Readers with a nervous disposition should sit down…
Today was fun. Ish. I don’t even mean that sarcastically! Kelly and I had to paint all the white boards on the outside of the stables in the big barn. That was…monotonous. And a bit blinding to be honest. There’s only so much white paint a girl can take! But we got all the outside bits done and it looks a lot better, I can tell you.
Poo-picking was a delight, as always but only took about fifteen minutes today. Go team! Normally I would’ve packed up and left then, but I’d already asked Kelly whether she’d have time to fit in a lesson for me after my shift. Lovely as she is, she said that was no problem, and so I cracked out the tack. I did have to knock the mud shell off my horse first though before I could ride her. Silly ponies getting muddy. Honestly. You’d think they were animals or something.
I also asked Kelly whether she would mind taking some photos when I rode today, both of good and bad bits so that I had something for my bank of understanding when it came to knowing what I look like when I’m riding and therefore, how to correct or maintain it. Obligingly, she did so. Some of the photos are great and my position isn’t as bad as I always seem to think it is. What I have noticed is that I still ride with my stirrups too short. That’s something I need to sort out, gradually.
I mean seriously, look at that. A bit of bend in the knee is fine, but that much is taking the piss. So I’ve got some lengthening of leg and stirrup to work on there. Kelly actually had me doing a fair bit of work on it today, as she took away my stirrups for half the lesson. But more on that later.
First, we need to address the issue for which this post is named. My wonky butt.
Okay, so it’s not my actual butt per se, it’s more my hips. Which means my core and shoulders spend their whole time trying to compensate by twisting. Not good! I don’t think I do it all the time, just when my weight gets thrown by the movement of the horse. As I’ve got more secure, I get thrown less which means I don’t end up with the same level of twisting and back pain that I used to get when I started. But it still happens at times and is definitely something I need to address. That picture, while not flattering in any respect, is exactly why I wanted Kelly to take photos of me today. Because she’s told me before that I’m off centre, but until I saw it I didn’t realise how bad it is!
We also established that my right hip is quite stiff. I admitted to having had pain in it over the past few months without knowing why. After most of my jump lessons lately I’ve hopped down, only to be unable to walk because my hip has seized up. Something in the joint is locking and preventing me from stretching it. Because of this, I’m unable to correct myself properly when my weight does get thrown, which is why my upper body is trying to compensate. Something tells me I might need to get that hip looked at to see if I can open it up a bit more, loosen the joint, make it more fluid so I can actually use it more effectively. Because when that joint goes tight, it means I struggle to keep the rest of my leg relaxed and then start to contract through the calf. Frustrating or what!?
Moving on before I get too irate… The canter work was good this afternoon. I was playing with the reins a lot, keeping the bit moving through her mouth constantly as she tends to set on one side or the other, or both. A lot of the time, you move up into canter and she’s gone. Sets her mouth on the bit and just gets quicker and quicker. Whilst I lost the contact at times, and wasn’t always working in harmony with her, we had moments where the canter was really lovely with a good rhythm and nice level of softness. She really listened.
Having done a good amount of canter on each rein, Kelly had clearly decided we’d done enough boring stuff, and told me to remove my stirrups. Which I did, with a feeling of mounting doom in my stomach!
This is when we discovered my hip thing, because she asked me to do an exercise we’ve done a thousand times before. Bring the leg up 90 degrees, turn it out away from you and slide it back down. My left leg made the muscles spasm, but I could do it. My right leg came up, but I couldn’t turn it out at the hip. It just wouldn’t go. I tried, heaven knows I tried! But there was nothing doing. It was then that Kelly mentioned she’d noticed I was slightly stiffer on the right side throughout, but that my hip was clearly going to be trouble.
Rather than take it easy on me (because where’s the fun in that?) she sent us off to work without stirrups anyway. I had to really work on keeping my toes in (that’s not part of my blog name for nothing you know, it’s a real problem!) which was made all the more difficult by my hip refusing to shift. We worked pretty hard in the trot though, keeping the bit moving with lots of little feels down each rein, and keeping a constant push with the inside leg to generate energy and make her work into the outside rein. It worked, that’s for sure. I had some really nice soft moments which felt amazing! That little mare is pretty awesome!
Once Midge was listening properly, Kelly then started working me on my position. The ribcage lifting started up again, and my stomach muscles were taut in preparation! The more I pushed my ribs upwards, the easier I found it to apply my inside leg and push the mare into the outside rein. I was also able to balance my weight better in the saddle and keep my arms soft. That’s another thing these pictures have reminded me; my elbows need to be softer! I have a tendency to drop my hands, or allow my arms to stretch out with the horse’s head. I think it’s because there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to pull back too much on the mouth, whereas in fact if you create enough energy with your leg, you can push the horse forward into the contact without there being any pull back; there’s just an elastic conversation.
We established a lovely quiet trot for me to sit to. And then Kelly told us to ramp it up a gear, get some more energy and some bigger strides. No faster, just bigger. Midge doesn’t often have a problem opening up her stride, it was me that was going to suffer for it. Nice big trot strides while I’m sat there without stirrups? Gee, thanks Kelly! But, she’s the boss. So I asked Midge for a bit more, and lovely soul that she is, she found it and gave it. She was already knackered by this point, blowing away with every stride. And I won’t lie to you, so was I! The sun rather thoughtfully/inconveniently (delete as appropriate) decided to come out just in time for me to ride. Which meant it was warm. And we were working bloody hard!
All of that work. And then Kelly made us canter some more too! We had to try and keep the softness of the contact throughout the canter, which as I’ve mentioned, Midge struggles with. This time, however, I was prepared for her resistance. And I had more leg to play with as my stirrups had gone bye-byes. So I wrapped my legs as best I could and urged her forwards. Once again, we achieved some nice bits. There were times when she did her best camel impression which resulted in a resounding “NO CAMELS HERE THANKYOU” from Kelly, and other times when I felt my legs were about to drop off from working so hard. But between us, we got some really good canter work. She softened considerably throughout the exercise, and with lots of little corrections I managed to maintain the rhythm and tempo of the canter. And it was a nice canter, even when she camelled, because she was listening the whole time.
The downwards transitions were crucial of course, due to the no-stirrup thing. I couldn’t save myself an awkward transition by popping into rising like I did last week. No sir, this time I had no choice but to be extremely workmanlike and control every single tiny aspect of every transition. By the end, I was able to rebalance the trot within a few strides so it was less uncomfortable than it could have been! And actually, although she often runs onto her forehand through the downwards transitions, it didn’t feel like she did it every time today. There were some where it was obvious that’s exactly what she was doing, but at other times it felt like a much smoother transition altogether. Our best canter transition by far was my final one without stirrups. I prepared properly, and the second I applied the aids Midge kicked in and struck off beautifully. No jolty trot, no running onto the forehand, just a nice crisp clean transition. Perfect.
When I took my stirrups back, Kelly made me drop them by two holes. They were crazy long! Well, they felt it anyway. Although after a while I realised it felt kind of natural. She got me to re-establish the walk first, and then pop up into sitting trot. After getting the trot I wanted and asking the mare to go a little rounder, I realised that the long stirrups weren’t bothering me as much as I’d expected. It was basically like working without stirrups except I had something underneath my foot to press on when I stepped down with each stride. The only issue I had was shifting my outside leg back to keep her quarters from drifting on the circle. I was slightly wary as I didn’t want to lose my stirrup, so I didn’t use my leg properly.
I then had to go into rising trot, which at first was a bit strange and felt quite difficult. It felt like I was reaching for the stirrups every stride and that therefore I wasn’t able to keep my heels down. And due to having it drilled into my head that heels must remain down at all times, I didn’t want to show myself up by not doing this. Despite my own reservations, Kelly said that my foot was flat at all times with a slight depth to the heel most of the time. Which, when riding pure dressage, is exactly where your foot should be. Because that’s the thing; stirrups aren’t there to keep you in the saddle. If your seat isn’t secure, having stirrups won’t keep you on. We’re taught to push our heels down in our lessons for a security thing, because it’s true that when you have your heels down you are able to anchor yourself more and are therefore less likely to pitch forward and topple off. But when riding dressage, you should technically be able to do it all without stirrups, therefore when you have stirrups they’re really just for show. You don’t use them. And if you watch most dressage riders, their feet are never wedged at an uncomfortable angle with their heels jammed down as hard as they’ll go. A slight dip with the heel is all they need, if that. Most of the time their feet are comfortably flat, just resting in the stirrup.
Of course, they’re all rather good riders with exceedingly well established seats etc. So riding at that length is no bother to them. For me it was more of a challenge as I’m not used to riding so long. After a while though I began to feel the rising more, and was able to keep myself more in balance despite having longer legs.
Another thing I noticed, and this is the last thing I PROMISE, is the change in her trot throughout the lesson. When we started, I thought at first that she had some sort of lameness going on in one of her hind legs because the trot was stilted and awkward. It was uncomfortable to rise to, and had no smoothness or fluidity to it at all. Every step was a jolting, peg-leggy type movement. My heart sank at this, because I thought if I had to ride a whole lesson with a trot like that there was no way I was a) going to survive or b) going to achieve anything. And this is where the thing I noticed comes in. Because not only did I survive, I also achieved a hell of a lot. One of the big things being the quality of that horrible trot. As I asked her to come rounder, pushed her forwards and encouraged her to use her back end, the trot got lighter and softer and smoother. Each time we trotted, it felt better and better, and by the end when I was trotting with my long stirrups it was this lovely fluid motion. I didn’t feel like I was being jolted up and down, it was just a gentle forward movement. And that, my friends, is the last thing I am going to tell you about my lesson! Really truly this time.
My right hip is kinda sore this evening, which makes me think I really do need to get it looked at. I’m not sure what the best course of action is for something like a hip, but I’m sure I know someone who knows someone who can do something to help. Despite the ache I have, I’m really glad Kelly worked me so hard. I need that now, to be pushed. It not only shows up the areas I need to work on more clearly, giving me a better idea of how to go about doing it, but it allows me to come to terms with the fact that I can actually do a hell of a lot more than I give myself credit for.
I am going to sleep well tonight!
Sweet dreams kids.