Saturday, July 14, 2012

Riding Above the Current

I havent been able to have Sarah come out for the last month and a half or so due to cost. Its not for lack of wanting a lesson, it simply comes down to the price factor.

Remember how I told you that my boss (who is actually not my boss anymore, she manages a different department) keeps her daughter's horse with Sarah and trains with her? I asked her, in a joking fashion, if I could have her daughter come out and watch me ride because even just that would be better then no lesson. She told me that she thought it would be a great idea. I mean, her daughter keeps her horse with Sarah, leases Wesley, and has a lesson at least once a week with Sarah. And from knowing her for a while now, I figured it would be a good idea, at least having some eyes on the ground will help point out my position flaws and let me know whats going on that I cant see.

So we scheduled to meet yesterday, and when we arrived at the barn the first thing she talked to me about was Cranial-Sacral therapy. I had heard her Mom telling me about this when she first learned about it, and Melissa had made a post about it too. I had been eager to learn but didnt have the opportunity to learn it from Sarah directly. It seems complicated, but its really just a series of different places to touch the horse that aids in not only finding areas of stress and tension, but releasing those areas. And it is an extremely light touch, just barely making contact. Important too is your body position when applying these touches; keeping the lower back soft was important and even breathing was a way to help encourage the horse to release.

When K tried this on Milo we found some of the most tense areas were the cheeks, the zygomatic process, and the ears. There were other locations for touch as well along the face, such as the forehead, the nose where the halter rests, the poll (another good area for Milo), and even the dock above the tail. Most interesting when gently placing the hand on this area was finding the "wave" current in Milo's body. It took a moment of really tuning into the small motion within Milo's body, but it was a current coming back into my hand, then back forward through his body. K said this is the fluid traveling in Milo, something very similar to what Sarah has talked about in our bodies, and the importance of posture to allow this fluid to travel up and down without resistance. While Sarah talks about moving with the fluid/energy, whichever helps you visualize it, when riding, K said she finds that riding over it, or above the current helps her allow it to stay in motion.

Sounds like a lot of foo-foo, doesnt it? But I have come to find that really paying attention to the horse's energy, on the ground or in the saddle, has made progress for us. Let me explain with a little less "foo-foo" to help explain how you can say, "ride above the current".

First off, when K watched me get on Milo and walk around we first addressed what I have considered getting his shoulder lifted and his front end light. Although sometimes it's correct, I think I may have trained Milo to the wrong lift, K made it clear to see that when the center of Milo's neck is the highest point, thats not correct, its when his shoulders are the highest and his neck isnt "bulged" in the center, because then he's only breaking at the C3 vertebrae and not elevated in his shoulders or back. Once I found the correct feeling and look of what is really elevated on the shoulder, I tried a turnaround at her request, and she noticed right off the bat that my hips are all over the place in the turn. He cant possibly hold ground when my hips arent allowing him too. I never noticed that before - I figured if my left or right seatbone was down, then that one was holding the hock down, but in reality, it really was "down" and driving, something seatbones arent supposed to do. And that driving on one seatbone, causes an imbalance in the other and my seat is constantly shifting back and forth, even if most of the pressure if on one seatbone.

K suggested that I try and sit light, by engaging the inner thigh muscles just like Sarah has had me do. The problem is when I do that, my legs come forward, I lose my lower leg contact, and I tend to tip forward as well. She suggested something she finds to work for her - my riding off the toe. Visualize a line running from the inner thigh down to the toe, this is the line of engagement. By thinking of engaging from the toe up, it helps to align the leg in proper position and doesnt allow my body to tip forward. It truly allowed my seat to become light, but engaged. This is where she referred to "riding above the current". Once I was aware of this position and the unevenness in my seatbones during a turnaround, when I tried it again it was far easier for Milo to hold ground with the pivot foot and not only not try to step out of it, but maintain the same foot without switching back and forth.

Next we went into a trot and I had issues finding that good elevation in the shoulders and back. I explained that I have a hard time finding the perfect amount of pressure on the bit between hanging on it, and simply bumping it for a cue. I cant seem to get to that point where Milo can accept carrying the contact and maintaining his elevation. She showed me the position of feel where I can just feel his mouth but not have direct "contact" to it. She suggested working on holding this feel because it isnt exactly cuing him for something, just asking him to maintain himself, and if needed, I can easily ask for a cue and go right back to this feel.

When I put him in a lope, I warned her there would be a lot as I know I fall apart at the lope. I cant get into my left seatbone and she suggested my turning completely around in the saddle and looking over the back to physically force me onto the left seatbone, which it did. She also noted that I really need to get back on my seat in the lope. What she had me do was collapse my ribcage but maintain my upper body position. I needed to sit deeper on my pockets, but not drive with my seatbones. Riding above and on my toes was essential, otherwise I would be driving. So riding above, then getting back into my back - OMG! When I was in the right position suddenly my horse could hold ground on his hocks and for a half circle, the lope was exceptional. Now I just have to figure out how to maintain that.

Using this same idea of sitting back in my turnarounds further enabled Milo to hold ground better and not walk out of the turnaround, it was really cool.

Last thing we addressed was our stops. Time and time again I would sit down - hard - and my legs would go forward. What K noticed was that my upper body was collapsing, not my lower back. I needed to really focus before stopping on engaging that line through my legs to my toes, and not so much just sit back into the saddle, but to actually rotate my pelvis back. Instead of focusing on my back I need to be focusing on the rotation of my pelvis. When I did this, our stops were phenomenal!

Although it wasnt a "lesson", it was definitely as productive as one, and I really appreciated her coming out and pointing out some of the things she saw. She recommended a lot of really cool tool, in the saddle and out, to work on. She even recommended taking my seat-bone shim off the saddle and seeing what that might do. Having ridden in the shim for over a year now she thinks maybe it's hindering my ability to get into the left seatbone and my body may just be getting accustomed to it. Good suggestion, but I think Ill wait to try it after the next 2-day horseshow this coming weekend. :)

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