Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grant Schneidman Clinic: Addressing the uneven rider

Ok. The dressage clinic with Grant Schneidman. This was a good ride. Hard. And very physical for me, with lots and LOTS of fighting against my natural subconscious inclinations for how to carry myself. But good.

Grant identified the same exact issue as last year: my tendency to always sit to the right. He was maybe a little nice in saying the weakness was exacerbated by breaking my left leg (even if I know the habit predates the injury). But he was adamant. I must work on this or I will not get better. My body is naturally still protecting that broken bone without my noticing.

Essentially, we drilled into just this one topic (and it's consequences on how Isabel goes) bc if I don't fix this now, we'll always have a crookedness problem. We'll always have a bad side and good side. The 'left side stiff, right side supple' problem is of my own creation, and will only worsen as Isabel continues to overdevelop in one direction bc of my crooked riding.

There's ~40 minutes of video from the ride - but I'm not posting any of it bc... well... it's just step-by-step instructions for how Emma needs to trot Isabel around on a circle. So I'll spare you lol.

But don't despair! I happily went through the whole thing (maybe a couple times) to pull out a bulleted list of takeaways, directives, helpful hints, exercises, etc etc etc., all synthesized for your reading pleasure.

TL;DR Version: Sink into inside seat and leg, and stabilize outside rein such that horse connects to and fills outside aids while bending around inside leg. #dressagenirvana

game faces = activated
We warmed up as usual while Grant assessed how we go. It was... pretty blah. Mare wasn't going anywhere and I was push push pushing her forward. Grant zeroed in immediately on my habit of always sitting right, and Isabel's unwillingness to go into my right rein. 

And so the lesson began with exercises to fix this!

cute mare
  • Exercise #1: Lengthen my outside (right) stirrup ~3 holes - enough to only barely reach it. Meanwhile I was to rise as high as possible while posting - being very deliberate while stepping into my inside left leg.
  • Remember that my hips describe what kind of trot we get. Post bigger for a bigger trot.
  • Ride the horse like a school horse - don't fuss with how she goes, just focus on me.
  • Video clearly showed how crookedly I post (a frequent theme in lessons with dressage trainer C) - my right hip does everything while the left hip kinda just follows along.
  • Stay in rising trot for ~2 min to get the feel, then put the stirrups back to their original position 

'scuse me but wat r u doing?!?' - isabel
  • When stirrups were back to normal, keep the same feeling of more pressure in inside (left) stirrup, barely touching the outside stirrup. 
  • Drive left knee and heel down - that's what sends the mare more forward. (Pulling the legs up is a collecting aid - it stops the horse from going as forward.)
  • Exercise #2: Hold this feeling while riding serpentine loops - feeling the difference in loading each respective inside leg with the change of bend. I needed to really LOAD the left inside leg, but only needed a little weight into my right inside leg, since we're already overdeveloped in that direction.

sitting into my left seat bone
  • Need to keep both reins slightly to the inside (left) - with my outside hand touching the withers. 
  • Dressage trainer C tells me the same thing - usually in terms of holding my outside elbow at my body, so I've developed a habit of taking my outside hand away from the horse while keeping my elbow pinned.

serpentines!
  • We leg yielded right while maintaining (or trying to) that weight down through my left leg and feeling the mare push into the right rein. Right away these were better than our typical efforts.
  • Essentially, tho, Isabel just doesn't go into my right rein - she doesn't accept the outside aids and falls away from them.
  • Exercise #3: Through the leg yield, I was to drive my left knee and heel down, keep both hands to the left, then go immediately onto a circle after the leg yield, while keeping that feeling of leg yielding on the circle. Bend left to move right.
  • My immediate tendency is to pull my inside leg up, which puts me on the wrong side of the horse, and causes the horse to cut in on the circle instead of bending around my inside leg.
  • We paused briefly here for me to put on a pair of spurs. Grant says I need a fairly long pair so I can keep my heel down without pulling my leg up. 

exhibit A: isabel falling away from my outside right hand, which has drawn up and away from the horse
  • Exercise #4: Sitting trot with the left inside foot out of the stirrup, imagining dragging my toe in the ground with my left knee dropped. Don't use the knee roll at all - just drag that toe and sit on my left seat bone. And bend Isabel left. 
  • Grant noted that I'm always pulling my outside (right) hand off the withers to the outside bc the horse is always falling in. 
  • He wanted me pushing her out with my inside (left) leg and seat - dragging my toe in the sand ("enough to leave a mark!") - and bending her left with my inside (left) rein. NOT pulling her out with the outside rein.
  • He had me stabilize my outside hand by holding the pommel, at which point our circle diameter shrunk by about half bc I wasn't holding her out anymore with that rein lol. Oops.

holding the pommel for outside aid stability
  • The inside (left) bend had to be really exaggerated to encourage her to move out to the circle - so long as I stayed stretching down through my left leg.
  • Which, obviously, was difficult and uncomfortable for me. So we took a little walk break to stretch me out again since I get all contorted and contracted up in my legs.

continuing to hold that pommel - both hands are slightly inside
  • The general theory here is that my positional weaknesses have prevented Isabel from ever truly connecting to my outside aids while tracking left. Grant just happened to be torturing me with sitting trot bc I'll need that skill for everything after first level.
  • Incidentally, Grant said Isabel is so uncomfortable to sit because she has no muscle. I'm sitting on her spine, not on muscle. She needs to learn to give me a place to sit. He jokingly said that even Steffen Peters couldn't sit that trot (tho he could fake it, obvi) - but that he would instead ride Isabel to where she gives him a back to sit on.


sitting more left helps get that cross over in the leg yield right
  • And after a while - as I focused on sitting left and bending the horse around that long inside leg, while the outside hand stayed firmly anchored at the pommel, Isabel began to move out into that rein.
  • At which point, naturally, the sitting became easier and more comfortable. (Still had inside foot out of the stirrup at this point)

wheeeee canter
  • This is essentially a stage we have to go through to get Izzy from inside aids to outside aids. And this method will work until she learns to go to the outside aids, at which point she’ll run out that side, so I won't be able to be as exaggerated. 
  • For now, tho, I MUST learn to sit left until the horse moves right. My body won't change until I feel it working, and it'll get easier for her to 'bend left to move right' if we practice consistency.
  • The hardest element for me is maintaining it - holding the left bend instead of letting her immediately go back to the right. 
  • Grant also said not to worry if she's a little BTV while figuring it out, provided she's actually taking the outside connection (vs dropping the bit), bc as I ease up on the bend she'll go back to the vertical.

still sitting left in canter, tho inside hand is maybe going rogue
  • As Isabel started coming more through in the sitting trot, we went into canter. Which meant that naturally I went immediately to sitting right for the transition... but got it back in a couple strides. 
  • At canter (still with no inside stirrup, and holding the saddle with outside hand), it was really difficult for me to stretch down left vs lean left. Especially with centripetal force, I really wanted to go back to sitting on the outside. And it was a struggle keeping Isabel slow and balanced while staying down through my left leg. 

mare flexes left without falling in (!!!)
  • Eventually I got to let go of the pommel and use both reins and slow her down and balance more, but needed to be cognizant of where my hands go. 
  • It was really cool to feel how I could actually push the outside rein against her neck now bc she was truly going into it.

resulting picture. more of this please!

  • Downwards transitions (really, any transitions, actually) were hard for me to hold my new left positioning through, vs reverting back to sitting right. Needs practice. 
  • The whole point is to change my muscle memory so that I will understand how those aids work. People can tell me to do it, but I'll never actually learn until I feel it working (esp if the horse is resisting). 


ridden into walk. phew!
  • One last stretchy walk break before going back to trotting with both stirrups and both hands again. 
  • We leg yielded right again and did turns on the forehand (always ridden forward, Emma!) to commit the feeling of her moving off my inside leg into my outside rein to memory.
  • Once she’s consistently on my outside aids we can start working on turning off them etc. But she’s got to go one place consistently before I can worry about the next set of aids. 

"i'm not sure how i feel about all this. ask again later" - isabel
So there ya have it. A treatise on riding inside leg to outside rein in approximately 1,700 words. Don't say I never gave you anything! 

(Except actually, if you're still reading, here's some virtual cookies too... bc damn I got tired even just trying to write this out using words other than 'inside leg to outside hand' over and over again...)

freakin adorable mare is freakin adorable
Generally, we REALLY have our work cut out for us. It was an eye opening ride. Ever since I've suddenly grown more aware of how coddled and favored my left leg has become. No matter what I'm doing, I'm standing or sitting on the right leg. It's a.... pervasive issue. 

But I think Grant was right to zero in on this specific topic. I could honest-to-god feel a difference in how Isabel went as the lesson wore on. It's hard and frustrating (and I'm STILL sore three days later) but damn, it will work. Fixing this crookedness will pave the way for improving every other dimension of riding dressage for us. 

49 comments:

  1. We all have these issues. My one shoulder refuses to open and I'm constantly blocking horses on turns. It will come with time and getting yelled at. :)

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    1. yep nobody is completely straight, horse or rider! tho i'm actually convinced that time alone will *not* fix this issue

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  2. Oof, wow what a tough lesson! Tough but good - and I can understand why you're sore! You're so right that this is going to pave the way for so much else and you'll definitely get there eventually. Grant sounds like a great clinician too.

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    1. yea he's wonderful to ride with. very observant and has a lot of neat tricks up his sleeve. he's demanding but in a good way - esp as his methods very clearly improve how the horse goes

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  3. I weight the right seatbone and ignore the left, like, all the time. I am you, basically, only with less professional help. I'm at least aware of and working on the issue, but dang, it is slow going. Gonna try some of these advices and see how it goes.

    Sounds like you got a lot out of the clinic, though, so that's a plus... even if it is mostly stuff to work on.

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    1. ooh i hope the exercises work out for you too! and yea i'm thrilled with having such clear takeaways from the clinic - homework is what makes the cost justifiable!

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  4. Ah! I understand now why you liked the idea of stretching the elbow down until it pulled your collar bone! Sounds like a mentally exhausting lesson, but a useful one. Physically exhausting too, but there's a lot of thinking that has to happen too.

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    1. haha isn't it funny how different visuals or descriptions or whatever work for different riders?!? and it was so exhausting omg my right hand didn't actually work for a couple minutes after this lesson from clutching the pommel for so long... but i hope to make good work out of it!

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  5. Sooo much good stuff! That is a productive kind of soreness :)

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    1. definitely! very productive and hopefully, eventually, very effective!

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  6. OH. MY. GOSH. Thank you so much for posting all of that! I had the absolute worst lesson on Sunday when she asked for a counterbent right circle and I could not get him to give me left bend. He slots into the right no problem, but left did not happen. Turns out I have the exact same issues as you do - weak left side due to an old accident, right side does everything, horse has never been in my right rein. Wow! Looking forward to trying some of this out.

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    1. oooh lmk how that works for ya! i definitely think this is a very common issue among riders - tho it doesn't always translate as directly to the horse. for instance - if a horse DOES go into the outside (or right) reins, some of these exercises might not be appropriate, or might be very easily over-done. but if Connor still isn't connecting to that rein, have at it!!

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  7. I'm definitely going o try some of these. I've got a floating left seat bone. It just hangs out and would prefer to do nothing. I have a hell of a time getting it plugged in and as a consequence Dee pops her ribcage up and runs through the outside rein.

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    1. ugh it's so frustrating isn't it?!? i wish i could just yell at my seat and have it obediently and meekly get down into that saddle...

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  8. I love some of the exaggerated exercises he had you guys doing! Sounds like you got a lot of takeaways from this lesson and I'm so glad you got to really work on yourself (which ultimately will help miss Iz!!!) -- Not sure if you read her blog, but what you were saying about the horse giving you a place to sit and no one being able to sit THAT trot reminded me of this post: http://badeventer.blogspot.com/2016/03/reiner-klimke-couldnt-sit-that-trot.html

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    1. ha yup i did read that - she posted it two days after i took this lesson and i just read it like 'ahhh YUP i totally relate!' haha

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  9. I love reading though your lesson recaps, so many great digestible bits! I think as you work through all of this even your jumping will see improvement, think of the confidence you will feel coming down to the fences when you know she is even off your aids on both sides.

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    1. omg yes - i definitely had jumping on the brain when talking over the theory with grant, esp as we don't jump equally well off both leads, she consistently lands right, and we have a left drift problem. it's alllllllll related!!!!

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    2. I second this! I always love reading the recaps, so many really great takeaways.

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    3. yay glad you find it useful! it definitely helps me to write it all out like this (and refer back haha)

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  10. Wow, that sounded like serious work and even though I really want to run for the hills (or couch) and pretend I don't have this problem, I think I actually will print this out and consider working on it. :)

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    1. haha i kinda wanna pretend it never happened too.... but step 1 is admitting we have a problem!! lol ;)

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  11. It's so funny how injury and old weaknesses show up like that. I am naturally weaker on the left, but now with Pig's weak right stifle, the right has become our weak side. Unfortunately that means I am SUPER weak to the left now! Riding other horses has been pointing that out to me in a BIG way. Gotta remember to keep both seat bones connected, both legs DOWN, and my torso solid. It's so hard!

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    1. ugh yes. right now i'm thinking very one-sided bc what feels overly left-sided to me right now is mayyyybe just barely being actually even haha. but eventually the mantra will be like you say: BOTH seat bones, BOTH legs, etc etc.... it IS so hard!!

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    2. OMG YES THIS IN CANTER FOR US! Weak R stifle = weak L lead canter = pony wants to go crooked = I want to go crooked. So, so, so hard to ride straight and even!

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  12. Can you send Grant up to Massachusetts? I need this kind of help... when I can eventually ride again!

    PS - Mare is looking so fancy. She is adorbs. I can't stand it!

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    1. aw thanks! she really is such a good girl, even if this ride wasn't her favorite haha. and Grant really was a wonderful instructor - nothing totally ground breaking or unheard of, but he was very good at actually *making* me make a change and get the right results.

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  13. I just have to say, I am amazed (and happy for you guys) all the great lesson and schooling opportunities you have in your area!

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    1. oh man the opportunities abound like crazy around here! seriously we are so spoiled that i can get straight up rank when i dislike a particular trainer or whatever, rather than just being grateful for the opportunity...

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  14. I know it's really hard to fix muscle memory and habits and have riding flaws addressed so thoroughly, but it sounds like you were given some really really good exercises to work on heading in the right direction!

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    1. omg so hard! thanks tho - i really hope we can make some real progress here. it's hard - esp when i'm schooling on my own and isabel is reasonably resisting changing her way of going after so many years of being crooked... but we're gonna try!

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  15. What a wonderful lesson! Clinics can be so useful

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  16. Sounds like a tough but useful clinic! It's so difficult to change subconscious habits- good for you for seeking help to improve!

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    1. omg so hard to change those habits haha. i'm glad that's what grant chose to work on in the clinic tho. i don't often go to a new clinician with anything specific to work on (that usually gets saved for my typical trainers) and letting him decide our course of action definitely paid off this ride!

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  17. I have a pretty distinct "good leg" and "bad leg" that I'm constantly working to improve on. It's really tough stuff!

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    1. so tough... esp bc i can't always feel the imbalance - being straight feels crooked and being crooked feels straight... le sigh.

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  18. Sounds like you learned some great stuff. One sidedness is a pain in the rear. Literally.

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    1. ha definitely a pain in the rear!

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  19. I struggle with crookedness as well. It sounds like you learned a lot in that lesson! I hope it helps you.

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    1. i think we all struggle a little bit with crookedness, but knowing is half the battle, right?

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  20. Holy hell, that sounds like a brutal lesson. I too am a leaner and weight shifter to the right. On my radiographs, you can see my back shaped like a C though from behind, so I don't know if I will ever be uncrooked. But you will be sitting straight soon enough!

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    1. ha that's the hope. idk if any of us can truly be straight - but we try, we try!

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  21. Unconscious errors are the absolute worst, but hot damn does Grant seem to know how to remedy them! I can't believe the number of exercises that he presented to you. What a toolkit to have. And no wonder you're so sore. Bajeesus.

    Also, Izzy is the cutest. Srsly.

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    1. omg she's so cute tho! and yea the mistakes we dont' know we're making are definitely the hardest to fix...

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  22. Oh goodness, we have the same weak side (mine also predates my broken left ankle) so I am copiously studying the exercises you schooled in the clinic. Thank you for being so wordy and detailed!

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    1. Oooh yay I'm glad I'm not the only one haha. Hope the notes help you too!

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  23. "Sink into inside seat and leg, and stabilize outside rein such that horse connects to and fills outside aids while bending around inside leg."
    I need this mantra in my life and someone to sit and yell these super duper exercises at me every time I ride in an arena!
    I have bookmarked this post to regularly check back to for tips & refresher as I'll never remember all this awesome advice!

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    1. Ha if I could have someone yelling it at me constantly I would be a much better rider much faster! Hope the notes work well for you too!

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