Monday, May 28, 2012

If My Horse Can't Bend Right . . . a Detective Story

I mentioned to Heather in passing last week that all my horses have some difficulty tracking right - they tend to fall in around the corners and have trouble maintaining a right bend, no matter what I did with my inside leg or reins.  The odds are pretty low that this is the result of this being something going on physically with all three horses, in the same direction, and it was also clear that doing more wasn't the solution.   I told Heather that I thought it was quite likely my horses' difficulty tracking right was the result of something I was doing with my body. Pie is the most affected, as he's still learning to carry himself, Dawn goes into the corners and bends but tends to get braced and Red is the least affected since he carries naturally carries himself so well that he can compensate although his right lead is weaker.  I'd also noticed something a bit odd.  I ride in riding tights, but without chaps, boots or half chaps.  I'd noticed that my right calf often had horse hair on it after I rode, while the left one did not, which meant I was using my right leg differently than my left one.  Hmm . . .

Now for some detective work!  Now what were the horses doing with their bodies?  They weren't maintaining a right bend easily, which meant that the right shoulder was tending to fall to the inside and the right hind wasn't able to step under well.  My suspicion was that I was doing something with my body to affect their balance, that required them to assume that posture to carry me.  My work with Heather on my posture has really make me aware of how important small changes can be - just lifting my chin and keeping my eyes and focus up completely changes my horses' balance and way of going - freeing up the front end and allowing forward to happen.

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while will have heard about the concept of mirroring - the idea that a problem in a particular part of the horse's body often will be due to a problem in the corresponding part of the rider's body.  So right shoulder of the horse falling in - right shoulder!  My suspicion was that my right shoulder was the problem.  I tested my hypothesis this morning when riding both Dawn and Pie.  All I did was, when rounding a corner, was have my head turn slightly to focus on the turn while keeping my chin up, but also make a conscious effort to lift my right shoulder - I probably only raised my shoulder an inch or less.  Bingo!  Both horses motored around all corners and circles to the right, stepping under themselves with the right hind and moving deep into the corners with a proper bend - and I was doing absolutely nothing with my hands or inside leg to make this happen! My whole right side felt longer, and I felt completely straight and centered in the saddle. I think I had been dropping my right shoulder a bit as we turned to the right and probably also slightly tipping my head to the right, putting extra weight on the horse's right shoulder.  The result of my right shoulder coming down was also to bring my right leg up slightly into the horse, effectively shortening my right side and also blocking the movement of the inside right hind.  I tested my hypothesis multiple times on each ride and the result was the same - mystery solved!  And after my rides - no horse hair on my right calf.

Just for fun, I went back to the videos to see if I could spot the problem I'd identified.  Sure enough, there it was.  Here's Pie trotting - look carefully at about seconds 5 and 6 - it doesn't help that I don't have my chin and focus up.  And here I'm asking Dawn for a right lead canter departure at seconds 18 and 19 - my head and right shoulder drop to the right, weighting her right shoulder and making it harder for her.

My horses seemed pretty pleased that they'd finally managed to get through to me, although they say I'm sometimes a slow learner . . .

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