Tuesday, 10 November 2009

WE need to get back to lazy horses, except that I am going to talk about backward thinking horses, who are different to lazy horses in that they invest energy in not going. It is not simply that their batteries run down, it is that they actively attempt to pull the rug out backwards from under your feet. In other words, they actively attempt to get your centre of gravity in front of theirs.
In these horses, there is usually a 'block' within the body that stops energy from getting through - it can be in the loin area behind the saddle, or somewhere around the shoulders. The muscles in that area are locked up, and bodywork (like Chiropractic, massage etc) often really helps them. But by design or default, these are the horses who do not want to work, and they are some of the most difficult, and least fun horses to ride - until they let go.
These horses have discovered that when your centre of gravity is in front of theirs, you are virtually powerless. You can flail about and sweat a lot up there, but not much will happen. The horse might kick out at your leg or stick, and he might be even more nappy than that. But the picture - and the horse's attitude - can change completely once your centre of gravity is back enough to be over his.
All of the techniques I teach become refined over time as riders learn them in layers. I often think of learning being like peeling the layers of an onion, with each layer offering a more in-depth, effective fix. But the outermost layer that I am about to suggest can be really potent if you are able to do it.
Think of yourself like a napkin ring around a napkin (the horse). If the napkin ring were able to move back around the napkin, then more napkin would be in front of it. This is precisely what you want. So think of your knees coming further back, your thighs coming further back, your pubic bone and your seat bones coming further back. There literally is more horse in front of you if you can do this, and your effort has go to into staying back here. You may well feel that you must surely be sitting too far back in the saddle - but go for this feeling, wierd though it is.
If you kick from this place you will probably get a positive result, but if you end up flailing about with your centre of gravity on front to the correct point, you might as well just get off! Do not censor the feeling of 'backness', go for it as strongly as you can, and you are likely to find that it pays huge dividends.
Good luck!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Back to speedy horses...
It always pays to be on control of the speed of the legs in the slower gaits before you go to a faster one - so do not trot until you controlling the speed of the legs in walk, and do not canter until you are controlling them in trot. Rising trot becomes an important skill here, and the first way to think about slowing the legs is to think of making a pause in the saddle as you land, and a pause in the air at the top of the rise. Each of these pauses happens as one diagonal pair of legs is on the ground, and it helps to keep them on the ground for longer, becoming the antidote for the horse who is like a 'cat on hot bricks'!
That sounds great in theory, but most people arrive in the saddle only to find that they are instantly catapulted out of it! This will inevitably happen if you are hollow backed, and land with your seat bones pointing back. You will also hit trouble if you forget to rise because you are thinking so much about the pause. The trust you make as you rise must match the thrust of the horse's hind leg, and this can be an act of faith on the speedy horse. All your instincts (especially if you are a nervous rider) will direct you to barely leave the saddle. But if you do this you are 'left behind' in the rise, becoming the water skiier to the horse's motor boat! Then, as he 'pulls the rug out from under your feet' your plight can only get worse. it is absolutely critical that your centre of gravity 'keeps up' with his.
Think of the windscreen wipers on a car. They always get to the top of the windscreen, and potentially they could pause at the top and pause at the bottom without this affecting the size of their 'wipe'. If you manage to make the 'full wipe' and the pause both work together you will know - even if you only manage the pause on one sit. It is inescapably different, and the horse's response is instantaneous.
This is a hard skill to 'get' on your own, however, and you will be doing really well if you can translate my words into action without any outside help. I hope you can!
Good luck!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hello!Time for more about riding the lazy horse....
As well as being tempted to kick every stride, most riders are also tempted to shove with their backside. The lazier the horse, the more riders tend to shove - and the terms 'use your seat' and 'drive him forward' imply that this is a good thing to do. But not so!
Think of riders from the Spanish Riding School, and how still they sit. It is the stillness of the world's best riders that sets them apart from the rest of us as we shove, wiggle, and generally flail around - especially on the lazy horse. The more you do this, the more you show the horse that you are a novice. Think of sitting more still - keeping your body firm, still and lined up, while delivering the message 'Me Tarzan, you horse!'
When you kick from the knee down nothing must move from the knee up. What happens to your thighs, seat bones and backside when you kick? Do you wobble, shove, or jerk? Keeping the same quiet contact with the saddle is not so easy as it sounds!
The movement of each seat bone just keeps it moulded on to the horse's back. It is a much smaller movement than many riders think, and must be controlled by the rider. It must be very reliable - no sudden surprises for the horse. When I look at a rider, I do not want to see movement in her breeches - her outsides (as it were) stay glued onto the same place on the saddle throughout the horse's stride, while her seat bones move over her flesh within her backside. This means that the movements are small and controlled - like those Spanish Riding School riders. Good luck!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Let's go back to speedy horses..... being able to slow down the speed of your seat bones and slow down the speed of the horse's legs is the key thing here. If the horse moves your seat bones at his speed, then 'he takes you', when you slow them down to the speed that you want and are in control of, then 'you take him'.
Another big factor is breathing. You may well find yourself holding your breath on a horse that speeds off with you - and of course, he may be holding his breath too! It works well to think of 'breathing for both of you' and 'breathing down into the pony'. This may sound like kids stuff, but I have helped one international Grand Prix Dressage rider make huge changes to her GP horse by breathing down into him! It totally changed his body quality, making him much softer and less brittle. Think of the breath as a colour that goes down through your body and into his.
Put your breathing into a rhythm with the horse's walk. Count his forelegs moving, and breathe in 2,3,4, out,2,3,4. Maybe you can do 6's. Make sure you think of the breath going down - many riders are upper chest breathers, who lift the front of their ribs with each inbreath. Try not to do this: your ribs can expand outward, but must not go upwards. That automatically brings the breath more down, and you can amplify this effect by imagining that the breath is drawn down into your pelvis.
Breathing hold the key to so much, and I will come back to it in future posts. If you are coming up to something scarey, deliberately breathe OUT - we tend to breathe in and then hold our breath. If you make yourself breathe out you can stop that from happening, and you automaticaly send a much more calming message to your horse.
All the best!

Monday, 24 August 2009

So some tips about riding the lazy horse....
The biggest trap is to kick repeatedly in a way that is usually described as nagging. Riders often lift their heel and turn their toe out as they do this, making more of a nudge than a kick. Sometimes when teaching I get riders to say the word 'kick' to me every time they kick - then I say the word 'kick' to them every time I see them kick - there is often a big discrepancy, which tells us both that they are using their leg on 'auto-pilot'. Many people learn to do this in their early days of riding lazy horses in the riding school, and never loose the habit. The rule is that if you use your leg, you have to mean it, and if you do not mean it, do not use it.
Think about getting out of bed in the morning, and think of telling yourself or someone else that they have to get out of bed. The conversation could just keep going 'You've got to', 'I don't want to', 'You've got to'.... in a never ending cycle of misery for both sides. Once you actually get out of bed, life is much better than it is when you are thinking about getting out of bed! So metaphorically, you might have to 'rip the bedclothes' off your horse. Once you have him out of bed, you might have to say 'Not with me you don't!' if he threatens to climb back in there - this is prevention rather than cure, and is far easier on you and him.
Sometimes I see people who are putting up a big show of trying to get their horse going forward, complete with backside shoving, legs nudging, and a lot of sweat. They are thrilled to be able to tell me that 'I am trying...' - but if they actually succeeded, they would probably be terrified! To try and to succeed are two different options, and for many riders succeeding is an act of courage, and so out of their 'comfort zone' that they make sure it never happens!
More on this next time!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Mary's training tips

I am finally a real person with friends on Facebook, so now is the time to connect them and you to my blog, and post a new riding/training tip each week. so here goes with my first offering......

If you are riding a speedy horse, your first job is to get control of the speed of his legs. The burning question is: does he move you, or do you move him? Whoever controls the speed and movement of your seat bones controls the speed and movement of his legs. We all like to think that we can slow down the horse's legs by pulling on the reins.. but no chance! The horse will probably get claustrophobic and move faster, not slower! Instead you need to slow down the speed of your seat bone movement, and often to make that movement smaller. Be sure you can feel your seat bones - if you are 'popping up' by tightenning the muscles betwen them and the saddle you will not be able to make this work.
Imagine the tip of a pencil attached to each seatbone. What lines/shapes would those pencils draw in each stride? Are they the same? Is one a deeper, darker more repeatable line, and one a random squiggle? Can you even them out? Can you slow them down, and make them smaller?
Exerpiment to find out the effects this has.
Good luck! we'll talk about lazy hores next time!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Finally... I am blogging again! I had to get my webmaster to re-show me how to do it. It seems that I have a brain like a sieve when it comes to computers. Oh well!
It is now April 09, and it seems a long way from July 08. I have made two teaching trip to the USA over the winter, mostly teaching people I know well, and both trips were great fun. They also catalysed a lot of insights, some of which are ideas I could have thought of years ago. It is amazing how just thinking of something in a slightly different way can have so much effect, and how it changes they way that your brain organises your muscles. I still marvel about this even though I have experienced and seen it so many times over so many years.
My own horses, Quite and Merlot, keep demanding that I get better organised. Merlot (who was given to me by some American friends who had had enough of his antics) has, in reality, provided the learning curve from hell. His asymmetry has (of course) played on mine, and I have had to figure out a lot more about both sides of my body. I have also had to become stronger per se. He is now becoming much easier to ride, and way more willing to stay with my agenda.
It has really helped learning about Andrew McLean's approach to groundwork (aebc.com.au), and been very exciting to see how he and Heather Blitz (the American Grand prix dressage rider I have coached for many years) have independently come up with a similar philosophy. Whilst Heather does not use this in groundwork, her ideas about how to 'get through to' the horse
in ridden work are essentially the same as Andrew's. It is very exciting that we now have good ways to address the horse's conscious mind as well as his instinctive responces to the pyhsics of our riding.
Overdale is buzzing, with Karin doing a great job at the helm. We have some new horses at livery and in training, and they are available for people to ride on courses. Our older stalwarts are all doing well, and teaching well. The leaves are coming out on the trees, and the sun is shining, so at least we are all breathing out after a long snowy winter.
I am back to the US very soon for another short trip - including the 'Naked Truth of Riding' symposium in St Paul MN. I am looking forward to this hugely, and plan to have it videod with a view to making a new set of DVDs. This could take a while, though, so don't hold your breath!