Monday, May 28, 2012

If My Horse Can't Bend Right . . . a Detective Story

I mentioned to Heather in passing last week that all my horses have some difficulty tracking right - they tend to fall in around the corners and have trouble maintaining a right bend, no matter what I did with my inside leg or reins.  The odds are pretty low that this is the result of this being something going on physically with all three horses, in the same direction, and it was also clear that doing more wasn't the solution.   I told Heather that I thought it was quite likely my horses' difficulty tracking right was the result of something I was doing with my body. Pie is the most affected, as he's still learning to carry himself, Dawn goes into the corners and bends but tends to get braced and Red is the least affected since he carries naturally carries himself so well that he can compensate although his right lead is weaker.  I'd also noticed something a bit odd.  I ride in riding tights, but without chaps, boots or half chaps.  I'd noticed that my right calf often had horse hair on it after I rode, while the left one did not, which meant I was using my right leg differently than my left one.  Hmm . . .

Now for some detective work!  Now what were the horses doing with their bodies?  They weren't maintaining a right bend easily, which meant that the right shoulder was tending to fall to the inside and the right hind wasn't able to step under well.  My suspicion was that I was doing something with my body to affect their balance, that required them to assume that posture to carry me.  My work with Heather on my posture has really make me aware of how important small changes can be - just lifting my chin and keeping my eyes and focus up completely changes my horses' balance and way of going - freeing up the front end and allowing forward to happen.

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while will have heard about the concept of mirroring - the idea that a problem in a particular part of the horse's body often will be due to a problem in the corresponding part of the rider's body.  So right shoulder of the horse falling in - right shoulder!  My suspicion was that my right shoulder was the problem.  I tested my hypothesis this morning when riding both Dawn and Pie.  All I did was, when rounding a corner, was have my head turn slightly to focus on the turn while keeping my chin up, but also make a conscious effort to lift my right shoulder - I probably only raised my shoulder an inch or less.  Bingo!  Both horses motored around all corners and circles to the right, stepping under themselves with the right hind and moving deep into the corners with a proper bend - and I was doing absolutely nothing with my hands or inside leg to make this happen! My whole right side felt longer, and I felt completely straight and centered in the saddle. I think I had been dropping my right shoulder a bit as we turned to the right and probably also slightly tipping my head to the right, putting extra weight on the horse's right shoulder.  The result of my right shoulder coming down was also to bring my right leg up slightly into the horse, effectively shortening my right side and also blocking the movement of the inside right hind.  I tested my hypothesis multiple times on each ride and the result was the same - mystery solved!  And after my rides - no horse hair on my right calf.

Just for fun, I went back to the videos to see if I could spot the problem I'd identified.  Sure enough, there it was.  Here's Pie trotting - look carefully at about seconds 5 and 6 - it doesn't help that I don't have my chin and focus up.  And here I'm asking Dawn for a right lead canter departure at seconds 18 and 19 - my head and right shoulder drop to the right, weighting her right shoulder and making it harder for her.

My horses seemed pretty pleased that they'd finally managed to get through to me, although they say I'm sometimes a slow learner . . .

16 comments:

  1. Sounds like a breakthrough. And so great you have video to confirm your suspicions. ;)

    Erik Herbermann calls how you carry your shoulders and hips on a horse the "living X".

    It helps me to think about keeping lines from each shoulder to each opposing hip (heel) equal in latitude and longitude.

    Hope that makes sense the way I explained it. :)

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  2. Another keen observation. I have to be careful of my own seat's staying centered as well as I tend to do similar things. Fortunately, when things to awry, I usually know it's one of old habits creeping in so I can fix it.

    Nicely done for both Pie and Dawn.

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  3. Once again, your horses are your teacher. You listen well, Kate.

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  4. I've noticed that by the end of my ride my saddle is almost always slightly crooked...a little off to the right. I don't have any reason to believe that my legs are crooked so it's got to be something I'm doing crooked.

    I would have never thought to start the investigation at the shoulders, but I guess it's a whole chain reaction on down. Great post!

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  5. I am going to have to try this. I have the EXACT same problem with Panama, and I've always wondered if it's something I'm doing. Out of curiosity, are you right or left handed?

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    1. So am I, Kate. Very interesting! My trainer says that right-handed riders prefer going to the left, which I don't get but it's sure true with me. And I know I talked to someone who thinks that most horses prefer going to the left, too -- it's got to be that more riders are right-handed, and inadvertently train that into their horses as well! I am definitely going to try paying more attention to my right shoulder -- like you, I was thinking more in terms of legs initially -- and see if my problem is caused by my shoulder, too.

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  6. Kate, Great observation and solution! I am going to try it as well, as I have trouble getting my horse to take the right lead, and my saddle sometimes slides to the right. Thank you!

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  7. Seems we both are having epiphanies. =) Good job looking to yourself to find the problem.

    =)

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  8. Very interesting! I recently learned in a lunge lesson that I was actually turning my shoulder out when I turned, instead of following the turn of the horse. What a huge difference it made when I corrected it. You were very astute to pick your shoulder issue up so quickly. Sounds like a minor adjustment made a big difference.

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  9. I love this. It is cool that you found such an easy fix.

    My teacher has me rotate out (opposite to the turn) to correct collapsing or over-turning. I think that it is easier to ride left if one is right-handed, because your stronger, steadier hand is the outside rein. I have to coach myself to make the same kind of contact with my left hand when we travel right, which is also my horse's less bendy side.

    Another thing to look for is the position of your right leg. My right hip and leg will slip back too far if I am not careful. This makes the left lead and left bend easier to initiate. I remind myself by pushing my right seat bone forward once in while in right bend.

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  10. Love this. I am trying so hard to do the same thing. Look where I am going and let my horse follow. :)

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  11. I find it really fascinating how little it takes from us to affect the horse's way of going.

    When Griffin and I are riding over poles, If I look down even the slightest little bit, Griffin will stop in refuse to step over. It took me a while to realize that I was leaning forward and making it hard for him to lift his body.

    It took me several rides to figure this out, and I was embarrassed a little when I realized it was something so simple.

    Horses are just Amazing creatures!!

    I'm glad you were able to figure it out :-D

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  12. We ALL should do the same! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Wait, my horse is under strict instructions to only mirror the good things I do.

      :)

      Julie Goodnight has an interesting post about imagining your hips as headlights, which I think will help me straighten up as well. You might want to give it a read...

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  13. I wonder if you've seen this, and what you might think about it. http://academicartofriding.com/free-online-course/. Cristie

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