Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Corridors and Canter Mechanics pt 2

"They mirror us, both in our rightness and our wrongness. Also, they know our bottom line - how determined we are, and how little effort we will accept. When you change, your horse changes, and you are the key to evasions, limitations, and attitudes that many would attribute to him alone. The impact you have on him is far greater than you realize." -Mary Wanless
September 2015

Do you know where your seat-bones are right now? Did you know that they are shaped a bit like sled-runners, and that when you have your pelvis in a neutral position, you're balanced on the back half of those sled-runners?

Cobb Cycling's photo borrowed 100% without permission

Of course you did. Sorry for asking... but I have found myself asking this question of myself nearly constantly since my lesson with Tracey. You have to ask yourself what your own body is doing from time to time (or all the time) in order to keep track of all those pesky body parts.

I'm approaching this a little like mathematics. I'm re-learning dressage addition right now because I never totally learned it. Eventually I'll be able to 'chunk' movement patterns I'm training, but right now I have to track the variables down one by one and put them back in place. Stuff them back in place. Angrily stare at them until they go back where they belong. Beat them into obedience.

Wait, it's just a hand that floats and a foot that jams itself forward.

Okay, so you've located your seat bones (I'm sitting on my bed with a textbook under my butt for this one) and the seat bones are neutrally pointing straight down. Now tighten your butt muscles up, but slowly. Feel the muscle engage, then surround the seat bones, and eventually "pop" over the seat bones. You're now too-toned and popped off. Now repeat this whole process until you reach a place where you are toned and engaged and up but not popped off. 

Does it require a lot of focus? Which side is easiest to hold the tone or the padding and which side pops over more easily?

My right seat bone likes to pop first. This makes sense as I brace this leg forward using those same muscles.

Paul Belasik tells this story in his "Riding Toward The Light" wherein he reads about the ideal seat and essentially wears himself bloody, trotting stirrupless up and down this road hoping to reach "the possibility of sitting on a horse in a way that a rider could follow every movement and be practically glued to the horse without relying on grip." He didn't have a guide at the time other than the words in this book he borrowed from the library.

I felt a mental version of Belasik's journey when first thinking about this 'up versus down' rider. Tracey threw it to me almost as an after effect - of all the things we worked on, this we spent the least time on.

But it bit me, as ideas will, and here we are.

Being an "up rider" means that you carry yourself and your weight within your frame as much as is physically possible. Being an "up rider" involves a stable & engaged core, seat bones that don't jam into your horse's back, balance that allows you to carry the horse up with you and settle down to them.

So Megan took these really awesome photos and I'm going to keep them forever and eek them out one by one to you readers for selfish media hoarding purposes. <3 you all

You might ask yourself what the benefit is of being an up rider. I will allow Mary Wanless to answer:
"[The rider's] ultimate aim is to become a suction device that can draw the horse's back up under her, thus influencing his carriage."
Hey - I like that goal. Riding in a way that brings the horse's back to me just from the influence of my seat alone! No rein fiddling or butt driving or any of that nonsense... and therein lies the challenge.

Tracey first fixed my basic alignment, enthusiastically and often reminding me that my legs had drifted forward. Basic physics would state that I cannot resist gravity if I do not have my feet underneath me. Then Tracey encouraged me to bear down more effectively, to become less gushy in the middle.

She touched on building this muscle pad around my seat bones, but I did more research in quite a few books to build my conceptual understanding of being an up rider. There's a lot of different language to describe the ideal rider, but stillness appears to be one of the most fundamental underpinnings, as does a "braced back" or engaged core, and in experimenting with the feel these authors have described, I believe that the discussions of the back also are part of this muscle padding around the seat bone, just without as much anatomical detail. 

All of this to say: my understanding is that an up rider is one who first carries herself, and then carries the horse up with her. She cannot lose her balance and force the horse to carry her, either by collapsing on the saddle or pulling on the reins. She cannot carry herself without tone in her core, her back, and her pelvis. She cannot 'shove' with her seat or have more movement than the horse is actually moving.

By being still (relative to the horse), carrying herself with high tone, creating a seal of her seat and the saddle, she is able to influence the horse more clearly and help to bring his back up. After all, who wants to engage those long and powerful back muscles if the rider is only going flump back onto him, or cause him to tense his neck and upper back because his face gets pulled on.

And in this infinitely complex journey, let us continue tomorrow with walk-trot transitions, and some cantering. 


  1. I can produce so much of a better ride when I stop fiddling with myself! I definitely need to develop more core strength

    1. I feel ya sister, I really need to get my butt to the gym

  2. I had totally forgotten about the seatbone thing! I'm struggling to find that popping sensation, but I also haven't sat on anything hard enough yet.

    I think I ride too up, I keep being told to SIT DOWN by my trainer who apparently doesn't think I'm all too stable floating above the horse when he bucks. There's definitely a happy medium I think. Can't wait for the next post! The canter mechanics were my favorite, such a difference with Kat!

    1. Tracey talked about it AGAIN tonight so I think I'm generally on the right track.