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“…a beautiful build for riding with a long thigh and shorter upper body.”
–Axel Steiner, The Clinic, Dressage Today (March 2011)

Just in case you’re wondering, no, Axel Steiner is not talking about me.
Long thigh? Uh, no.
Shorter upper body? Hmm, maybe. Actually, make that yes. I’m short.

Huh? Oh. He means a shorter upper body in relation to that nice long thigh. In that case, no. Not happening.

I’m proportionate but there’s no getting around the fact that I’m still short. Never once has anyone used the word long to describe any part of my body. Well, maybe my hair but I was a little girl then. Wanna see?

Cute, huh? A friend posted our old class photos on Facebook. Quite a trip down memory lane but I’d like to burn most of them. Really? I looked like that. Eeks!

So, getting back to the issue at hand. I’m 5’1″ tall, er, short. My current mount is 16 hands. That means her withers are above my head. Way above. Thank God for mounting blocks! I don’t have to climb this mountain in order to ride.

Speaking of riding…
My, uh, stature or lack thereof causes me to fall forward. Sure some of it is my previous h/j training but I really think it’s because I lack a long thigh. No anchor. I’m just skimming along behind the boat. On my belly.

The remedy
Medieval torture rack? Stretch me into longer thighs? Oh, wait. Torture. Nah, I don’t need any more torture. I’m getting enough of that in my lessons. Sigh.

No, I need to learn how to ride with my seat and core. By doing that I actually can achieve a longer thigh. OK, not the length of thigh discussed in The Clinic but longer for me. My muscles relax and my legs drop down around the horse. I’m now anchored in the saddle.

Only for a moment though because then I fall forward into my default position. God, I hate this! “Sit up!” has now become “Lean back!” Only then do I achieve a more vertical, upright seat.

I may never be tall but I can achieve an appearance of a long dressage thigh.

Go ride and LEAN BACK!

 

“Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting!” ­
—Wicked Witch, The Wizard of Oz


I’m extremely jealous of the Wicked Witch. Sigh
Why?! Because she’s melting! And…well, I can’t.

Melting? Whatcha talking about?

You know, the whole dressage ‘seat’ thing.
“Sit deeply in the saddle.”
“Melt into the horse.”
I can’t do it. At least not consistently.

I think I’ve diagnosed the problem though.
Butt balls. Yep, butt balls.

Huh?

You heard me. Butt balls. My tense butt muscles are causing me to hover instead of sit.

What?! You don’t believe me? Then you need to listen in on my lesson.

“Sit! Sit right down on her.”

I am sitting!
Wait. Maybe it’s more like hovering.
Take a deep breath. Exhale.
My seat is getting heavier in the saddle. Ah!

See? Even though I thought I was ‘sitting’ into my downward transition, I wasn’t really sitting. This is so annoying! The cold weather isn’t helping either. My butt balls are starting to feel more like snow balls.

Oh, snow balls. On second thought I just might know the cure after all.

“Excuse me, could you pass the ice melt please?”

Psst! Have I ever told you that I can’t sit the trot? Bounce the trot, yes. Actually sit it? No way. Not happening. Awful, huh? All these years of riding and all I’m capable of is bouncing.

bounce…bounce…bounce…like Tigger!

I love Tigger and his bouncy enthusiasm. However, his over enthusiastic bouncing has led to a few mishaps. Remember how Eeyore fell into the river? Well, with that in mind I need to learn how to turn down the bounce while trying to do a sitting trot. Either that or I’m going to end up bouncing into a mishap of my very own making.

It tends to go a little like this…
I start in posting trot with my horse in a nice frame. Then I’m asked to sit a few strides and switch back to posting if I start to bounce. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be pretty.

“Okay, here goes.” I inhale deeply, then exhale.

posting…posting…sitting…kinda sitting…

“SIT! Sit into her!” That doesn’t help.

bounce…bounce…ARRGH!…posting…posting…

Several attempts later and my internal dialog now contains the words  “can’t sit.” My frustration level has ratcheted to the boiling point and that means tears are on the horizon. Hey, I’m a perfectionist remember? Oh, and I’m definitely developing a sitting trot complex here. Forget all about my fear of cantering or my arch nemesis the 20 meter circle. There’s a new kid on the block and it’s named The Ever Elusive Sitting Trot!

Speaking of the canter, it didn’t go well either. It probably had something to do with that saying “You can’t have a good canter without a good trot.” Yeah.  Anyway, the root of this particular evil was my inside leg. It kept gripping and gripping, while she leaned and leaned some more. I know. I know. I should’ve relaxed my inside leg and applied a real half-halt to get her to stand up in that outside rein. The value of hindsight, huh?

And so the torture began
Walking on a loose rein, I dropped my stirrups and turned my heels out. No, I mean way out. More! Better. Now using only my seat, I asked for the halt. Okay, correct that. I attempted to ask for a halt. Many times. Oh, and in a frame no less. Heels out! Success level? So-so. Facial expressions? Many.

Eventually, I was allowed to pick up my stirrups and the contact and try the exercise in posting trot and canter. Heels out! I noticed that this position brought my knees into contact with the saddle and narrowed the space I was allowing the horse to move within. No fetal, gripping inside leg either.

You try gripping with your heels turned out.

I dare you.

It’s movie night and guaranteed to be reel fun.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp in despair…

FEATURING LEE

Feel free to throw popcorn at the screen but remember who has to clean it up.

Debuting on Gracie. Slightly more independent hands but I notice that there’s still a bit of head wagging.

Bored yet? This was taken last fall. Oh, the hands! It’s painful to watch.

Now for the canter! A work in progress but my hands and seat are improving.

And for comparison this was me a year ago. I can actually feel myself holding my breath.

Movie reviews may be submitted below. You really made it this far? WOW!

As any rider will tell you the quest for an independent seat is the ultimate goal. The ability to ride in harmony could take many hours and quite possibly years to achieve (think Spanish Riding School). Both of which I have in limited amounts! I’m a once a week lesson student that just stopped hourly practice rides. That means one hour of mounted riding time a week. And years? I’m 42! I’m running out of years! I need to fast track my independent seat.

Hmmm, what skills do I need to get this job done?

Wanted: Independent Seat

Skills Required: Relaxation (both physical and mental), balance, ability to follow the horse’s motion
Communication Skills: Clear use of aids (legs, reins and seat)
Benefits: Harmony with the horse
Experience: No prior experience needed. All may apply.
Salary: Based on experience. Blood, sweat and tears, sore muscles and finally after many hours and possibly years an independent seat.

I also understand that riders that take lungeing lessons progress very quickly. So, I agreed to be a lunge line guinea pig. We weren’t sure how the school master would react but he was a…well, school master. I on the other hand? Yeah. Well, I guess I need these lessons.

I knotted the reins and placed them on the horse’s neck. That way they were out of my way but within reach if I needed them. Then I attached a grab strap to the front of the saddle. I just might need that during sitting trot to prevent myself from being catapulted across the indoor. Okay, I’ve official surrendered all control to my instructor. She’s responsible for controlling my horse’s speed and the size of our circle. I’ve been told to do nothing with my legs. Absolutely nothing.

We started at a walk without reins. I held my invisible reins and concentrated on following the horse’s movement.

Side to side, hip to hand. Not bad.
Let’s pick up a posting trot. Yeah, let’s! Piece of cake.
Now a sitting trot. BIG. TROT.  I’m okay. Relax.
Wait? Was that a canter stride?
What was that? A buck?!
Stop messing around. TROT!
Hmmm, shift back a little. Better.
Now walk. Okay, walk. Ack! Pitching forward.
Grow tall and sit into it. Okay, slower trot, slower, taller, walk.
Darn. Brakes are sticky.

Now without your stirrups. Deep breath, let’s go!
BIG. TROT. Where’s that strap?
Breathe. Relax. Side to side.
Look no hands!

Things were far from perfect. Especially those downward transitions. I’m learning to rely less on the reins and more on my body. I trust myself and my balance even more.

Independent seat here I come!

Contact Me

leecullen@comcast.net

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