Clinic Recap: USDF Instructor Workshop

Screenshots until I compile all the video

Saturday TC and I participated in a different kind of clinic as demo riders. The ‘clinic’ was actually an instructor workshop, as a learning opportunity for instructors working towards their USDF certification at that level. The format then, was a little different. I rode, and received feedback from the participant, who then received feedback from the clinician on her lesson plan, how she gave me direction, etc. Basically it ended up being a free lesson for us and an excellent chance to get us off-property in a relaxed (though effing cold and blustery) atmosphere. Win-win!

Once TC realized the horses in the giant outdoor mirrors weren’t going to eat him, he quickly relaxed into the work. Overall the crowd, clinician, and his owner (plus myself) were all thrilled with him and highly complimentary- everyone wanted to sneak him onto their trailers and take him home. Not bad for a barrel-racing bred paint pony. And I admit, I’m a little proud of him- the way his body has changed in the last couple months has been pretty impressive.

For me, I felt like they were less impressed. I had to engage my thick-skin mode and soak it up as a learning opportunity, since in order to educate the participant’s eye, all of my flaws were described in detail. The highlights include:

  • I sit left. Very left, all the time. How does this help the horse, who also is heavy on the left? None. It helps none.
  • I ride like a chicken- I need to keep my elbows close by my side
  • I collapse my right side
  • I balance myself on my stirrups
  • I brace my legs into downward transitions
  • I hollow my lower back
  • I lift my shoulders and get tense in my upper body
  • I need to open my hip flexors and get my legs back

In order to fix a couple of my offending traits, a few things were proposed:

  • Take my stirrups away – it’s hard to be crooked/lean without stirrups
  • Do lunge lessons
  • Get stronger in my core
  • Teach me the breathe
  • Get that sweet pony a different rider (just kidding)

I also left with some exercises to set us up for success- and mostly this was focused around working on getting that left shoulder lighter (which of course would help if I didn’t constantly try to grind it into the dirt with my weight). We need to work on turns-on-the-forehand, since his lack of education around this was a low point in our lesson. We can also do a tear-drop type exercise to pick up the left lead canter while he’s in my outside (right) rein. Similarly, leg yielding in and out by closing my outside leg and encouraging him again to weight the outside rein.

Overall, I came away with some new opinions about myself as a rider, but feel determined to improve from the experience. I learned what TC is like in a new environment, and am so pleased that he stepped up to the plate. It gives me confidence that more outings are definitely going to be in our future!

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Tribulations of Fighting my Body

I have a hollow lower back. The scientific name for it is Lordosis, but to me that is a maniacal sounding term and so I’ll just avoid it for now.

I’ve known that it causes issues with achieving correct equitation for some time- but it wasn’t until recently that I have attempted to correct it after watching a professional sports therapist talk about the alignment of the pelvis and how achieving the right alignment helps us to breathe more effectively and lots of other benefits.

Somewhere between a forked seat and an upright seat

So I have been attempting to correct my lower back when riding, thinking about tucking my pelvis under and engaging my lower back muscles. It means that after every ride, my lower back aches immensely, but I am hoping to achieve the picture of full postural strength as seen in the below image:

Article found here

I’m still struggling to maintain my balance in this position, and no surprise- my body has been holding itself the wrong way for almost 3 decades! But it feels like slowly the muscle memory is starting to build. And I’m building a strong collection of gels and bars and salts to help alleviate the post-ride back pain.

Does anyone have a go-to pain relief for their back that they can recommend? And has anyone been through a similar struggle of retraining their body and been successful? Would love to hear your story!

Chair Seat Woes

I’ve been fairly honest on this blog about my lack of [any] formal education when it comes to equitation. My training to this point basically revolves around not hitting the horse in the mouth over fences, and staying on. Not so formal training includes friends in the arena yelling at me (which I invite). So it comes as no surprise that after years of riding dirty stoppers, run-aways, and the occasional naughty train Irish Draught, I’ve developed a very defensive jumping position- namely, the chair seat.

Starting young with the chair seat

Starting young with the chair seat

Part of my issue in the past has been that my stirrups have been too long, and going back to some images of me riding it’s fairly obvious that’s lending itself to my poor eq.

Hello, ultra long stirrups. Hello, chair seat.

Hello, ultra long stirrups. Hello, chair seat.

I’ve been cajoled convinced to shorten my stirrups up in the extreme, and this week bumped up into stirrup leather territory that has never been punctured.

Blurry ass screen grab complete with youtube line. Now that's quality media.

This week’s attempt. (Blurry ass screen grab from complete with youtube line. Now that’s quality media right there.)

Yesterday was a bit better than this even, as with every stride I reminded myself to attempt to “point my knees down” and post back into my heel. All went well at the walk and the trot, but my attempts at two-pointing without chair leg at the canter sent my ankle into fiery spasms that took minutes to recover after every session.

Oh hello, chair seat.

Chair seat, my oldest friend.

Some of my struggle is obviously built into my muscle memory at this point, but all of the photos here have another thing in common (other than my two year old self, because duh): the saddle.

The Marcel Toulouse Marielle Monoflap

The Marcel Toulouse Marielle Monoflap

I remember when I was shopping for a new saddle (probably 8 years ago), I was specifically looking for a saddle that had a more forward stirrup bar. Now I wonder if the forward flap and stirrup position are adding to my frustrations to find a more solid lower leg. When I have my leg completely under me, it hits the rear block. But, I certainly don’t want to blame my poor position on the tack if that’s not the culprit either.

Training warmup vertical

Blurry screengrabs- we’re full of them here. And the one of very few images where my eq doesn’t entirely disgust me over fences.

At this point the tack issue is probably all moot, since it’s not really worth saddle shopping until I know what equine prince charming I’ll end up with. However, next weekend I’m on the horse hunting trail again and trying anywhere from 4-7 jumping horses, and I’d rather not feel like more of a numpty than I normally do.

[Edit: scroll down to comments to see various video progressions of the chair seat, with this video as being what I consider my “best” position in this saddle]

Saddle experts and eq princesses, chime in- what can I do to find my balance and not be disgraced by my chair seat woes? Is there anything I can do with my current saddle to fix the issue? Is it the saddle at all?