Is sitting trot the opposite of jumping?

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.

CIMG4304

Video by Russell Guire of Centaur Biomechanics

Three thing I’m not doing this November

1. NaNoWriMo

I would like to do NaNoWriMo one year. But preferably one year where November didn’t fall in the winter and before Christmas. I do know someone who has SAD and still does NaNoWriMo, but honestly I usually find November a difficult month just to get up, get dressed and get washed in. Add to that the necessity of going to work, being responsible for my horse and occasionally spending time with my husband, it’s just not feasible for me to commit time in bulk to something that doesn’t have to be done. Also there’s the physical strain of bashing out 2,000-3.000 words a day – that’s quite a lot of typing to add to your usual output and I’d have to manage my RSI very carefully to avoid a flare-up. My desk at work has excellent ergonomics, with a split and tented keyboard and a tracker ball mouse as well as a conventional one (I swap between the two mice regularly) but our home office is, well, a compromise. Mr S is used to standard equipment and a certain desk set up. Things that suit me he finds unusable and vice versa. Were I to do NaNoWriMo I’d either have to stay at work late to do my words or invest in a new keyboard, chair and possibly even desk for the home office. So although in principle it’s something I’d like to try, I’m not sure I’ll ever do it.

2. No stirrups November

I would also like to do No stirrups November, which I first heard about here a few days ago. But I don’t feel it’s right for me this year. Since I’ve been seeing a chiropractor I have been taking away my stirrups occasionally and it is much easier now my psoas aren’t locked up tight, but I still find it really hard to sit the trot. And when I get bounce, he goes faster, so the bouncing gets worse and he goes faster still. Cue vicious circle. At some point I have to grab the saddle to drag myself into it to stop the bouncing which means I have to lengthen the reins, lose contact and hence lose steering and brakes. Clearly we are not ready for a month without stirrups. I haven’t even tried to canter him without stirrups yet because when he comes out of canter he goes into rocket-trot and I would be on the floor. My sitting trot will have to get considerably better before I could think about cantering without stirrups.

I read about No stirrups November on Thursday lunchtime. I had a half-hour lesson on Thursday night after which I still had quite a bit of energy left. Mine was the last lesson so the school was free and I thought it would be good to cross my stirrups and have a go. As we were in the indoor school I could check my position in the mirrors and as we were alone I didn’t have to worry about annoying anyone if I lost brakes or steering. As usual, I found my sitting trot attempts tipped me forward, off-balance, but I kept resetting myself and trying again, getting moments where I felt that I might be doing OK in between the moments when I wasn’t. On lesson horses in the past I had found rising without stirrups easier than sitting, so although I’d not had much success with that on D, I gave it a go. With the help of the mirrors I could see where my position was hindering me and was able to get some decent rising trot going and try rising for a bit then sitting for a bit. D seemed OK with this plan so we continued. It was markedly easier when we were on his happy left-rein than on the right, but I kept trying to work both, having the occasional flashes of feeling like we were getting somewhere. I realised afterwards that we did about 30 min without stirrups and without him getting too upset or me falling off or having any near misses. Pretty good huh? I also realised that my core was so exhausted I could barely coordinate my limbs to walk across the yard! I was also too sore to ride the next day!

All in all it was a positive experience and I’m hopeful that next year I’ll be able to do No-stirrups November. Whether I’d do it sponsored or just for myself I don’t know. If I do it sponsored I’ll probably do it for a charity of my choice rather than the official one because I’d rather support a UK run charity. I might choose LUCIA, a charity founded and run by people I work with. If I gave them even just a penny I know that penny would be used to make a difference. So how much better would it be if I gave them more? If I keep working away without stirrups little and often then by next November maybe I’ll be able to do this.

3. Movember

It  might be fairly obvious why I’m not doing Movember, so I won’t bother to explain it, nor say that I’d like to do it one year. I’m sort of glad I can’t. But someone else I know has been growing his mo for Movember…DSCN4520 DSCN4515 DSCN4495 DSCN4512 DSCN4524

It is more difficult than you might suppose to get a decent picture of a horse’s moustache. It took me a lot of work and a silly number of deleted shots to get these!

On and off the lunge line

DSCN4282

For the past few weeks Drifter and I have been having our lessons on the lunge* line. I’d decided I wanted a chance to work without reins to look at my position, and thought it would be good to do some sitting trot without trying to steer at the same time. I’d not been offered lunge lessons before, but when I asked they agreed, albeit with a cautious “Is he OK on the lunge?” To which the answer is that he’s not going to rear, buck or go bonkers, and comes with reasonable voice control, but hasn’t really got the hang of what shape a circle is supposed to be.

The instructors and office manager seemed surprised that I wanted lunge lessons. I’m not sure why – they all know I have symmetry issues that I’m trying to improve and to me this seemed one of the most logical ways to look into them.

In the first lesson we just worked in walk and trot. Drifter was well-behaved in terms of speed and gait, but struggled with the circle concept, particularly on the troublesome right rein, and put some corners into the circles, which were pretty unsettling for me, but I sat through them OK.  At first we just worked on rising trot (with stirrups), getting in balance with the horse and getting my hips and shoulders following him. This I found quite difficult, but then, the reason we were doing this was because I thought things weren’t right, so I was glad to uncover what I’m struggling with. By the end of the lesson we took my stirrups away and did some work on sitting trot, which went better than I’d expected, but mostly involved me holding onto the saddle to pull myself into it. I learnt that my right hip isn’t as mobile as it needs to be and is in the habit of doing very little.

Following that first lesson I had a reasonable amount of muscle soreness, which in itself was a useful learning tool. When I rode on my own in the days following the lesson I could feel when I was turning correctly with him (i.e. things were sore) and when I was slipping into old habits (couldn’t feel anything).

In the second lesson we began with a quick discussion of the bit (at this point I was using the borrowed bit with the full cheeks) and for some reason that ended with the instructor tightening the girth and not me. I hopped on and we started with some rising trot with stirrups. I got into balance on each rein much more quickly and easily than I had in the previous lesson. As we returned to walk on the right rein I noticed the saddle had slid to the outside a bit. “The saddle’s slipped,” I called to the instructor, to signal I wasn’t ready for another go, then, “The saddle’s going… the saddle’s going … the rider’s going!” During the last word gravity had taken over and I was falling through the air. The ground met me kindly and I rolled and stood almost before I’d finished speaking.

One the one hand I know to always check my own girth, but on the other hand the instructors have been doing girths up for me since my first lesson so it never occurred to me there’d be a problem. We sorted out the saddle (by now worn fetchingly on the side of my horse) again with her doing it up (this time because I was a little edgy with adrenaline and couldn’t get a good grip on the leather) and she gave me a leg up. They like to get people back in the saddle as soon as possible after a fall. Although I was completely uninjured I’ve always thought I’d like a little breather first, but there we are. So I was back on board and the instructor told me the girth was tight this time. Knowing my horse and my tack, I asked which holes the girth was on. She replied “1 and 3.” I’m glad I asked because that would have had me on the floor again!** Once we’d tightened the girth again and got back into the lesson we did a little canter with stirrups on the left rein but couldn’t get him to strike off on the right leg on the right rein, which was quite disappointing because we’d assumed on the lunge he’d go on the right leg OK, but we didn’t have any time left to keep trying.

That was the lesson before the dressage test. I did feel like surely I should have had a lesson on the test rather than lunging, but I was so pleased with how much I was learning on the lunge. When I used my sore muscles to check I was turning with him, everything got better in the dressage test – turns onto the centre line were easier, circles were better, he was straighter and halts were squarer, so even though it felt weird to do so, I still chose the lunge lesson.

My third lunge lesson (and the most recent one) was the most intense. Rising trot balance was there almost immediately so we moved on to sitting trot without stirrups. We did quite a lot of this although I didn’t feel like it was going as well as I hoped. By this lesson Drifter seemed to have understood a bit more about circles so we had fewer unexpected corners in the circles, which helped me. We moved on to cantering without stirrups (eek). On the easy left rein we did a lot of cantering. For all that’s our good rein it was still very hard for me and I spent most of the time clinging to the saddle with both hands while trying not to get flung off the side of the wall of death. At one point he got a bit worried and gave his usual response of speeding up, which I did not entirely appreciate. There was at least one point when I shouted that I was going to fall off … but didn’t. Then we tried the other side, repeatedly asking him to strike off in canter and him always going on the wrong leg, unfortunately. We discussed different ways I could try to get that canter lead on my own outside of my lesson as the lesson was now over.

Following this most intense lunge lesson it was several days before my muscles recovered enough for me to walk normally. The day after I didn’t even try to ride because I didn’t think I could! I was supposed to have another lunge lesson a few days later but I was still so sore I changed it to an ordinary lesson. We spent much of it trying different tricks to get the right canter lead, all of which failed. We tried asking conventionally, asking just before a pole across the corner of the school, asking on a circle, by riding him at the  fence, and by counter bending him. All failed. Any more suggestions will be gratefully received! In my last regular lesson before I started lunge lessons we had this problem and eventually the instructor got on. It took her about 8 tries and she eventually got it by counterbending him into the wall, but when I tried that this time I still couldn’t get it.

I’m not really sure where we go from here. I thought I might try lungeing him without a person on top and see if he gets it then or not, but that will have to wait for a day when we won’t be in riders’ ways (as you’re not allowed to lunge in a school someone’s riding in or vice versa). I’m afraid I’m going to end up having to pay for a lot of schooling for him to get this, which I can’t really afford, but on the other hand if I want to do walk trot canter dressage (which I do want to do) or jump (I do want to do this once we’ve got canter steering sussed) then I need him to be able to canter in both directions!

On the other hand I’ve had him canter on that leg properly before. It was never easy to get him into canter in that direction, but I’m sure I’ve done it quite a few times and I think he was on the right leg, so I don’t know why he’s suddenly decided he can’t do that. In fact I’ve just checked back to my Centaur Biomechanics videos – he was on the correct leg that day, apart from one brief time when Russell pointed it out and we came back to trot. Quite why this has become a problem I don’t know. Hmm. I suspect this will be the subject of future blog posts. I’m glad I’ve got video evidence that we’ve successfully cantered on that rein on the correct leg, otherwise I’d be wondering if I’d imagined it. If we’ve done it before I’m sure we can do it again. I’m just not sure why we’ve it’s become such an issue lately, especially as so many things seem to be falling into place nicely. Cantering on our happy left rein I pretty much just have to think the transition to canter and it happens. We can do circles of a sort (remembering that his concept of a circle has corners and mine is often egg-shaped – what I really mean is we can make shapes that are vaguely roundish) and I am generally more relaxed and in control than I have ever been in canter before. So some things are going very well. No doubt in time we’ll solve this and then some new problem will arise! But in the meantime if anyone knows any tricks for getting that right canter lead happening, please do let me know.

DSCN4244

———-

*Yes, UK spelling – Firstly because I’m British and secondly because I find it really confusing that in the US you have horses lounging around, which sounds way less energetic than the reality of what you’re writing about!

**Drifter really puffs up when girthed. Initially every day I struggle to get him into the  first hole one each side (i.e. the girth is as long as possible). Then I pick his feet which distracts him and then I can easily go up to 1 and 3. I walk him to the school where I go up to a minimum of 3 and 3 before getting on and should probably (although I often don’t) go to 4 on one side once I’m on.