More core.

New green duds

I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching Christy ride her horses, and while I always learn a lot, watching her develop Remy over the last year has been especially informative, chiefly because in taking the skinny young OTTB from the track to the dressage ring required her to instill rhythm, contact and cadence in the horse.  Within a few months of his arrival, Christy had Remy going well, and I especially enjoyed watching her work the long-legged boy at the trot, improving his use of his back.  They would go around the arena, doing circles and serpentines at a spanking gait, with Remy staying round and yielding nicely when Christy asked for bend.   I memorized what that looked like.  And I’m trying to emulate it.

I know that she really had to work for that nice gait on Remy when he was greener, and part of that work was finding – and holding – her balance.  While Derbs is no Remy, he is similarly sensitive to my position, providing me instant feedback on how I’m sitting.  The degree of his forward motion varies directly with my balance and position on his back.

So instead of “trotting like Remy,” really, I need to be thinking “sit like Christy” in order to produce the big, forward, flowing gaits I seek.   And I got a bit closer to getting there this week.

Thursday night’s lesson focused on many of the same things I noted in my post on Wednesday, and once we got warmed up, I had a very decent working trot going that Derby was pretty much sustaining.  But I have struggled with maintaining that gait when we do anything other than go down the long side.  So I was paying particular attention to my position (and the horse’s feedback) in my lesson.

As we continued working, things improved, until finally, we were doing a very nice 20m circle around Christy, who had become effusive in her praise.  I had contact, I had forward, I had bend — and it was all pretty easy, I didn’t have to work to hold it. What had I done?  Well, in addition to the checklist I noted in my blog post on Wednesday, I had added one more thing.  Core engagement.  When I engaged my core, I could feel my hip angles opening as my leg lengthened and I sat up taller.  Derby immediately responds to this – when I finally put myself into the right position, he rewards me immediately by rounding and carrying himself nicely.

So here’s my updated checklist:

  • Use the inside rein.  If he doesn’t respond to a softening of the inside rein, and continues to hang, get busy with the inside leg while insisting with the inside rein (e.g. a direct rein).  My desire to not hang on the inside rein has gone a bit too far.  I am allowed to use it.
  • When Derby feels “stuck” and braced against me, I need to mix it up.  Flex him, do serpentines and leg yields – anything to get that neck unbraced and softer.
  • Do as little as you can do but as much as you need to do to get the response you want – but be mindful.  If the horse doesn’t respond when I ask nicely, I have to next ask not-so-nicely.  Accepting no response results in a dull horse that’s dead to the aids.
  • Ride with my core engaged, and my leg long and draping around Derby’s sides. 

In other words, sit like Christy!

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital business executive and strategist with a long track record of success in team leadership, employee development, marketing and business development.

2 Responses to More core.

  1. Can’t wait to see the improvement all this hard work brings! Got any outings planned? And we need to reschedule your Cloudy Boy visit!

  2. Net says:

    Here’s a fun little exercise I do regularly, whether sitting at a desk at work, stopped at a red light, walking past a mirror… It’s helpful for us duck butt-ers. 🙂
    A mirror for visuals works as well and helps you get away from the crutch of your hands, but start with your hands helping you figure it out. Put your hand lightly in the space below your sternum between ribs. Think of closing the space in which your hand is touching you, squeezing the hand with your ribs. Obviously you can’t actually do that, but if you feel as if you’re doing that you’ll push your ribs backward and flatten your front. At first you’ll feel a tendency to bring your shoulders down and forward because of lack of muscle isolation, but once you practice enough it will actually make it easier to keep your shoulders straight and square. Once you get the feeling, try it again and feel what it does to your seat bones. Hey, look – when you do that, you don’t have to think about not sitting on your crotch!
    It helps you have a more natural non-restrictive position in your riding… and if your horse is one who tends to suck back and get aerial, increasing the amount of strength with which you do that is THE secret to getting him to go forward when he wants to go upward. If you were to go in my facebook albums and look at “Julie Leiken Clinic – December 11, 2011” and compare my position there to my position in other albums, you’ll see my back is much flatter and seat much more under me – because I was constantly having to ask him to go forward again as he tried to go upward.

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