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That’s it. (Throwing my hands up in disgust.) I’ve had it!
Why?
It’s my hands. Look at them! (Glancing down at my hands.)
They refuse to cooperate. Instead of following the bit as one unit forward and back. They’d rather follow the hips. I look more like a jogger than a rider. See? Sigh.

The result? Torture of course!
Now I have to concentrate on keeping quiet, steady hands that follow the bit. In all gaits!
Why?
Why?! Because I can’t maintain the contact if I’m giving away the reins.
Because the horse isn’t going to seek the bit if I jab him in the mouth.
Because…because it looks bad!

When, when, when am I going to get it? (Hitting my head against the wall.)

Okay, let’s see…

Hmm, hands resting on a shelf.
Uh-huh, not working. C’mon how often do you rest your hands on a shelf?
Wheelbarrow? Pushing a wheelbarrow, pushing a wheelbarrow…

Oooo, I like that one. Let’s try it out.
Walk to trot. Nice!
Trot to walk. Yah!
Canter to trot. Good!
Trot to canter. Eeks! Um, canter? Where are you?
Walk to canter. Uh-huh. Canter? Where did you go?

Great. I fix my hands and now I can’t canter.
When will it end? (Throwing up my hands in disgust.)

When your instructor rides in a Mary Wanless clinic expect to become the guinea pig. Especially if the guinea pig audited the same clinic.

Arm cuffs

Let me refresh your memory of me. I’m short. As in 5′ 1.5″. Kind of ridiculous to mention the half but I need all the height I can get. Now tell me the truth. You immediately thought about short legs, huh? Did you think about my arms at all? They’re short too.

I’ve been trying my hardest to establish good contact with the bit and to ride with a short rein. That in turn has caused me to straighten my arms. Why? Because the horse hasn’t submitted to the pressure. But I have. (Score: Horse 1, Rider 0) Call it a misguided belief that I’m being kind. Uh, I did say misguided. Of course by doing this I’ve totally compromised my position. All the better for my horse to pull me out of the saddle. Just call me the human necklace.

Anyway, my instructor thinks I straighten my arms because they’re, well, short. I probably need to ride with a longer rein in order to have the proper contact and bend in my elbow. Be patient, this all circles back to the clinic and arm cuffs. You heard me right. Arm cuffs. Took me long enough, huh?

Mary says that our elbows should be slightly in front of the side seam in our pants. Then imagine arm cuffs encircling our upper arms with a few links attached to allow slight movements. These are body pierced to the pecs and deltoids. Ow! We’re not done yet. Engage your lats. (Are you breathing? Breathe!) Push your elbows down toward the ground. Your hands should feel as though they’re making contact with a wall. Always!

You know what? It worked for me. I stopped fiddling with reins and my elbows remained bent. My horse even thanked me by rounding. So cool but only a piece of the puzzle.

RAH, RAH, SIS, BOOM, BAH!

It’s becoming more and more clear to me that we all seem to struggle with the same issues. Take for instance a nice following arm. I haven’t had one. No, my arms liked to move separately in time with each hip. I looked more like a jogger on horseback then a dressage rider. Not anymore though, I’ve finally figured it out! My arms are a unified pair moving with the horse’s mouth. Forward and back, forward and back…

Hmm, unless I’m nervous. Then all bets are off and I’m jogging outta here!

Thank you for joining us. We’ll return to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.

“But my arms don’t do that!” laments my friend.

“Yes, they do.” I ride up beside her and at a walk demonstrate my following arm. “Just open and close your elbows. Open and close. Open and close.”

“Like this?!” She quickly opens and closes her elbows several times. Thankfully, she has loops in the reins as I’m watching them fly back and forth.

“You’re exaggerating it a bit but yes, like that.” Isn’t it the simplest answers that seem so hard to grasp?

“Yes! That’s right!” Our instructor is practically jumping up and down with glee. “Thank you Lee. Just make out your check to her instead of me today.” We continue walking around the arena. Open and close. Open and close. “OK, now you need to insert the ‘I’m cool’ part. As you’re walking your hips need to move in time with the horse. Coming forward one at a time between your arms. Uh, think you’re The Fonz.”

“The Fonz? I think I know him.” My friend’s a lot younger. Like twenty years younger.

“The Fonz? Nah, Pinky Tuscadero.” I always thought that The Fonz was cool but I am a woman. I want to be a cool woman.

“Ah, Pinkie.” A boarder and my instructor both laugh. “Now we’re showing our age.”

“Pinkie who?” I told you she was younger.

“You need to use a following arm and walk like you’re really cool. I’m cool, uh-huh. I’m cool.”

Pinkie and The Fonz

A bit later

We’re walking to our cars and I’m practicing my swagger. “I’m cool, uh-huh. I’m cool.” Open and close, while walking and swinging one hip forward at a time. Hey this should be a dance!

Updated 12/6/10 with a video to demonstrate a following arm

This is so embarrassing. I have holes!
No, not in my pants. At least I don’t think so.
(Looking over my shoulder.)

It’s my training. I have holes in my training.
I seem to be missing some of the basics.

Personally, I don’t think I ever had them to begin with.
Or if I did they fell right through one of the holes I have.
See these teeny tiny pin pricks here and here?
And others are…
Well, the size of the Grand Canyon. HUGE!

Yep, holes. That’s my final answer.
I mean, how else can I explain why I can’t do basic things?

Smooth downward transition? Nope.
I’d much rather be a human necklace.

Steady contact? What?! Absolutely Not!
That’ll hurt the horse. I don’t want to be mean.
contact…slack…contact…slack…contact…
Oh, yeah. Nice, huh? sigh

Then there’s…

Hey, why’d you interrupt me?
Of course there’s more. There’s always more.

…riding on the bit. Through different movements!
I’m on the bit for the straight then lose it on the corner.
Or on the bit while trotting but lose it in the upward transition to canter.
on…off…on…

Oh, and did I mention diagonals! Gone like the wind.
Specifically, my left diagonal.
I’m blaming it on performance anxiety and a smooth gaited horse.
Oh, and the fact that I’m now expected to sit several strides before posting.
Yep, everything but me. After all I know how to check.
Darn holes.

Grab a needle and thread. We’re darning socks!
Don’t run away! There aren’t any real socks but repairs are underway.

Smooth transitions can only be achieved by practicing them. A lot!
I’ve finally started to sit into them. At first I jammed my thighs into the thigh block and engaged my core. Then the other day I noticed something new. If I exhale big and slow. It deepens my seat and the horse transitions. Ooo, that’s two things! A smooth transition and a deep seat!

Next. Achieving steady contact.
“Shorten your reins.” I’ve heard it repeatedly again and again for years. Impossible. I could not do it. Then something clicked and I achieve it more frequently. I now keep my fingers closed and notice that the reins aren’t lengthening as much. Better but still a work in progress.

Next. Riding on the bit from one movement to another. Last week I discovered the key! Literally. You just have to turn the key to perform an indirect half halt. It was mind blowing in it’s simplicity. (Turn your thumb to the outside so your fingers face upward. Hold for a few seconds while keeping steady contact with the inside rein. Return to normal position.)

What I can’t figure out is why it didn’t work before. It’s not a new concept for me. My previous instructor said it even Jane Savoie uses it. Nope. It didn’t click until last week. I suspect that I had to learn a few things first. Like steady contact. Darn holes!

Let’s see that brings me back to those diagonals. Cheat.
Just look at the outside shoulder and fix it.

Shh! Don’t tell my son that I said it was okay to cheat.

“Hello? Are you there — ”  Aaaargh, this connection stinks!

We were having such a lovely conversation. That is until I turned the corner near M and encountered an ear full of static. Sigh. But what’s a girl to do? I’ve already switched service providers and believe me it’s not them. Oh, my God! Do you think it’s because I have a pay as you go plan? I swear, I just purchased an hour.

Nah. On second thought, I think it’s the wiring. You know, a loose connection. Let’s see…it starts over here and seems to be firmly attached to that metal thingy. Then it runs up here and if I hold both of them just so…

Aha! Now we’re talking!

Where were we…
Oh, yeah! A nice walk around the arena.
walking, walking, walking, … ??!!!
Another dropped call! This is soooo annoying!

Now, I know it’s a faulty connection. Yep. My hands did it. Oh, and my arms because they’re attached and we all know about guilt by association. Sigh. If they’d only listened to the service provider we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Okay now, listen up! Hands, we need to provide this horse with a nice following, elastic connection. Right and left hand unite! Move as one unit forward and back as the horse walks and moves it’s head. Oh, and stay on your own side of the horse. No crossing over the withers. You are independent and no longer attached to the corresponding hip. (Hips, keep up the good work.)

That’s right! United, moving forward and back. Now pick up a trot.
trotting, trotting, trotting, … ??!!
Another dropped call!

Hands, you dropped the connection again! You’re not supposed to move around. Stop moving. Wait, don’t really stop moving. That’s a lie and will make you stiff and then all hell will break loose. You have to move to absorb the motion. Think of an old fashioned washing board. As I rise, you go down (open elbow). As I sit, you rise up (close elbow).

Feels weird. Looks good.

Keep practicing and I’ll call you soon.

Contact Me

leecullen@comcast.net

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