December 5, 2010 Leave a comment
Today I’m taking a day off from riding, and I’m glad. The muscles that I’m retraining in my legs are exhausted. I felt this yesterday, when Christy and I met for an early afternoon ride. We had the arena to ourselves, the air was cold and crisp, Mads was really forward (I left her quarter sheet off, to encourage a little extra spunk). One problem. As we were trotting around warming up, before I was even asking Mads for anything more than a little stretch here or flex there, my legs were tired. Really tired. At first I thought that I’d get warmed up, and I’d be okay. But “okay” wasn’t forthcoming.
As we were warming up, before we even moved off into a trot, Christy – in her weird, mind-reader, prescient way – was talking about a book about equine physiology she’s considering adding to her library. Among other things, she’s interested in learning the physiology of muscle development and how to build equine muscles correctly. Any sort of muscle development requires that the muscle be overloaded. Soreness – a result of minute tears in muscle fibers (“microtrauma”) – is part of the process, an indicator that you are in fact working – and stressing – the target muscles. If it’s not getting a bit sore, you’re not using (and developing) the muscle. I’m no sports physiologist, but I’m pretty sure my body was telling me to give it a rest. It was a short and unfulfilling ride.
The discussion of muscles got me thinking about Friday’s ride, during which Mads read one of my aids (pushing with my inside hip flexor) as a canter cue, when I intended for her to just bend. I’ve long been gently bending this light and responsive mare at the trot simply by pushing gently with a hip flexor, making kind of a scooping action with the seatbone on the same side. It’s a small aid (or, at least, it is when I use it as described. It can be much stronger) and when I do it on the long side of the arena, I can bend Mads gently one way, then another, and then back again, keeping contact with her mouth steady and unchanged.
So why was my subtle cue now eliciting a canter? Well, it probably has everything to do with my new, improved leg position. If I’m riding in a correct position, more of my leg is against the horse. In my old toes-out postition, my leg wasn’t in much contact with Maddie’s side – really, just my heel and upper thighs. Now, however, when I ride with my hip angles open, my whole leg rolled (for me) inward, and toes pointing forward, my entire leg is in contact with the horse. So that subtle cue I had been giving was amplified.
Just one more thing to think about as I rebuild my seat. I have to re-define my aids, as well.