our next ride so that kinda worries me a little bit. it's hard bc i'm still learning too and am sending mixed signals. she tries so hard that i don't want to ruin that... but then again it's natural that she'd resist changing her way of going and balancing too so i have to work through that.... a struggle but hopefully worth it!

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  4. wow, just wow. i want biomechanics lessons! (love this post, though my head is spinning!)

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    1. glad you find it useful! it's definitely information overload with Kirsten haha - and i always have to sit down immediately afterwards to scribble all my notes lest i lose them forever!

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  5. I don't think I'd be able to handle a biomechanics lesson. I can't comprehend ANYTHING while working on a horse. I have to stop and listen and then try and replicate. So time consuming!

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    1. omg it is SO HARD for me too haha. esp when i start focusing on one specific thing, everything else goes out the window. the idea of holding multiple ideas in my mind at one time (like different body parts doing different things) is seriously overwhelming lol

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  6. Nice post. Very timely. My sister is having problems with this right now. Her trainer and friend keep reiterating 'more bend, more bend', yet her horse is tilting his head to achieve bend not bending through the body. Their response to her is 'even more bend'.
    I said... 'uhh no, try shoulder in/fore to unlock the body'. While her horse didn't love the idea, it worked.... Eckhm. Where is my $40 lesson fee?

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    1. lol seriously!! i kind of hate it when a trainer just repeats the same thing over and over when it isn't working...

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  7. Wow this was a really cool post, and a very cool lesson. Does your biomechanics instructor travel to Massachusetts often? LOL

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    1. Haha glad you enjoyed it! Idk is she travels to MA, but ya never know! The link to her website is on my "barns and trainers" page :)

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  8. Mine stands like that too, it's a miracle he doesn't fall on his face more often, like it looks like one wrong step would send him crashing to the ground!

    I use the inside-thigh-to-bring-withers-upright a lot in my own riding and teaching. It's definitely helpful! It's so hard because when the rider feels the horse falling in with the withers, they often think that the inside calf/spur is going to set the horse upright, but in reality, when the withers lean in, the horse's legs slip to the outside and it's actually outside calf/spur that will kind of kick the legs back under them.

    I prescribe the following aids- inside lifting thigh, inside hand comes up a bit (not breaking the line from elbow to bit though because that causes the withers to drop), outside calf/spur, usually slightly behind the girth, and outside hand slightly down (again not too far down but a lot of times riders will compensate by bringing the outside hand up). Works wonders!

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    1. thanks!! you're so right - i had always gone to my lower leg to solve the problem, and (even worse) thought that trying to bring the haunches in line would fix things. so this whole idea of using thighs to get the horse more upright is really kinda ground breaking for me.

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  9. This really makes me want to take a biomechanics lesson! My brain is full just from reading about it :)

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    1. i could seriously listen to this trainer lecture forever - except when i'm on the horse i can't be writing any of it down and without a doubt 65-80% of what she tells me is lost bc there is just SO MUCH info

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  10. (or snicker mercilessly from your side of the computer - your call lol!).

    Bahaha, this had me laughing! Also, this is all super interesting!! I wonder if I can find a biomechanics lesson near me.... :)

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    1. lol glad you found this interesting! i really enjoy this trainer, even tho i don't get to work with her as frequently as i'd like. she's recently studied under jean luc cornille, tho - who i know travels around. and he may have other acolytes in your region too?

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  11. I can REALLY tell she's a student of JLC now! Great recap!

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    1. yea she's definitely a huge proponent of his philosophy and approach now. sometimes i think the anatomical details can make things seem complicated and incomprehensible, but i'm also appreciative of the better understanding of how horses are actually working and how to optimize that

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