Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lean Out: The Story of Weighting The Lazy Leg

Step up with that back right, horse!
I've talked before about Guinness' lazy right hind and its effect on his straightness, ability to lift his withers, and throughness. At that time, my attempts at fixing the issue were limited to nagging that leg forward with the leg/whip every moment I felt it lag behind, and pointing my right hip forward at all times to creating a welcoming space for the leg to step into.

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!

Best of all? After using this technique for a couple of weeks, I have noticed less of a need to be so obvious with it. Guinness is far more responsive to my weight shifts. A much more subtle application for only a stride is all it takes to get him to sit and step under. I've also noticed a higher level of engagement in his gaits at all times.

I have a lesson on Saturday, and I am looking so forward to what my trainer has to say about all of this…

14 comments:

  1. isn't it funny how hearing the same direction worded slightly differently can make it click? this technique is slightly beyond my own coordination skills, but glad you've got it figured out!

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    1. I think this technique was beyond my coordination skills for awhile, too. Haha :)

      It IS funny. I don't even know that the other trainer put things differently, but I think his size made the concept more relatable. My trainer is a tiny, tiny person. So, I think I needed to see someone more my own size do the thing. You know?

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  2. What an exciting breakthrough!! :-D I love those.

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  3. Gotta love a light bulb moment, can't wait to hear what your trainer thinks of your eureka breakthrough on the lean ☺

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  4. That is really cool. also :"It’s not that she wasn't doing a good job, I was just dense and not quite putting the whole technique together. "

    omg this is how i feel about so many things in my rides/lessons. My trainer is great, I am just a space case dunce.

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    1. Haha, me too. Half the time I feel like I'm just catching up to what she was having me do, and then we're moving on. Caution slow kids ahead. ;)

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  5. The lazy right hind is the bane of my existence! It's amazing what a tiny bit of unevenness can cause SO many problems. Glad he's doing so well with weight shifts!

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    1. Ah! It's crazy! I never really put together how much the opposite shoulder is effected, and it's been hard to train myself to correct the opposite hind. I think we're getting it, though. :)

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  6. I swear our horses are so similar. Fiction does pretty much the same thing. I read this and tried to implement it last night while riding. It's incredibly hard for me (I still fail miserably at body coordination) but when I got it right, he responded soooo well! For once we were able to work without his nose pointed to the outside when we traveled to the left and I barely had to touch my reins!

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    1. That's awesome!! It was really hard for me to get the hang of it for awhile, too. I think of it more as a bulge, so I leave my shoulders in place for balance but shift the rest of my weight substantially to the outside. Really works!

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  7. Seriously, your posts are a great resource for me! I can't wait to try this on Beefs. Hopefully. I don't butcher it....I'm glad that it has worked so well for you!

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    1. I butchered it several times before I finally got it. I have faith in you! Fingers crossed it works for you, too!

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