I didn’t jump this weekend. Instead I did some sitting trot, attempting to stay glued into the saddle rather than lifting up out of it. Drifter would rather jump; having watched the jump class I’m really glad we didn’t!
I’d officially declared we were not doing the jump class, so on Saturday we just had a quiet ride – an easy little walk-trot-canter for 20 min. He was not moving well or willingly and I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to do much in the biomechanics session on Sunday. I timed my ride to be just before the jump class so I’d be around to watch and pick up on the theory as a spectator even if I couldn’t do anything practical.
I glued myself to the fence, ready to learn. After the warmup and a basic little cross pole the instructor warned everyone that the lesson would be a challenge in the steering department. The single concept of the lesson was to jump, weave around two cones and then jump again on the other side. It was tight. Over the course of the lesson more jumps and cones were added until by the end it became a course of jump – weave – jump – weave – jump – jump.
My brain immediately and firmly told me that this was impossible. It carried on telling me this despite watching all of the horse/rider pairs in the lesson complete it, mostly with success. I have never tried weaving between cones at anything faster than a walk, so I’m not sure how I would have got on with that part of it even without the jumps either side of the weave sections. Adding that to the fact that I hadn’t been getting enough steering to ride a straight line or a circle predictably I was so relieved that I’d decided we weren’t up to the lesson. Definitely the right choice!
It was a scary lesson to watch. One adult hit the ground, but he fell nicely and apparently had no injuries beyond a little shoulder stiffness. Another adult almost came unstuck and the kids had a few iffy moments. At least on the ponies there was more room between the cones, proportionally, that there was on the big horses.
At the end of the lesson I asked about cone spacing so I can try cones myself one evening (without the jumping to worry about). The answer was not that helpful, but we were urged to have a go with different spacings, starting with a wide spacing in trot.
On Sunday we had a session with Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics. This was the third time I’d had a session with him but only the second time on Drifter (the first was on a school horse). If you’d like to read/re-read the post about our previous session it’s here. I was concerned that Drifter wouldn’t be up to it – that I wouldn’t be able to get anything useful out of it, but actually he was moving pretty well. The day before I’d been really struggling to get anything much in the way of forwardness, correct bend, staying out on the track rather than falling in, etc., but on Sunday although I needed a lot more leg than usual, he was a lot more willing. I suspect that having had Friday off had made him stiffen but riding on Saturday did him good even though it didn’t feel positive at the time.
So we started the session with me updating Russell on what we’d been working on since we saw him last (canter, canter and more canter) and what I’d like to work on today (sitting trot). When I had the session with him on the school horse nearly two years ago he helped a lot with my sitting trot, but with Drifter I’ve only started trying to sit recently. (Before that whenever I tried he’d stick his head in the air and try to run off, which was not conducive to my learning, and strongly discouraged me from taking my stirrups away.)
Of course as usual the advice was to lean back. I have heard this advice from so many people and from my periodic googling of how to learn to sit the trot. So I tried and as usual I felt that the movement throws me forward and I cannot sit back against the force of the throwing forwards. He asked me what I felt, I described that and he agreed that was exactly what was happening.
It turned out though, that if you tell me to lean back, what you get is a leaning back from my back and neck. To me, that’s what lean back means. As a child gymnast I could lean back like that until my hands touched the floor and then kick over through handstand or pull my hands back up as I chose. Apparently that’s not the kind of leaning back that is required. As soon as I figured out, with Russell’s help, that this kind of leaning back doesn’t come from the back at all but from the pelvis, I had a little lightbulb moment. It will still take a lot of practice for me to find the right lean back every time and do it without tightening my legs or anything else unnecessary, but I have hope now that I’ll be able to do it.
I have to admit though, that I find the slow-mo footage of my attempts at sitting trot too cringe-making to share on the internet. The sight of a bottom squashing repeatedly against the saddle is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. And so the only clip I’m offering you is a short full speed one in rising trot and a little canter. In this you can clearly see too much arch in the lower back where my pelvis needs to be more tucked under to minimise the bottom, both for performance and vanity’s sakes 😉 In a later canter I successfully corrected this and suddenly felt I had a great deal more control of the canter speed. So it looks like the session on sitting trot will actually end up improving my jumping as well.
Video by Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics