• Laura Claman

Independent Seat, legs, hands, spine, finger tip......

Independent Seat, legs, hands, spine, finger tip......

My last blog post was about the 2-point, 3-point and sitting positions and balance. We must remember that to have good balance, and to move correctly to allow our horses the freedom to move unhindered, the seat, hands and legs must move independently of the other. This is one of the most difficult ideas to teach a new rider. The natural instinct when a rider feels unbalanced is to curl up in fetal position, pinch the heels in to the side of the horse and fix the hands (and thus, the reins) to the front of the saddle. The result is that the horse goes faster (heels jammed in to their sides). It’s at this point the rider might begin screaming, “Whoa! Whooooa!” an octave or two higher than any normal human voice. This lovely noise makes the horse even more fearful of the creature on its back – so they go even faster and may even add a buck or two to dislodge the panicked, now crying, crazy person.

The good instructor remains calm, and tries to talk the person down. They walk slowly in to the direct path of the mad galloping horse so they can grab the reins and end the excitement. This might have happened to me once or twice in the early days of my teaching. No certification prepares you for these days. It might have been around this time I started to develop my “be the calming member of your herd” motto. Although the swarm of bees incident has a lot to do with it; I digress. Riders must learn to go against Mother Nature and her instincts in order to be safe riders. This is obviously not easy.

Hands and seat move with the horse in different ways. Hands – make sure you are actually holding the reins with your fingers curled in to your palm. Please don’t think that when you hold the reins with straight fingers, you have soft hands –nope. It means you have no connection with your horse’s mouth. Soft hands come from quiet and soft shoulders and elbows. Long reins can be more harmful than short reins – if the hands go against the movement of the horse’s head and mouth. Always remember that your hands are attached to reins, to a bit , sitting on the horse’s tongue putting pressure on many points of the mouth, tongue, gums and face. We work with various exercises to use the least amount of hand possible. What a beautiful moment it is when horse and rider get to the moment in their working relationship that the softest 1 second hold with the ring finger of your hand elicits the bend you were looking for. This will happen to the point where the hands are a subtle guide and the seat and leg are the more active aids.

The rider’s body tilt or twist at the trunk has a strong effect on the way the horse moves. Sally Swift (of Centered Riding fame) uses the visualization of having eyes on your chest. I use other terms, but the effect is the same. The rider learns to “look” with the body creating the result that sets the rest of the body up for a balanced turn. It you are riding in a ring and want to circle 20 meters to the right, just look in to the space you want your horse’s feet to be next. This automatically brings your left rein against the neck, the right rein becomes indirect (or if riding a young horse, an opening rein), the left thigh goes back which brings your left foot behind the girth which creates bend in the horse’s body around your inside leg which is happily at the girth. All this happened because of “looking” with your upper body!

How many instructors have you heard say, “Keep breathing”? Well, the rider is breathing because they are sitting on the horse and remaining there, mostly; however, there’s a right way to breathe and a not-so-right way to breathe. Breathing deeply and exhaling fully helps relax any tension in your body. Most riders are unaware that they are holding their breath – but the horse knows. They’re wondering what the heck is wrong because a member of their “herd” is tense about something. Add this to your mental checklist.

Pelvis tilt also has an effect on your horse through transitions, backing up and half-halts. Remember, this happens independent of the legs or hands. You don’t want to block forward movement with a part of your body being too tight. And who told riders to lean back when they do dressage? It is NOT correct to sit behind the motion and push the horse ahead of you. I see this very often in the show ring. Go forward with your horse and be balanced. Again, the rider does the least amount of movement to stay balanced and centered to allow the horse the freest movement. This can be difficult, but you’re trying to make your added weight on the horse’s back not get in the way of their natural movement. There are moments out jumping cross-country when it is acceptable, and safer, to stay a tad behind the motion. That’s not what we’re discussing regarding in the ring, flat riding.

Whatever stage of riding you’re currently at, be comforted in knowing that there’s not one great rider out there who hasn’t gone through this learning curve. They had to learn to go against their natural instincts in order to be effective riders. They created new muscle memory. Every rider has strengths and weaknesses. There’s always more to learn – there’s always a new horse, a new relationship. And no one is ever so great that they don’t fall off every once in a while.

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