Leaning
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, June 18, 2015 08:55 AM
As usual I had an opportunity to teach two back to back clinics in BC. The great thing about this is very intense (over 5 days) work with many different riders. There is no perfect rider in the world. Everyone has something to improve upon. Working with riders, analyzing their issues and helping them find solutions gave me so much material to think about. Below is some of these thoughts combined with helpful tips and ideas.
Seat
- One of the biggest challenges for ALL riders is to stabilize the pelvis using core muscles and not lower back muscles or glutes. Core muscles are usually weaker than glutes and lower back. Also, we use glutes and lower back muscles much more than core. And riders have a tendency to "grab" a horse with the glutes. Should be avoided!
    Ideas:
  • Imagine rounding your lower back a bit. Use core muscles for that not glutes. If you have tendency for lordosis imagine yourself being a capital "C" rather than capital "D".
  • Let go of your lower back and let your seatbones drop down
  • Pull up on the bikini line
  • Feel the back of the saddle rather than the front
- Humans have a tendency to slightly lean into one side of their body, either left or right. If you see pictures of yourself standing and you stand relaxed on both feet you most likely will not be vertical to a plump line but slightly keeled over like the Tower of Pisa :) Also, you will lean into the same side when you are tired and put most of your weight on one leg. You will lean on a horse too. Most of the times riders lean on a horse the same direction they lean on their feet. But that is not a hard rule. It will feel easy to ride turns into your natural lean and difficult to ride turns in opposite direction. Riders appear slightly leaning to one side no matter which direction they are going.
- Horses feel the "quality" of a rider's seatbones - the way the seatbones sit on their backs. Usually the seatbone on the leaning side is unstable one. The horse can push it around, most of the time up and/or father away from the horse's spine. Because the horse's back is not flat the pushed to the side seatbone will slide downward. The rider may compensate for luck of balance by trying to lean into opposite direction particularly with the shoulders collapsing through the ribcage. Very often it is referred to as a collapsed hip even though it has nothing to do with the hip.
- Turning "easy" direction will make a rider sit too heavy on inside but this heaviness has nothing to do with quality of inside seatbone connection. This heavy seatbone is not stable. This is why riders will complain that it is easy to turn that direction but not easy to bend the horse. Turning and bending are two different actions and only training and development of horse and rider marries them together and the rider can turn the horse by asking for bend.
- The consequences of above tendencies show up in hands and legs - the rider will have hard time to have independent hand aids on the side opposite of their floating seatbone and independent leg aid on the same side of their floating seatbone. Hand and leg will be working not as aids but as "holding" devices particularly while riding on a difficult rein. For example, rider leans to the left, left seatbone is a floating one. Riding left feels easy to turn but not easy to bend and left leg is not very good at giving precise effective aids because it got used to holding on. Riding to the right feels unbalanced to turn because left seatbone slides too much outside and horse usually overbends in the neck from too much right rein and right leg that is effective and easy to use and lack of left leg action because it is busy holding on. Horse will drift over to the left. If your tendencies are opposite just reverse the effects.
- I didn't add the horse asymmetry into the mix. However, in reality, it adds to the challenge either by amplifying the effects of rider's asymmetry or evening them out. On one horse a rider feels super one way and awful another way. On a different horse the same rider may not feel that much difference between right and left.
- How to deal with all of the above issues? The first steps to take is to catch yourself leaning, sliding off the center, twisting and bending in attempt to find better balance - use mirrors, pictures, videos, friends, the stirrups length, the tendency of your saddle to slide off to one side, etc. The biggest challenge is to shift enough over from the leaning side. This feels soooo unnatural to the point of being scary. Riders are afraid they fall down. A help from mirrors or a person on the ground is invaluable because the rider is not sure when to stop shifting and can go over too much.
Even after shifting to be in the center riders still struggle to push unstable seatbone down enough to make the feel between left and right seatbones even. It requires a lot of control and strength in the core and usually the leaning side does not have neither.
Here are a few images/ideas to help you work on the above issues. Lets pretend a rider is leaning to the left, the left seatbone is unstable and the left side of the core is weak. If you have opposite tendency simply reverse the sides.
  • Imagine you are about to dismount from the right side of your horse. Shift and sink into right stirrup. Try to stay there all the time while riding to the right.
  • Imagine a guy wire strapped diagonally from your right hip over your left shoulder back to your right hip. Tighten that wire pulling the shoulder closer to the hip.(MW)
  • Imagine you are a stuffed toy. You have too much stuffing on the left side, move it to the right side and stitch the left side tight.(MW)
  • Tighten the left side of your oblique muscles between the ribcage and the pelvis
  • While riding to the left slow down yourself on the left side and keep sitting upright. Imagine you have a pillar nailed vertically through your shoulder, hip into your seatbone and all the way to the heel. Let your horse come around that "pillar" rather than lean into the turn with him. This image can also work for the right side riding to the right after you master staying centered, square and vertical.
  • Riding to the right look left. This will help with the shift to the right and prevent left shoulder come too forward
  • Ride to the right with slight counter-flexion
The lean is evident in all humans. However, the way a human body arranges itself while balancing on a horse may not be as simple and straightforward as description above. Factors like natural twist in the spine, injuries, occupation, dominance of brain, hand, leg, eye, ear, stiffness in some joints, etc can play a role in complicating the issue.
In the next blog I will talk about shoulders, arms and hands.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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