June 28, 2011
I rode and worked with Cinder for about an hour today. I just wanted to work with her on gaiting correctly, relaxing, and, specifically, relaxing at the walk going towards home. I did some suppling work with her and then began riding her back and forth on our long driveway. Going away from home, she was fairly relaxed, coming back, she wanted to slowly speed up. Nothing out of control or even rushed, just that she was making the decision to get home quickly.
In working with her, I think I learned and experienced two important aspects of riding.
1. Strength comes from my core, not my shoulders.
2. Being “grounded” really helped me relax and sit better and it, therefore, helped my horse to relax and loosen her spine.
Strength from the Core
Now, mentally, I knew that my elbows needed to be connected to my hips and that the “pulling” comes from using my body correctly and not pulling with my upper body, but, for me, knowing something and feeling something are two different things.
This mare I was riding is fairly flexible. Previous times riding her, when she wanted to go faster, I would pull with my upper body (shoulders), but this would only tip me forward and she would just tuck her nose to her chest and go faster. Clearly, not the reaction I wanted. So as I am learning to have a better seat, I am becoming more aware of what my body is doing. I realized I was tipping forward and worked to change that. I tipped my pelvis back just ever so slightly, feeling my seat bones on the saddle, moving with her, and made sure my elbows were “connected” with my hips. So that, in effect, I was pulling with my stomach, if that makes sense. I am sure I was somewhat ineffectual at it, but there was definite progress.
Between my arm position, not tipping forward, and focusing on affecting her using my seat, she slowed down more rather than just pushing through the bit. This is just proving more and more to me how important having a good seat is.
On a forum, someone posted about how good riding comes from being “grounded.” Here are portions of her post:
I believe “being grounded” while riding is key to good riding. It is an
important ingredient which does not seem to be addressed enough by instructors,
in my opinion.
I feel the ability to ground oneself separates the riders who really excel in
dressage and those who are always searching for the illusive thing or things (be
it physical or mental) which will get them over the hump in their riding, and
thus allow them to move to the next level.
I do not believe a rider can be mentally open for a constant dialogue with the
horse, and by that I mean ask a horse a question, analyze the answer then make
adjustments if needed all within a split second, unless they are truly grounded.
A “grounded” rider’s brain is no longer preoccupied with keeping the rider
balanced on top of the horse, thus the brain can be put to better use – like the
timing of the aids to name just one thing.
We all have seen examples of very good riders such as Uta Graf, Reiner Klimke
etc. to name only a few. All good riders come across as having a strong “core”
but look relaxed mentally and physically in the saddle. They do not look like
they are sitting on top of the horse but rather sitting into the horse, making
horse and rider one unit.
Surprisingly enough this grounding can only be achieved by a person being
relaxed, having the body in the correct alignment and breathing into the body’s
center. All things said numerous times by most instructors to their pupils.
However, somehow the result of grounding is missed by many.
Just some musings from a wet, wind blown Midwest.
This “being grounded” made a lot of sense to me. Sure, I had heard it before several different places, but it only really clicked hearing it this time. So after I had been riding the mare for a little bit, I remembered to try it. I had been practicing on the ground, so I just transferred that to the saddle. I made sure my body was upright and solid, but not tense. I then tried to sink my seat bones into the saddle and to feel the ground with my feet. I will tell you my ankles relaxed and felt loose almost immediately!
As I continued this, I tried to breath and stay strong and relaxed and connected to the ground. The next thing I noticed was my horse dropping her head and neck and really walking with much longer strides, not hurrying, but lengthening. Normally, she is a horse with a shorter, choppier stride, but she really started to stretch and loosen her back. This was very fun. The neat part was that she did this going towards the barn. She kept it up and stayed relaxed until I got off her.
Now I just hope I remember these things every time I get on a horse!