Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Lean

I admit it, I'm a leaner.  I actually have to admit it, because it's getting hard to hide.  As Spider progresses up the levels, the work requires more and more balance.... from both of us.

Photographic evidence of the lean.  It's very Gangsta.


As you can clearly see above, I lean to the left.  As you can also clearly see, my lean frequently causes an otherwise nice ride to degenerate into a hot mess.  My horse is tense and his haunches are trailing because I've come unbalanced and have my inside hand in my lap.

Now, it has been argued several times between my trainer and I whether I lean because Spider is hollow and weak through his left side, or because I am hollow and weak through my left side.  In the end, that really doesn't matter, though.  "Who leaned first" is one of those "chicken or egg" type circular arguments that just lead you down a rabbit hole of crappy riding if you let them.  It's got to be fixed, which means all the issues (Spider's and my own) must be addressed.

So, let's address the issues.  We'll start with Spider's issues, because I write the blog.

Many horse's have a stiff side and a hollow side.  Spider is stiff to the right and hollow to the left.  This means that the muscles on the left side of his body are very tight.  To help him loosen this up, we spend the beginning of our warm up tracking right while developing a very pronounced flexion to the right.  Once he can easily stretch his neck around to the right without coming above the bit, we move on to shoulder-in to the right.  Once he does those without throwing his head up, we change direction.  (We do the flexions and shoulder-ins at all three gaits, by the way.)

Tracking left presents a new set of problems.  It's Spider's hollow side.  "Hollow" because his muscles are so tight and short in that direction that he gives the appearance of being bent without actually doing it.  Instead of actually bending to the left, he pops his right shoulder out.  This just makes him crooked, rather than the smooth flexion that is desired.  His left hind is weak and tends to drift to the outside, not coming underneath him and taking the weight, which is the root of the entire problem.  His haunches are thrown to the outside, which makes his whole body crooked, which causes him to tighten his neck and pop his shoulder to give the "appearance" of the bend I'm asking him for.  So, in this direction I ride him in a slight haunches-in.  This forces him to take the weight on his left hind, prevents him from falling out and straightens him.  (By "straighten", I mean "straight on the circle" so that his body takes the shape of an ")" instead of an "}")

Now, if you are sitting on a horse that pops his right shoulder out while contracting the left side of his neck and abdomen, you will notice that the left side of his back suddenly goes hollow and drops out from under you.  If you already have a tendency to lean because you don't have the core strength to steady yourself, you will suddenly find yourself hanging off the left side of your horse like a drunken monkey (see above).  Which brings us to my issues....

I already have a tendency to lean because my left side is my weak side (how ironic is it to end up with a horse that has the same weak side as the rider?  I wonder if I made him that way?).  So, what can I do about it?  Obviously, I can hit the gym.  I do quite a bit of Pilates and Yoga to keep myself strong, balanced and centered.  But, on the horse, there are also things I can do.

First off, I can keep my hands in front of the saddle pad.  See how it's my left hand that's come back?  That's because I've collapsed my left side and now I'm relying on my left hand to keep my balance.  You can even see how I've pulled my left shoulder up and put my elbow out to brace myself on that arm.  By keeping my hands forward, out in front of the saddle pad, I force myself to engage my abs because I physically can't use my hands for balance in that position.

Second, I can make sure that I weight both my right and left seat bones equally. Because I lean left, this requires a constant, conscious effort on my part to shift my weight to the right, especially when tracking left. The slightest shift in my weight to the left throws us both off.

When I'm properly weighted and engaged, Spider goes better, too. By keeping my weight even in the saddle, I am able to use my aids more clearly and effectively. With my hands forward, I am engaging my core and freeing my hands to follow the bit.

When all my aids are clear and effective, I can help Spider by pushing him to use his weak side and stay even himself. Which is a pretty good incentive to fix the leaning, I think.







22 comments:

  1. Great post, I can relate totally. I'm trying to train a young horse with all the usual balance issues and trying to train my body at the same time - not an easy task!!

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    1. It is not an easy task! And it only gets harder as the horse gets older, so kudos to you for working so hard on it now. I've ridden many a "trained" horse with balance issues because it was never addressed early on on, and I've probably been responsible for a few "trained" horses with balance issues!

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  2. I love the detail in this post.

    Harley is also hollow left and I tend to collapse left. I think that it is something that a rider always has to think about and check periodically, even after "correcting" the problem with 10,000 repetitions. I also like to lean forward. And I like to lean back. I have been corrected for all three at one time or another. I guess I should just start leaning right and be done with it. ;)

    My teacher has taught me to rotate away from the collapsed side, horse or rider. I have found this to be amazingly helpful within the gait and during transitions. It lines everything up again and when my horse's movement improves I know that we are both straight! I love lateral work for straightness, too.

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    1. I recently read a study that claimed it took around three months for a new skill to become an ingrained "habit". And, you must be consistent in those three months. In other words, I've got a ways to go.

      My trainer says the same thing, actually! He had me riding with my head turned toward my right shoulder for an entire lesson. I still do it when I need to!

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  3. Very true for many of us, I tend to collapse my right shoulder, which brings up my right hip, which . . .etc., etc. You may find for a while that you have to exagerate the correction, because it'll feel weird to make even a small change.

    Most odd motions/odd bends/collapsing on the part of a horse can be traced to rider balance/position.

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    1. So true! It's amazing how we can effect their movement so radically when we're just 1/10 of their size.

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  4. Great diagnosis. I've been trying to hold my hands in front of the saddle pad too. I find it helps me keep them aligned with Rogo's shoulders instead of putting more weightinto one rein than the other (usually the left).
    I was going to suggest riding bareback to get your seat bones evenly weighted, but then remembered Spider is a thoroughbred - probably not too comfortable :). If you can ride with just a bareback pad it does wonders for keeping you balanced evenly, but then I'm sure you know that.

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    1. I only ride bareback in the coldest parts of winter when Spider is wearing his heavy blanket, otherwise I get a withers wedgie!

      I actually never thought of trying a bareback pad. Hmmm.... I may have to cruise on over to the tack store.

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  5. Sounds a bit to familiar, as we discussed earlier on my blog. You do lean a lot more than I do, however. Mine is more of a dropped hip.

    Today when I rode I thought about pushing my leaning side leg a bit forward as I found it was dropping back. That helped immensely and both my horses were not dropping me off to the side.

    Another exercise that can help is for you to stretch your arm up and over your head on the leaning side (the left) making you stretch your body on that side. Bring your thigh and hip a bit forward as you do the exercise and let your hip rotate a little back on the right side.

    Once you are really conscious of your leaning, it makes it easier to fix. I think that photo should glue itself in your brain when you ride. Then, you can visualize adjusting your seat so the photo is straight. It's going to be hard work, but you can do it!

    I wonder too...if my swimming has helped. I make sure I breathe to the left going up the pool and the right coming back so that everything I do works both sides of my body as equally as possible. If so, then doing some good physical exercise, as you suggest might really make a difference.

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    1. Your blog actually inspired me to write this post!

      Many of my Yoga poses are similar to the stretch you described. I need to do them more often! I imagine swimming helps quite a bit with keeping you symmetrical, as it isn't really a "sided" activity. I've never liked swimming, much... I wonder if that's why?! I'm more of a "floater". *L*

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  6. I find that I raise my right hand, have no idea why so I ride around thinking to myself, right hand down, right hand down, right hand down.....

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    1. I tend to bring my right hand up and over toward the left. I have a piece of twine tied to the D-ring on the right side of my saddle pommel, I grab it when I want to steady that hand.

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    2. ooo the twine is a GREAT idea!! Will incorporate that!

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  7. Replies
    1. We can start a club: "Soon-To-Be Former Leaners"!

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  8. You have the ingredients... now to mix them up and bake them into the finished product!

    BTW - I lean too - but because my bones are physically shorter on my right than on my left, so I over compensate. On Rosie because she is so wide it's not so noticiable - but me on a normal sized horse and it's obvious.

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    1. It sounds so easy, now to put it to practice!

      I have scoliosis, as well as some neurologic deficits on my left side from an old injury, so I totally understand the physical limitations. It's tough to get straight when your anatomy is working against you!

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  9. That is some darn good information you put out there. I will sure be trying to keep myself a little straighter up in the saddle now.

    Also, I do beleive I saw a message that today is your Birthday...So happy Birthday!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad I could help!

      Thanks for the birthday wishes! Although, I must say that it is not my birthday today. It is, however, Mohandas Ghandi's birthday. I list October 2nd as my birthday on most social networking sites because I think the requirement of adding a birthdate is silly. Since Ghandi was a pioneer in the Non-cooperation Movement and in civil disobedience, I use his birthday.

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    2. Your birthday appropriation is too funny Shannon.

      Thanks for an informative post - photos don't lie! I'm a right side collapser and leaner. ;D

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  10. I too have scoliosis and lean to the left! So obvious in pics of my riding. I am pretty good at trying to correct the lean when I am schooling on my own - but in a lesson, I am concentrating on so many things that I forget about fixing my lean. And in a show - forget it!

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    1. It is extraordinarily hard to fight against your own anatomy. And I find it even more difficult to do it at shows! I use yoga practices to help straighten myself and build strength off the horse. On the horse, I try to use yoga breathing and centering exercises to keep myself straight and even in the saddle. It's especially useful at shows, because it also helps me keep calm and focused!

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