Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A deeply biomechanics lesson

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about Mary Wanless over the last several months, and we all know that MW is a big proponent of ‘Biomechanics’ to the exclusion of nearly all else. I teach all my students about the three toolkits and describe Mary as the world’s foremost expert on the first toolkit. Except for... possibly... a trainer in my area. I guess she’s been working with Mary for 18 years, which is super cool.

I’ve been teaching for 14 years now, and one of the first books I checked out from the library was a Mary Wanless book. I’ve been teaching the woman’s words for a very long time. But riding with her and being held to the standard is absolutely a different thing, and exploring other human-movement modalities with the sole purpose of improving your first-toolkit teaching skills is yet another thing. All of this to say, Trainer Y is an absolute genius, and I teach aspects of my lessons with her on a nearly daily basis.

I was so excited to ride BGT with her because she recently rode an Andalusian to a 79% at training level (a test I got to watch and it really was spectacular, my sweet and horse-ignorant partner asked me if she was riding at a higher level than my 3rd level rider that weekend).

I started by lunging BGT in the chambon, which is my lunging accouterment of choice for a lot of reasons that I can get into on another post if you’re interested. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping by the minute, which makes most horses a bit extra spicy. 

Once mounted, he was a very good boy. We walked a bit in both directions before Y pulled me in and asked which leg I felt like I could stay more over the top of. I know that my right foot desperately wants to live in front of me, but also that I’ve spent a lot of time corraling that sucker back underneath me, so I remain convinced that my left leg is stronger overall but that my right leg is the more organized one. The photos she took and showed me led me to bemoan how much BOTH of my feet were too far out in front of me, so we started out by tackling a very global front-to-back line. I’ve taken a fair few lessons with her, so she pulled me in after maybe half a circle and traced the outline of my thighs on the saddle after she adjusted them and said to me that she wanted me to focus staying within those outlines, that I had to fill the outline evenly from my knee to my upper inner thigh, though absolute preference was given to the upper thigh.

My more-behaved leg is too much out in front of me and a hollow is slightly visible here
Then we started to tackle the fact that I’ve developed quite a hollow low down in my back, I’m not traditionally hollow with a lifted rib cage, but I do take several of my lumbar vertebrae way too far forward. By working relentlessly on staying over my thigh and filling the low back out, I started to get an entirely new feeling for the words, “imagine that you are the prow of a ship.” 

As a further result of years of working on my right leg, I am able to keep my right thigh significantly more stable along the horse’s back than I am my left thigh. Y had me work on a few things to snug up my left thigh, then wanted me to work on both keeping my left thigh against the saddle as snugly as was my right thigh, AND I had to keep my lower back completely filled out. You’re kidding me. Not possible. Too many moving pieces. But, like dripping water on a rock, I kept plugging away at it throughout the ride and produced some weird feelings in me, such as a bar from my left knee to my low back and as I snugged the left knee in I was able to use that bar to push my low back out, or feeling as if I was using my core to HOIST my pubic bone up, or the muscles around my seat bones and into my butt working double-time to knit the back of me up. 

Working on snugging up my upper inner left thigh
Once we moved into trot, keeping kneeling through my thigh, both thighs snug, weight down the entirety of my thigh, we started to tackle the fact that I need to get all the way to the top of the rise and think about pausing up there, slowing down the ascent AND the descent, not simply pausing at the very bottom, to start to encourage him to LIFT all of his body up underneath me and carry me along.

All this work surrounding getting into my thigh, posting over my knee, and then I started to sneak my sternum too far forward, Y said it wasn’t as much a concern to her as I felt it was, and looking at the photos I can see overall what she means.

Here working VERY hard in halt
I cantered a little bit on each lead and she told me that BGT reminded her of a horse she had in her barn and that she’d meditate on how to translate what she does with him to the way I ride and to the way my body is different than hers. I appreciate all her thought and all the help. 

Be gentle if you watch that video - there's a strangely large amount of fluidity of motion that appears to disappear when you're overly focused on too many things at once. BGT shows off his right drift, his lack of understanding of the go aids, and that he literally doesn't go on the bit at all yet unless tricked. 

The lesson was so technical and wonderful -- honestly, the best part of the day was when I came around the corner to pull him from his paddock and even just seeing him lit my face up. Maybe it’s irrational to put this much into a horse but I really am excited to have a horse again that really feels like mine, that really seems like a super reasonable option to put my ambitions into. I pulled a thoroughbred off the track last year who is wonderfully talented and I do love that mare so very much, but the reality is that the best way to help a horse transition off the track is to let them take the time it takes and while I don’t want to rush BGT in any inappropriate way at all - his issues are not necessarily the same as an OTTB’s and I’m hoping that he can physically and mentally handle carrying my ambitions and my dedication in the way that Moxie was able to carry all that. It’s a lot for a horse to carry, and I fully recognize that.


  1. These sort of lessons are so technical and require mental and physical attention to detail. They are hard. I think you definitely made changes in how your legs/thighs are.

  2. "I’m hoping that he can physically and mentally handle carrying my ambitions and my dedication"
    ☝️ This x1000. I know I'm guilty of not fully appreciating this load on my horses. You put it so perfectly. ❤ Glad you have this boy.

  3. "he literally doesn't go on the bit at all yet unless tricked" HA!

  4. I'm so delighted to hear about biomechanics pain and torture being inflicted upon you in a way you have so often inflicted it upon others! Ha!

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