A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to C

Christy is a dressage biomechanics nerd, and her research, practice and discoveries have directly benefitted me, and no more than they did tonight. My lesson took an unexpected turn and we wound up identifying – and solving – a big and persistent problem I’ve been having.  Be warned, what follows will be granular and bio-mechanically oriented.

Our plans for the lesson went off the rails when, warming up at the walk, I caught myself in a bad habit.  I complain a lot about getting “twisted up” in the saddle.  Well, it turns out, I really and truly was doing exactly that.  As I walked Derby in a shallow serpentine, I was using my seatbones to guide his bend.  However, my left seatbone (always the offender) ended up almost on the cantle after I had tried to muscle Derby into bending left.  I caught myself doing it, and was able to realize that I’d gotten myself into a pretty untenable position in the saddle.

“Christy! I’m doing it! This is my problem! When I get “twisted up,” I end up with my left seatbone up almost on the cantle!”  Derby and I staggered toward her, maintaining this horrific state of affairs so she could see. The wheels in her head went into hyperdrive (I swear I could see them spinning) and she got to work.

We started by re-acquainting me with my seatbones and sitting straight. Seems obvious, but this is the very root of my problems. I tend to collapse pretty significantly to the right.  Clearly, I’ve developed this crazy twisting, seat-bone-pushing habit to try to compensate.  (It doesn’t work very well.)

So, sitting straight in the saddle, Christy had me walk.  She observed that I use my hips differently – our first clue.  My right hip, she said, follows the motion of the horse.  The left hip, she said, tends to push outward, rather than forward, with the motion and looks more stiff.  Well, she’s right.  My left hip is stiffer, and it’s a bit arthritic.

Making a point of following the motion, she watched carefully while she had me do a variety of different things.   Then she proceeded to install a new (and more correct) bending aid.  It worked beautifully at the walk, but I struggled at the rising trot.  Putting the changes into motion (and avoiding the temptation of reverting to my old habits) was tough.  To stay focused on implementing the changes she made to my seat, Christy had me focus on what specific muscles on my left side were doing.  At one point, as I accidentally enaged my quads instead of my hip flexors, Derby bobbled, which she saw just as I said “Dang! Wrong muscle!”

This little mishap led me to vocalize my concern that all my strong pushing, pushing, pushing on that left side (to the point where I have worn holes in breeches under my left seatbone, mind you) had desensitized Derby.   Christy reminded me, however how sensitive Derby is (and most other horses are, for that matter) to changes in balance,  and to think in terms of creating the space for the horse to go.

I was eventually able to figure out which muscles I needed to be using at the same time I was using my core.

“Your horse is a mirror of you,” Christy said. “If you’re not connected, your horse won’t be, either.”

As I became more attuned to the new muscles I was using, things started to click into place.  Though I wasn’t really asking (and we weren’t really moving) the horse started to round of his own accord.  The turns were soft and quiet.  And most amazingly, because I wasn’t driving my hip and leg into Derby’s side, my leg was quiet – and available to give other aids.

It was a seriously illuminating lesson and I can’t wait to get back in the saddle tomorrow night.