Tuesday, February 17, 2015

TIL: The Florida Chronicles, Part 2

(This is part of series to the blog chronicling the things I learned from my time taking lessons in Florida. This isn't a wide overview series. Instead I'm going to break down some tips and specific problem spots and for me, but I figure a lot of you probably have similar positional issues and might pick up some tips from my learning process. Let me know!)
* Part 1: The Seat

During this freezing week, let’s go back here. Shall we?
The Legs

Yesterday I mentioned an equipment change I recently made, switching to swan neck spurs. This was partly due to all the work my trainer and I did while I was in Florida. I started this series with the seat because that’s the basis of every other change I made, even the big ones. But, the biggest and most immediate change made to my riding during my Florida lessons was probably to my leg position.

See, part of my issue with having too light of seat is that I brace in my leg. To be precise, I tend to shove my heels down, pushing my legs out in front of me and off my horse. Here’s an example …

This is an exaggerated position, but isn’t too far from the place my leg can stray during rides.
 
Now, what you need to understand is that this position feels deep and secure, and that’s probably why I use it. Let’s break it down: My heel down has jammed my upper thigh against my horse, and is cementing me to the saddle. I am not easily unseated in the position, and that is why. My knee is also rotated away from my horse, and my toe is pointing out at about a 60 degree angle. Higher up, we can see that the position of my leg here has closed my hip angle, and popped my seat out of the tack. Instead of my seatbones making contact and my hips and lower back working with the movement, I’m hovering above the saddle. My thighs are pretty much supporting me entirely, and my whole body is pretty rigid trying to maintain my balance.  Whoops.

Okay, so where am I supposed to be?

Well, remember that shoulder/hip/heel alignment thing we’ve been hearing about since we first swung a leg into an English saddle? Let’s go back to that.

Thaaaat’s better.
Note how my my leg is nicely underneath me? Here my hip angle is much more open, and you can tell I’m actually sitting in the saddle and am able to influence my horse with my seat. My whole body also looks much more relaxed, and I can tell you that it feels much more relaxed too! My heel is no longer jammed down, but instead my foot is level with the ground and my foot is nicely resting in my stirrup with a good amount of natural weight.

When I look at this photo, I want to lengthen my stirrups. But I can tell you it’s not possible to lengthen them yet and keep this position. I need the stability of the shorter stirrups while I work on developing the ab strength it’s going to take to support my body with my hips more open. I will say that my pelvis could be tilted more up (think pulling my belt buckle up), but some of that is the illusion of my shirt pulling down in front.

How did I get my legs here? Easy. I bent my knee and picked my heels up.

I know, I know. I can hear you all. “But! Don’t pull up your heels! You should have your heels down for safety and stability!” And you know what, you’re right. Unless you’re me. And you jam your heels down with all the strength you have in you, so when you pick them up, your foot is actually in the right place. It’s an overcorrection that results in a correct placement.


But back to those knees. This is what really floored me.

When my leg is all stuck out in front of me, I have to do something to break the tension in my body. For that my trainer simply asked me to bend my knee and “shake out” my legs. What that means practically is that I bend my knee to loosen my leg and take the intense pressure off my stirrup. This usually pops me back into the saddle and onto my seatbones. Then I gently shake my leg a bit to release the rest of the tension. Just a little leg wiggle. Like a little leg worm.

Now nice and loose, I can put my leg back on. The knees are vital here, too.

To position my legs properly:
1.       I bend my knees, thinking about pointing the front of my knee towards the ground. This lengthens my thigh and opens my hip angle.
2.       With my knee bent and my leg relaxed, I bring my lower leg back underneath me. Here is where I often think “raise the heel.”
3.       With my lower leg back, I feel how nicely my calf sits on the side of my horse. Gently and without pinching. I also feel how open my thigh is.
4.       Finally I think about putting my weight more on my little toe. This points my toes in slightly and keeps my heels from pointing in, which closes my hip angle again and shortens my leg. That also ensures that my calf stays on, and not my heel. That way if I need to apply the spur I simply have to put more weight on my inside toe to turn my heel in.

That’s all there is to it. Changing the position is pretty simple, but learning to make it feel normal and to maintain my upper body position at the same time has been the tough part. Luckily, breaking the tension and re-positioning is so easy that I don’t feel lost even when I end up off balance or out of position.

What do you think? Ever worked with your leg position like this? Want to ditch the -11 temps and go to Florida? Anyone else like my brown breeches? I’m serious. They’re my favorites.

*Thanks to Karen from Bakersfield Dressage for the lovely pad and white polos modeled by Pig in these photos! They were awesome Secret Santa gifts!

25 comments:

  1. Another great post! I also like to think of good leg position as starting from the hip joint, with your upper leg turned in towards the saddle. Once that thigh is turned in, everything else falls into place.

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    1. The hip joint is key, you're totally right. Which reminds me... I need to do some crazy yoga stretches tonight!

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  2. Looove brown breeches! I always think "pull my heels toward the hocks" which picks them up, opens my hip angle, and gets my knee out of the block. Currently my leg is all scrunchy on the babies but for a while I had a nice leg position :) it will come back one day!

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    1. Love that!! Saving that little statement in my notes! :)

      Young horses are the worst for your position, aren't they?! All that wiggling and loss of balance while they figure things out can be so rough.

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  3. These posts make for fascinating reading, my position in the tack is so terrible it'll take a lot more than altering my leg position to fix it - but there are deff awesome tips to make note of and hopefully implement in the not too distant future ☺
    Ps i love the breeches and whole outfit ♡♡♡

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    1. Oh now, you aren't so bad. Riding is really less about fixing the whole as it is about working on the little bits until the whole is better. Right?

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    2. In theory, I can only speak for myself but it often seems when I focus on fixing one thing to help the bigger picture something else falls outta whack - hence my absolute admiration for your isolation of limbs & body parts ☺

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    3. Honestly, when I work on something like this, I try to pay attention to how other parts of my body are moving around when I am putting things in the right place. So, I know when I move my legs back, that my upper body wants to tilt forward or hunch. Then I make a sort of mantra to repeat to myself. Like:

      "Fix your legs, Sitting up? Sit up. Shoulders back and down."

      Usually once I get everything fixed, I notice my legs have moved again, so I repeat. Enough repetitions, and everything starts to get easier to keep in place.

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  4. This is a super reminder. I have one knee, especially, that refuses to behave and often ends up braced like that obviously throwing everything else off. My trainer is always reminding me to bend my right knee and it fixes a lot of issues. If I spend my lessons actively thinking about bending my knees, things go pretty well but the second it isn't at the forefront of my mind, that leg braces. I'm unsure if this is truly a strength issue I can work on (yes, probably) or a joint stability issue (many surgeries, no cartilage) but I know it will be something I'll always have to put a little extra thought towards when I ride. And yes, lets go to Florida.

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    1. Too Florida! We shall invade with our aggressively disobedient legs! ;)

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  5. The heel thing was a revelation for me. I also struggle with jamming my heels down- part of it is because I have very flexible ankles, so it's never uncomfortable for me to have them down down down. The other part is exactly as you said- it FEELS deep and secure, and you aren't going anywhere!

    Many years ago, an instructor told me to look at pictures of top dressage riders and notice that their heels were, more often than not, parallel to the ground. MIND BLOWN. Ever since then, I have tried to keep that in mind when I am in my dressage saddle- it's hard to break the heels down habit!!

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    1. I have super flexible ankles, too! In IHSAA judges loved me because I could go around with my ankles lower than they should physically have been able to go! I never actually stretch them because of how over flexible they are.

      Top riders do usually have parallel feet, or even a slightly raised heel at times. It feels so weird to have my leg in the right position. Almost ineffective. Like it's out of my way, so it must be useless. Ugh. Why is retraining the body so hard?

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  6. Great post! What apparently also helps some people is to think of squats - you can only do this when there is a nice head - hip - heel alignment! Literally trying this on the ground will help to understand when there is alignment and when not. What's more, changing seats as described in centered riding (posting trot for a few steps, then change to sitting trot and then change to two point and so on and so forth) also gives more relaxation to your seat - and eventually to the horse :)

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    1. Ack! I hate that centered riding exercise! It is so good at pointing out where my problems are, and I feel so off balance. Clearly I need to do it more! ;)

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  7. Are we the same person? It seems like I have all the same darn issues you do! I have gotten better, but when I get scared or nervous I instantly revert back to jamming my heels down and my legs forward. I think it comes from riding a lot of baby horses. Or just my natural reaction. I have really improved it by pulling my knees way up near my chest, then dropping them back down. I do this at walk, trot and canter (when my horse is not fresh. ha). It has really helped but still something I need to work on.

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    1. We might be the same person! ;) Oh I think it totally is partially from riding baby horses! I have always been the crash test rider for anything and everything that's come my way. It's always been crappy for my equitation, but good for my overall feel.

      That sort of picking up and dropping again thing is an interesting idea. Sort of like how you can shrug your shoulders hard, then drop them, and have them be more relaxed and deeper?

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  8. Yes to Florida and brown breeches! I am guilty of the bracing habit when I'm doing down transitions from the canter (while jumping) improperly. Bad leg!

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    1. Bad legs indeed! What are they thinking down there? Geesh!

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  9. This was awesome, because it's exactly what I've started to think about doing for myself too! Feeling my knees hang down more and letting my heels come a little back. However, I need to work on aids a bit more first, so that I'm not pinching and squeezing.

    Isn't getting use to the new normal horrible? I wish it felt good immediately!

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    1. Me too! This position felt so far behind me I had to constantly check in the mirror to make sure it was right. Everything just felt unnatural.

      I'll suggest that working on your leg position might help you keep your aid application more consistent. Keeping weight on the outside toe really helps me keep my heels off, my calves on, and the rest of my leg from pinching.

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    2. Ooooh that is definitely something to think about! Going to try it in tonight's dressage ride!

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  10. Oh how I would love to take off down to Florida!!! Pretty sad when you are excited to see temps in the 20's and think 'today I can ride!'
    I am enjoying reading about your Fl lessons and your change in position. I have been working on the same thing in my lessons with Jennifer since moving back. I like how you break it all down!

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    1. Hey! I rode last night. It was actually toasty warm, and I enjoyed having the barn all to myself. Sometimes those nights out there "alone" can help you get in and out and get done exactly what you need to!

      Will you be showing this year? I need to post my show schedule!

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  11. great post!!! it's mostly beyond my coordination levels currently, as i'm still learning how to even just keep my butt in the saddle haha - but lots of super useful tidbits to think about to help move towards a more optimal position. i brace on my stirrups like crazy too - and think your points (and Megan's bit about pulling heels toward the hocks) will really help!

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    1. You'll get there! Don't underestimate your coordination abilities. I'm the most uncoordinated person on the planet (Seriously. You should watch me play video games. Hand/eye what?), so I feel confident that if you just chip away and try your best not too get frustrated, you'll get there.

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