|Step up with that back right, horse!|
While those techniques are valid and did work, they had a tendency to make my horse nervous and hot. And, when Captain Nervous gets tense and hot, he stiffens up his entire body and runs through my aids. Not so awesome.
Enter the lean.
This concept is something my trainer has been trying to get me to understand for the last two months, with little success. It’s not that she wasn't doing a good job, I was just dense and not quite putting the whole technique together. A common failure for me.
Luckily, my trainer’s trainer was hosting a clinic two weeks ago and I was able to drive out and audit. While riding a horse with similar characteristics to mine, the clinician demonstrated leaning as an aid. Somehow, watching him talk about and apply this aid made everything click for me. I was able to go home that evening and immediately put it to work for me.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine Guinness and I are trotting to the left along the long wall. He is reasonably straight and has an equal weight in both reins. As we come to the corner entry of the short side, his back right hip lightens and he drops his left shoulder, despite my best efforts to sit straight and keep weight on my right hip. His neck makes an S-curve, and he drops the contact on the left – often turning his head to the right completely. This is pretty normal for him.
|Lifted and trailing back right? Check. Diving in on left shoulder? Check...|
Now if I try to straighten him by pulling on the reins, I lose all push from behind and he’ll stop. I’ll have to pony kick him forward; but still being all out of whack, Pig will end up leaping forward and tensing his neck. He’ll take a multitude of tiny short steps in an effort to go faster. In short, poor communication on my part.
If I try to straighten him by encouraging with a loosely swinging right leg/whip and forward outside hip, he will step up with his hind but often misinterpret the aids and try to bend to the right. Going from unbalanced and tight to counter bent will make Captain Nervous upset. He’ll tense more, and we’ll again experience funny short steps and a bad rhythm. Another nope.
Now if I sit up and think about sitting on that back right hip and pushing it down, slightly bulge my upper body weight over that hip to increase the weight on that side, give a slight encouragement with a swinging outside leg aid, and keep my inside leg long and my inside hip forward, we have magic. Guinness will sit with his outside hip, but keep it moving forward. This sitting lets him pick up his inside shoulder and take the inside contact again, straightening his neck. As soon as he does this, I take away the upper body bulge and ride him forward. If he falls onto his shoulder again, I bulge over again.
This is the lean. The lean is magic.
Leaning is a low-key way of showing my horse what I want from him without stressing him out or throwing him off balance. It’s not a punishment, just a reminder. I find I can use it for a whole multitude of exercises, the shoulder-in and leg yield most prominently. Both of these have improved drastically in engagement, forward inclination, and straightness due to my application of the lean. The fact that I can use it without having to touch the reins or fiddle with Guinness’ head means he stays soft in the poll and in my hands. That’s amazing.
|Actually turning through the outside of his body. It's a miracle!|
I have a lesson on Saturday, and I am looking so forward to what my trainer has to say about all of this…