The core of the problem

Our first lesson in more than a month

As you’ve probably surmised due to the infrequent blog posts, the last few weeks haven’t been too exciting.  I’ve been working hard on rebuilding my riding muscles and regaining my seat, and at the same time, I’ve been gradually stepping up the work Derby is doing.   I’m now doing 30-40 minute rides, with about 10-15 minutes of trotting.   For the time being, building our fitness is my main priority.

Now that we’re doing some decent work and are able to sustain our efforts for a little while I decided that it was time to re-start lessons with Christy.  We are thinking of going out to a schooling show mid-August just to get Derby out and about.  We won’t be ready for anything, really, and will probably do a walk-trot test.  But I don’t want to embarrass myself, and I’ve been worried about the quality of our walk.

Derby would prefer to shuffle slowly, and I’ve been working on improving his tempo and energy.  He’s doing much better lately but we lose that energy and rhythm, I’ve noticed, when we circle or serpentine.

As we talked, I sat easily, with loopy reins, and Derby walked – a nice, swingy walk with good energy.  Christy had me gather the reins, and immediately Derby’s stride shortened.  From there, Christy had me keep my legs off Derby, instead, opening up my hip angle, sitting up straight and inviting a bigger stride.  It worked.  Derby went from a stodgy little walk to a nice swingy one.

A nice walk

Christy’s eagle eye had noticed something.  When I gathered the reins up, I leaned forward – very slightly – but it was enough to close my hip angle, causing Derby to shorten his stride.    We experimented with this a little bit, and when I mentioned the difficulties I had maintaining tempo when asking for bend on circle or serpentine, she watched carefully as I asked Derby to bend with my inside leg.

Sure enough, she spotted it.  Whatever I was doing with my inner leg was causing me to close my hip angle.   We figured it out – I was reverting to old habit of curling my heel up when applying my leg.

I've closed my hip and Derby has shortened his stride.

The difference in stills from the video Christy snapped is stark. Derby’s head has popped up and his back is hollow.

From there Christy had us move to trotting, reminding me to post hips to hands, keeping my hip angle open, and engaging my core muscles.    When I followed her instructions, Derby responded immediately, rounding and relaxing, chewing the bit.

But the second I stopped riding,  Derby hollowed and his head came up . “Core!” Christy called in my direction.  I re-engaged my core and opened my hips and the gait quality improved.   Christy reminded me that Derby is very much a “seat horse” – he’s sensitive to the slightest movement of the rider  This is both a blessing and a curse, she told me.  Once I get control of my body and my aids, I’ll be able to influence Derby very subtly.  It’s going to take some work to get there, though!

Related reading: http://www.balancedrider.com/blog/2011/07/11070601.htm

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital marketing executive and strategist with a long track record of success in content marketing, social media, demand generation, event marketing, sales enablement, product management and business development.

4 Responses to The core of the problem

  1. Annette says:

    I’m starting to conclude core (or lack of) is the root of all evils in riding.

    My horse has recently decided that my legs and reins are meaningless when it comes to canter transitions, and he will only canter off seat commands. It’s really interesting when one day your previous easy swing of the outside calf along the horse’s side elicits zero response when the day before it made him jump into canter… but a lift of the inside seatbone gets immediate response. Well, ok, this is probably more correct and better for avoiding confusing when I ask for lateral work. But gosh, it’s hard to do when I’m not using my core properly!

    We’ve also been working on transitions between collected and working canters. Once again – it’s off my seat. Canter lengthenings, too – he’s a very sensitive horse, and mostly sensitive to the seat. I can kick as hard as I want, but if my seat isn’t allowing he’s not lengthening his canter. He’s a good boy, and improving my riding more than any eyes on the ground could – because his reaction is immediate and obvious even to subtle changes eyes on the ground may not be able to see. Of course, I do need those eyes to figure out what I’m doing wrong the first time he lets me know there’s a problem with something, but once I know, he just reminds me every time.

  2. Sarah Skerik says:

    Good points, Annette – especially about how they “let you know” when you stop riding with your seat. Derby is a TB and has flat gaits – he’s never going to pull big gait scores. My only hope is to really ride him back to front – which requires I use my core constantly. And your point about the fact that if your seat won’t allow a movement, no amount of kicking, spur or prods with the whip will get you there. The core is definitely the secret to producing that quiet, beautiful dressage ride.

  3. I want a Christie. Did you special order yours or does she come standard like that? What an excellent lesson. I like her attention to detail and your willingness to work.

  4. Sarah Skerik says:

    LOL – the standard version of Christy comes with an unerring eye for small details. a relentless desire to research and solve problems (she’s figured out how I can keep Derby’s mouth shut and her solution doesn’t involve a tight noseband!) and endless patience. Everyone should have a Christy! 🙂

    (You can borrow her but I want her back!)

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