Just on cue, last Saturday was lesson time with Nancy. I mentioned at the start of the ride that I was working hard on my position, but fighting on the losing side of a chair seat battle. She agreed, and we ended up spending most of the ride focused on opening up my hip flexors and sitting deep and connected in the saddle.
If you remember, I injured my hip flexors this spring when starting up running again. I have chronically weak and shortened flexors, and have to spend an inordinate amount of my life stretching and coddling them to make sure I can use them at all. As you can imagine, this lesson was painful. I am happy to say that I came out of it with more stretched out hip flexors, but no injuries or chronic pain. I call that success!
As we started off trotting, Nancy stopped me to explain how she wanted me to use my hips. She explained that she wanted me to lengthen my hips and drop my thighs. "Think push your knee down," she said. I don't think that's absolutely correct, but it's a phrase that clicked with me. Use at your own discretion! The feeling of lengthening my hip flexors and "hugging" my horse with my hips and lower legs was an interesting feeling. I was lying the upper part of my inner thigh against the saddle and felt like I was using an upward "draw" of my abs to direct my horse's energy. (Try that on for size. Remember how dressage is hard? It's hard to explain, too!)
In this position, I found myself incredibly conscious of my balance in regard to Guinness. Every stride, I could feel the adjustments I needed to make in my core to stay with his movement, and keep me from falling behind. Unfortunately, I ended up tiring quickly and often falling behind. This level of engagement is going to take a lot of work from me to be able to hold it for longer periods of time. We ended up taking a lot of breaks, and I found myself sighing gratefully at each one!
Here's a short clip of Guinness and I working on collecting the trot, with me focusing on lengthening my hip flexors:
We did the same work at the canter. For some reason, I find my seat much more secure at the canter, and my seat is naturally deeper. I think this might be due to all the work we've been doing at the counter canter. (Or, it could be because my horse is more comfortable than a stuffed rocking horse. You all are so jealous, I know ...) See a video clip below:
After working hard on my position and collection, Nancy had us work on some lateral movements. Here, she refined the work on my hips by having me ask for the lateral work from the hip instead of the leg. This was really helping me stay balanced and straight over Pig, while keeping both legs on. The impetuous for moving sideways came from "pointing" or "pressing" with my hip. I would think "forward and stretch" with my left hip flexor, for example, and we would start leg yielding left. This made things so easy, and Guinness was so ready to move off that little shift. It's amazing to me how responsive he has become! I need to work on leg yielding this way a lot more, but I think we are going to get much straighter and more correct.
With the last few minutes of my lesson, we worked on lengthenings and rising trot. I've been avoiding the rising trot for awhile now, as I find it much harder to stay in balance with Pig. Nancy and I tried to figure out why this is, and came up with two theories. First, I tend to try to dictate the rhythm when I post the trot, rather than working with Pig. That's easily solved by developing more of a following seat, and paying more attention. The second issue is that I tend to let my legs swing, and get left behind. A quick refresher of where my leg's should be against my horse, and a reminder to keep my body coming forward and between my arms helped immensely. We never did really get good lengthening work done, but I think I have some nice homework for the upcoming month.