I have been spending these last two months TRYING to get my body into the Forward Seat. Though I am showing great improvement in the stability of my lower leg, I am having great difficulty in keeping my knees in the knee roll. I start out great, but as the horse moves I find that my knees migrate back toward the stirrup leathers, robbing me of both my security and my main shock absorbers. I was beginning to despair, as nothing I did kept my knees in place in the saddle, unless I used a death grip with my knees which destabilized my lower leg, blocked all my shock absorbers, and exhausted my gripping muscles.
My absolutely wonderful riding teacher, Debbie, has been patiently helping me improve my seat. In this week's lesson she suggested that I try crossing my arms BEHIND MY BACK while in two point to correct the position of my upper body (I tend to round my upper back.) I must admit that I did not see how this would help, but tried it anyway. Trying to keep the reins from sliding off Mia's neck I crossed my arms behind my back, and the next time I checked, lo and behold, my knees were all the way in the knee rolls! TRIUMPH!!! Not only that, but my knees STAYED in the knee rolls for at least a few strides when I brought my arms forward.
The next time I rode I used two flash-noseband straps through the front Dees of my saddle so I could thread the reins through them. This took care of the Mia shaking the reins off her neck. I felt better since I could grab my reins without any difficulty when I needed to use them. Because I have neglected to get Mia stabilized on loose reins (as discussed last week), I often have to use the outside rein to get her back to the rail, so it was a few strides of the walk or trot in two-point with my arms behind my back, grab for the rein, get Mia back on track, then back to crossing my arms behind my back. Sometimes my knees would start out too far back, and I would have to grab the mane and bring my whole body forward, then move my arms behind my back. For the first time in my life I felt like I was wedged into the saddle with my legs.
AH--so THIS is what a secure seat feels like! WOW.
NONE of my previous riding teachers ever suggested this exercise to improve my knee position. NONE of my beloved books suggested this exercise as a cure for wandering knees. Before, when riding two-point at a trot, my knees felt like they were shaking loose of the saddle and would move back to the stirrup leather. I COULD NOT keep them in place and my whole position felt insecure. My position may have LOOKED good and my seat may have LOOKED secure, but let me tell you, my body knew that something was wrong! I always wondered WHY I was never secure enough to ride effectively at fast gaits and over jumps. I NEVER FELT SECURE BECAUSE MY KNEES WERE IN THE WRONG PLACE! For the first time of my life I have a stable base of support (my legs up to and including my knees) and my body above my knees feels completely independent, able to move freely as needed without destroying my base of support.
So the first few decades I rode I paid the price of being content with just being "good enough". The price was that my riding position lacked security. I never had the base of support that I needed to jump effectively. When I started riding again I settled for riding with my seat bones in the saddle and my knees back, forgetting that true security comes from the correct position of my LEGS. But now I have seen the light. For ME security on horseback only comes when I ride the Forward Seat correctly in ALL details all the time. Yes, I have to sit back and rest my muscles frequently, but now my body knows how to feel secure, and it wants to make the effort to ride correctly. Feeling secure on horseback is an addictive feeling!
I am sure it will take me several months to get my muscles strong enough to keep my position consistently. I notice that this new exercise is causing some strain in the muscle on the front of my thighs, and some additional strain on my back. I can't keep my arms behind my back for more than a quarter way around the ring, and then I have to rest for a while, usually in the Forward Seat position for Slow Equitation (which is finally correct,) but sometimes I get so tired I cannot even hold that position and have to accept putting my rear seat bones in the saddle. Being persistent, that's the key.
Some of the time my knees are FINALLY forward and down, and in the knee rolls!
Have a good ride.