Wednesday, January 24, 2018

butt bones + back bones

I have a fairly well documented set of biomechanical flaws when it comes to dressage. Over the years I've worked hard to address it.... but that work has also often taken a back seat to improving the horse's way of going.

Now technically speaking, these two things are directly related to each other but..... Well. When you're a decidedly novice rider on a green horse, with a limited attention span.... Yea. You pick your battles. It's mentally hard for me to work on things like getting a sharp, prompt reaction from the horse while being simultaneously completely absorbed with my own position.

flash back to charlie's first show. we r so gud at dersage, guys
For our latest lesson with dressage trainer C, she decided to take advantage of me getting used to the new Hulsebos dressage saddle to tackle the issue head on. It helped that Charlie was generally in a better mood than last time she saw him, and was fine to just trot along while I worked on me.

My general positional issues are summed up as: Perching on Crotch + Pinching with Knee.

So during this lesson, dressage trainer C helped me think a little bit more clearly about what changes I need to be making to hold everything together.


second show looking a little more like a cohesive unit
Seat Position

- To find the correct seat alignment, sit in saddle with both legs lifted up in front of flaps, up on horse's shoulder.
- Pay attention to what this does to your seat. Should feel seat bones and pubic bone in slightly different alignment.
- Hold that feeling while bringing legs back.
- To adjust legs, one at a time: pull leg off saddle, twist backward such that knee points down and thigh points in toward horse, then push forward into place on saddle. Pick up stirrup.
- Outer thigh seam of breeches should point straight down to ground.

first event, a CT at loch moy with a walk-trot test
- Once your seat and legs are in place, you should still be able to find that feeling of where your seat was when legs were in front of saddle.
- While riding, should feel like you can lift in front - ie, lifting the pubic bone - to go with the horse's movement, rather than lifting in back - ie bouncing the seat bones - which is what I do when I'm perching.
- Likewise, try to clean up post a little bit - remove any little bounce between my up and down, keep it crisp and even from both hips.

first three phase, also first time cantering in a test. i continue to be bitter that the trot circle pictured above earned us a 4, despite being, in fact, a circle that we trotted
Leg Position

- Make sure legs stay directly underneath seat.
- Keep toe pointed forward - which helps bring thigh on and calf off.
- I need to exaggerate the feeling of pushing my calf off the horse, since my tendency is to cling and nag. Feel the leg bouncing off with each step.
- Feel big toe in stirrup iron.
- When applying leg aids, start with Thigh and go down to Knee then Calf.
- If you start from bottom and go up, you actually pop your seat out of the saddle a bit.
- I want to pinch my knee, swing my lower leg back, and cling with my heel. This is WRONG. lol
- Don't worry so much about heel down for now, it's more important that my leg is under me.

fair hill spring three phase - and charlie laid down one of his best tests yet, tho it didn't score well
Torso Position

- When my seat bones are pushed out behind me and I'm perching on my crotch, a natural byproduct is too much arch in my back.
- Work on flattening my lower back.
- The "hinge" of my body should be up front, in the lift of my crotch, vs in my lower back bouncing my seat out of the saddle.
- Visualize bringing my belly button closer to my spine, while keeping my belt buckle lifted.
- When Charlie has moments of softness, my habit is to pitch forward. This is also WRONG.
- Continue to imagine the lift in the front of my abdomen to help him hold himself in balance without falling on his forehand.

our test at jenny camp was.... not our best ever lol
For the record, for this ride I was not thinking specifically about upper body, shoulders, or head and neck position. Those are undoubtedly also critical elements but.... I had enough on my plate with trying to keep my butt, legs, and belly all in the right places at the same time.

pets for a good moy back at loch moy
I also continue to have issues with sitting more to the right than the left, and Charlie continues to have issues with escaping through his left shoulder. For this ride, a big difference maker was keeping that outside left leg under me -- ie, not pinching with my knee but instead really sinking into that seat bone and thigh, straight down through the whole leg, while keeping my eyes in line with Charlie's outside (left) ear.

some comic relief from a dressage schooling show where the judge was basically aghast that i jump this creature, and recommended we go back to the basics (since i guess somehow a BN dressage test doesn't count as "basics"?)
When I've got that alignment, it's much much much easier to use my full position with minimal effort to guide Charlie's body into a more correct alignment. As opposed to when I've got my knee pinched and leg swung all the way back trying like crazy to push the horse around.

test at tranquility was very uneven, but with a few nice moments ripe for cherry picking
For the ride itself, we worked a lot on straightness - which often felt like a little bend left. Particularly, I had to let Charlie travel down a quarter line (no rail as a crutch!) and let him be straight without my holding him there. Correcting as needed.

the next outing at fair hill didn't reflect the softness he had in warm up, but it was a solid effort anyway
Also working a little bit on leg yielding toward and away from the rail. With a big focus on establishing straightness first, then ~3 steps of leg yield, then straight again. Not letting Charlie just take over with a sideways drift.

So we would turn, then wait until we've found nice moments of straightness and softness (ie, not hollow and bracing), then yield. Then straight again. If the yield was going well, I might also think about taking a slight outside bend after a few steps - but continuing to hold the horse's body otherwise the same in the yield. This is just an extra level of complexity and is only for when the other pieces are working. It was also mostly an opportunity for me to remember where all of my body parts are haha.

final test of the year tho.... finally, the pieces were coming together. i fully admit to bursting into tears after our final halt and salute. this horse makes me so proud, guys <3
Canter was where I saw the biggest difference in holding my position. When I can get my seat where it belongs, lifting in the crotch with each stride instead of bouncing with my butt, it's incredible how different it feels. And suddenly Charlie and I are in sync. Only issue is I can't hold it for very long lol. Core strength is a real thing apparently.

I'd honestly really like to see some improvements in all the above positional issues this year, considering I've kinda had the same flaws for years now and am a little tired of making excuses for them. Hopefully the fact that Charlie's a little more schooled now will help. And having a higher quality dressage saddle that makes it easier to put myself in the right place and hold it.... That might help too lol.

We'll see! Do you have any of the above issues too? Or some other persistent habit that's been difficult to correct? Or perhaps you've heard other ways of visualizing or explaining some of the above that really helped you or resonated?

33 comments:

  1. first off I love the look back he really has come a long way. And wow what a great lesson to think about you for once! Great thoughts there. Emily quite often makes me go down quarter line since Remus and I both rely on the wall a wee bit too much! Sounds like this saddle is just what the doc ordered and you and Charlie should be really cohesive this year! Can't wait to watch it all happen! Thanks for such details about your position too it is very interesting and makes such sense!!

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    1. i love looking back on the old pics too ;) and staying off the rail is so so so helpful for us, bc we definitely get dependent on it after a while!

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  2. Trainer has had me do the legs in front of saddle trick to feel where I should be. It really helped a lot to get me learning the feel of it.

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    1. yea i honestly had never seen that trick before - the pulling legs back and turning them in again, that's something my very first riding teacher did that i constantly continue to do... .but the seat thing, that was eye opening.

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  3. So many great tips and observations. I love your posts like this that are so detailed in breaking everything down and putting it back together again.

    Me? I over-arch my back in all things. Always. Since ever. I'm really making an effort this year to strengthen my core (especially my lower abdominals) and learn to carry my body properly in all aspects of life. I'm tired of lower back pain from anterior pelvic tilt (exacerbated by tight hamstrings and a weak core) due to my sedentary job. Your note about having the same problems for awhile and not wanting to make excuses is exactly how I feel about several key things with my body/posture. Time to make the changes and feel better!

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    1. it's so useful for me to write it all down too - glad you also find it helpful! the arched back issue is so so hard to fix too, bc i've basically designated that part of my body as my "shock absorber" even tho.... it really is not the greatest for that. slowly but surely tho, we can fix this!

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  4. The struggle is real. I often wonder if my big butt is the reason for some position issue. Like no joke. "Endowed" glutes 🙄. I do/don't recommend following all the amazing swedish dressage riders and their skinny amazing asses and legs!! Lol

    Seriously though. Position work is so important. I will need to reread this when my horse decides she is sound, sane, and gets outside turnout for more than a day...

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    1. haha yea i mean, my big ol' butt has gotta go somewhere, right? much easier when i push it out behind me! hopefully things improve soon with your horse so you two can get back at it!!

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  5. Alternate title for this post: Why dressage is fucking impossible.

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  6. i think you'll be amazed at the change of the horse when you start working on these things. form does follow function and you suddenly realize oh my god, 'the way we ride' isn't just cause some asshole german said we had to do it that way. it's cause the horse likes it. and they go better if we do it right.

    SHOCKING.

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    1. upon rereading thsi sounds really sassy towards you but i meant it as sassy towards dressage - like what od you mean the horse comes off his front end if im not crouching over my hands while they're in my crotch

      utter madness

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    2. lol not sassy at all! i definitely know what you mean. and conceptually, i *know* that more correct biomechanics produces a more correct horse. i know this. it's so hard to make happen tho, bc i really personally cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. trying to undo years of bad habits requires so much mental energy from me, there really isn't any left over from the horse.

      plus, along with those years of bad habits, i've developed my own ways of getting shit done that basically approximates a primitive technology axe as opposed to a modern scalpel. i *know* a scalpel will do a better job more easily, but right now i gotta get shit done so it's easier to revert to my own blunt instruments. hopefully in time tho i can get better about that muscle memory!

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  7. Oh I feel this on multiple levels. I am incapable of getting my leg to stay underneath me... it wants to hang out about six lengths behind toodling along. New saddle has helped tremendously, but a lot of it is still consciously thinking/doing it. But srsly, so. much. core. strength. necessary.

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    1. yea i've got it stuck in my muscle memory that "more leg" = "more heel" and that if i'm not getting what i want, kick harder and swing leg further back. it's.... a hard habit to correct!

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  8. I find myself way on my crotch when P gets behind my leg...like I'm trying to move for him. I also basically throw the reins at him in the canter because I'm trying to stabilize myself in the saddle and don't want to jerk him in the mouth. My dressage trainer loves me.

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    1. i mean, hey, at least our trainers know they always have a job!!! lol...

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  9. I'm constantly working in this also. When I engage my core, my horse engages her core - who'd have thunk?
    A big thing that helps me is to think "up". Use my core at a trot to lift her withers up. (I trot around like a beginner saying "up" over and over out loud.) Same at a canter - my instinct is think "down" to make the canter smaller and quieter, but I need to change my thought to "up" to get the withers up. It's almost just a thought, but it changes how I engage my core, and I feel a huge difference in my horse when I get it.
    Which I can only hold for a few strides because using my core is exhausting!

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    1. yea it's so funny how even just imagining or visualizing a concept can help make a difference for us. that "up" feeling is actually something we've been working on a lot in our jumping. that even by thinking "lift" just with my hands, the rest of my body position is maybe subconsciously shifting in a way that communicates the idea more fully to the horse. slowly but surely!

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  10. Ooh, lots of good stuff in here! My preferred way of posting the trot is just to lean really far forward all the time always. #donotrecommend

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    1. leaning forward is my favorite - esp when combined with pulling back. #sogoodatridingoverhere

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  11. That was a lot of stuff to work on! But you'll get it :D I know for me it was that same thing - hunt the feeling when you know it was working but it only works for so long because #needwaymorecorestrength lol. Amber's and my dressage really started working better when I got to the seat and position of the master dressage series. Same thing your trainer was saying with adjusting the legs and toe pointing straight. Once I found it - magic. Theeeen it was gone haha. Also love all of the flashback photos!

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    1. ugh why is core strength so hard tho?? lol...

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  12. I just wanted to say, thanks for including so many photos of the "process". It's easy to forget where we started or how far we have come. You and Charlie look great :)

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    1. the process is so important to remember. i want so badly to get better, to improve. i have goals and i'm trying to embrace #noexcuses. but. the quickest way to get demoralized or burned out is to forget that this stuff just takes TIME. if i'm not realistic about the incremental progressive steps, we'll never get where i wanna go. so for that reasons, i really really try to embrace the process, and embrace the baby steps even when they're not perfect. as in.... that extra special brontosaurus moment above (where i'm in the orange shirt) lol.....

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  13. Hah! Knee position is the next position fix on my list (Feb) down and off!

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    1. oh man, good luck! changing this stuff is just so freakin hard sometimes. esp bc sometimes it feels like as soon as one thing gets better, something else gets worse! lol....

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  14. I never manage to close my stupid hands. Like, they're kind of closed? But never fully closed. I just cannot do it for some reason.

    For posting, what helped me a lot was the comparison between trot and canter - you're still making the same scooping motion when posting, it's just shorter and sharper and up, not down.

    Or, you know, if you wanted to be goofy (which helped me too, lol) - it's a Michael Jackson crotch grab, not trying to levitate your butt upwards. Shove forward into your hands, not up at the sky.

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    1. lol omg michael jackson crotch grabs.... maybe i'll pull that out (lol) in my next lesson just to see how trainer C respods haha!

      also yea... the open finger thing... it's a tough habit to break. both in dressage and over fences. i've gotten into a tricky habit of slipping my reins a lot while jumping bc charlie tends to be bold and i tend to be defensive... needs improvement tho, i think!

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    2. LOL it's such an awful paraphrase of the stuff I was looking at - it was more properly something like "post through your wrists, not over them" - but "Michael Jackson crotch grab" is such a CLEAR visual...

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  15. you are going to have great success working on this. There are so many things to work on all the time. At least that is my experience.

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  16. I was doing the perchy thing, now it appears I'm doing the chair seat thing, lol. I love all the tips, definitely going to borrow some of them!

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  17. I have not heard of this method of getting into position, but I'm excited to try it tomorrow! I have been told repeatedly that I need to sit more on my seatbones, because when I don't I pull my leg too far back underneath me... and vice versa. So perhaps this will help me get the right feel.

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