Horse Journal Commentary: Sitting Straight

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I paused on the mounting block before I swung onto my horse, and it turned into a mental face slap.

After I rode the day before, I just wiped down the straps on my saddle but not the seat. Now, as I was standing above the saddle, the sun caught it just right and I saw the marks that my full-seat breeches left the day before. I grinned to myself because my tail bone had been right in the middle and the two seat-bone areas looked symmetrical. Then I noticed that the seat-bone area on the right was somewhat larger than the left. Darn!

The day before we’d been doing tempi changes (lines of flying changes every four strides and then every three strides). They could have been straighter, and occasionally I’d miss the count. My mare was starting to tense up and gun her engine. My coach directed me to do the tempi changes on a 20-meter circle while leg-yielding into the circle a bit between each change. This was to fix the mare’s tendency to drift. Then we went back on the diagonal, but I alternated each flying change with a change through the walk. All this work was done without stirrups.

Now, we were going to pick up where we left off the day before. But realizing that I’d been slipping to one side, I focused on relaxing my legs down and keeping my eyes up around the circle (with reminders from my coach!) so I wouldn’t break over my hip or glance at my mare’s shoulders, which both tipped me onto that right seat bone.

After some counter canter and single changes, we started tempis on the circle, with lots of walk breaks. Low and behold: Clean, straight, relaxed tempi changes on the circle and also then on the diagonal. Both directions. Yeah!

This is hard work for ahorse, so we finished thesession early with lots of pats and a happy gallop on a long rein. And sugar. The exercises my coach devised worked beautifully, and it certainly helped that I stayed in the middle of the tack.

It reminded me yet again that we get so invested in the intricacies of the training that we forget how even a small equitation problem makes a huge difference to the horse. The loss of alignment made my mare follow my weight sideways so that she couldn’t perform changes with her usual confidence.

There are two of us doing this dance. When I run into a difficulty, all too often I start riding harder instead of smarter, especially when working by myself. But, before I address any problem with my horse, I have to make sure the problem doesn’t originate with me.

The proof was right there of the top of my saddle, not in black and white so to speak, but in black leather.

Margaret Freeman,
Associate Editor