Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Interesting Lesson

I have an ongoing issue with not sitting straight in the saddle.  Specifically, I tend to sit left.  Well, to be more accurate, I hang off the left side of the saddle.  I know it's because of my injury, since I didn't do it before I was injured.  But, "injured me" is the new normal for me, so I must learn to cope with it.

And I have... a few years ago I used to hang off the left side of saddle like a deranged trick rider: 

Hey!  Where'd they get a picture of me?  Just kidding, this picture is courtesy of Wikepedia's "Horse Riding Stunts" article.  I am not actually this talented!
Over the years since my injury, I have battled my tendency to sit off to the left.  I think that I have been fairly successful, in that mostly no one notices my tendency anymore.  An observant person will notice that my horse seems a little stiff to the left, but it takes a keen observer to note that the problem is starting with me.  I consider that a "win", since my horse performs as well as most and most people never notice my disability. 

My trainer, however, is a keen observer.   In my last lesson we were working on flexion, and he immediately noticed our left deficit.  He began with the standard  fix: Flex the horse left, put on your left leg, give the left rein.  It worked, but not really as well as it should have.  The more collection I introduce to Spider, the higher I travel up the training scale, the more apparent my deficit becomes.  He is a completely different horse in the left rein as opposed to the right rein!

In a fit of genius, my trainer suddenly yelled out "Look right!"  Now, this was while we were tracking left, so it goes completely against what we are taught as riders.  We are always taught to look in the direction of travel, because that shifts our body into the correct position to apply our aids for the bend.  Assuming, of course, that your body is normal.  Mine is not, as evidenced by my sitting to the left and interfering with my horse.

In my case, the directive to "look right" while tracking left pretty much fixed my horse!  My trainer was delighted, although he did admit that I looked sort of awkward like that.  In the space of one lesson, we couldn't really expand this new observation, so we left it at that.

I have, however, expanded on the idea in riding by myself, and I think I've hit upon how to make it really work as a long term fix.  I start my left hand bend looking right, I look right for several strides, then I cement that "looking right" feeling into my shoulders, spine and hips while slowly bringing my head back where it should be. I don't know exactly what it is about my conformation that makes me so discombobulated, although there are many suspects (numerous herniated discs and nerve damage, plus a degenerative scoliosis), but this little mental trick works like a charm.  In the end, you don't really need to find the exact source of the problem to fix it.  Sometimes I think I over-analyze problems, and then over-complicate them and give them too much space in my head, when I should just be moving forward and fixing them.

That's the thing I like most about my trainer.  He knows I was injured, but he still sees the rider I can be and not just the rider I am.  He is an FEI level competitor and an FEI judge, so he sees a lot more top competitors than I do.  And he assures me that every one of those top level competitors has physical issues.  So, I guess I'm doing good in that regard:  I'm just as injured as the top level competitors! ;)


  1. I am going to try this! I also sit left. Not sure why?

  2. Brilliant! I think too many people blame their horses for being hollow and stiff sided, without looking at their own riding. I know I cause my problems on the left rein and I can visualize how this 'trick' would help weight things more correctly. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Sounds like you have a really observant trainer. Looking right seems like an easy fix for your left sided way of going. Good luck with this new trick.

  4. Love your trainer! That is exactly the kind of "fix" my favorite trainer, Lockie Richards, would come up with. Once he told me, "Lift your right ear," and that fixed my crooked seat. All the theory and explanation too often puts all kinds of complications into our riding.

    Good for you in finding a simple and practical way to cement the concept into riding on your own. That proves both your own skill and the value of that lesson. It's only when we can take a lesson concept out of the formal setting and into our own private schooling that we know we have truly learned.

    Kudos to you and your very wise trainer.

  5. I hear ya. I busted my collar bone in a riding accident when I was 16. I am crooked in general as a result (complete with pain) and it definitely affects my riding.

  6. Sounds like your trainer found a great solution to your 'left leaning'.
    That's great!!

  7. Lovely trainer you have ^-^ (sorry been watching too many StarWars CloneWars).

    Have a look at my latest post about loose hips to the horse. I really like Wendy Murdoch fixes and article for position.

    Yes everybody is crooked, it will become so obvious at higher level ...

    I have also interesting audio from Colleen Kelly an FEI judge. she says to put more weight in a stirrup when you feel your lean on one side.

    You have definetely a great trainer.

  8. That's great that you figured out a fix!

    I've been getting a lot of chiro and massage trying to fix back problems, but mine are less permanent than yours. My muscles have been trained a certain way for well over a decade, so riding and trying to be straight is interesting.

    My instructions riding in a clinic w/ a biomechanics instructor came down to left seatbone back, right ribcage back, left shoulder back, head right. It's good for isolating muscle groups, that's for sure!

    (The isntructions were worded in a way that I could feel and do what she asked - the directions above wouldn't have worked for me.)

    Horses tend to lean into my left leg, bend right, and have much better right leads than left. This is my horse's tendency anyway, so it is a challenge to help my horse do better in the direction in which I'm worse! But awareness of the problem sure helps improve it. I agree that your instructor sounds great!

  9. I'm also a left leaner ;), though it's a hip issue with me.

    If I don't focus on being even, we can't turn left. On the other hand, my crookedness seems to help when we work on riding deep into the left handed corners.

    Sounds like you have a great trainer. Overcompensating does help to feel the evenness afterwords - now, how to keep that feeling :)

  10. That's awesome! Congrats on figuring out how to fix it. :)

    I over-analyze things too, so I totally get that hehe.


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