I Try to Make My Thighs a Corridor for the Horses' Spines

I Try to Make My Thighs a Corridor for the Horses’ Spines

The heat has arrived.  Day after day of highs above 95 F with lows above 75 F, and by the time I get the horse ready I am already drinking lots of water and feeling HOT.

On Sunday I got to ride Cider and try out my new thigh strategy in getting her to move straighter.  My grandson Will was getting to ride Magic the second time and he looked a lot more confident!  While Shannon concentrated on teaching Will to ride, I got to experiment with Cider, seeking to get her straight enough so that she will not dive toward Shannon every time I ride her on loose reins.  Yes, I have been riding Cider with loose reins; however I’ve been constantly using my legs, seat and an occasional rein to keep her at the fence rail.  I started her off at the rail, using my thigh on the same side as Cider’s advancing hind leg (the swing phase), when otherwise my seat bone would be sinking down following Cider’s back.

The first result for my seat was that I realized when I pressed my thigh against the top of Cider’s barrel my seat bone on that side did not follow Cider’s back down, in other words both of my seat bones stayed more or less on the same horizontal plane.  I vaguely remembered decades ago being puzzled when I read the Duke of Newcastle’s book when he wrote that the rider’s seat bones remained on the same level.  I would quote him (if I am remembering this correctly), but his book is in one of the hundreds of boxes of books now in our new home and it may be months before I find it.

The second result for my seat was that I could not effectively use my lower leg on that side.  Say, on a turn to the left, when I felt the thrust of the right hind leg I pressed my left (inside) thigh against the horse, the action of my inside thigh seemed to encourage the horse’s spine to bend around my inside leg better than ever before.  It occurred to me that when the old Masters of Equitation wrote about using the inside leg to bend the horse they might have been referring to the THIGH, not the lower leg, “bending” the spine and not the horse’s rib cage.  I also did not have to use my outside leg at all to get a turn or curve.

While I was doing this Cider gradually straightened out.  After a minute or two she stopped trying to dive in towards Shannon when I loosened the reins, and she stayed on the rail when I rode her on the buckle.  Amazing, simply amazing.  Shannon had been glancing at Cider during my ride and said Cider was relaxing and licking her lips and seemed quite content with what I was doing with my thighs.   

When I got to the stable on Wednesday Debbie was not there to give me my lesson, she was teaching a seminar on judging.  I had all of these new ideas to try out on Bingo, but we had to wait for Bingo to finish his breakfast.  Finally he emptied his bucket and my husband and I got Bingo out of his stall.  On Tuesday I bought my husband a large pair of the HandsOn grooming gloves, so I let him use them on Bingo’s body while I got Bingo’s head and ticklish places with my own pair of gloves.  By the time we got to the ring I was hot, it was muggy and there were no breezes, however since I did not have to get tired by grooming Bingo all over with the HandsOn gloves I had a bit of energy left so I mounted better than I had been mounting the horses lately.  As we started our walk I started using my thighs alternately to see if it made any difference with Bingo’s straightness.  On the rail it was easier for me than on the curves, but I concentrated and I finally got my thighs pressing against the top of Bingo’s barrel at the correct time in his stride.

The results were, once again, simply amazing.  Bingo has this habit when off contact of bullying his way to wherever HE wants to go--the gate.  On Wednesday, however, I was happily riding Bingo with completely loose reins and, so long he was not near the gate, Bingo followed the path I had set for him.  On the curves I concentrated on alternating the action of my thighs, using my inner thigh a little bit stronger than I used my outside thigh, and Bingo kept himself on the curve without me using my lower leg, seat bones, or much rein. 

Bingo did so well during my ride that I did not mind when I ran out of energy after only twenty minutes.   Bingo had improved greatly!  He DESERVED me stopping my ride, so I got off.

Mia was another matter altogether.  For one thing I forgot to change the bit on the bridle I use at Debbie’s stable, so Mia had to suffer with the Pee Wee bit instead of the Wellep bit she prefers.  She was not particularly happy when I put it into her mouth or led her out to the riding ring.  Otherwise it was a day for a wonderful ride, it was not too hot yet and there was a wonderful cool breeze to cool me off.  I just concentrated on walking her around, picking up contact for a few steps, then loosening the reins whenever she seemed to be getting antsy.  This worked well enough that I decided to try a posting trot with contact, and Mia was not happy with me, she inverted and kept her head up all during the trot, and then she started flinging her head.  When she paused flinging her head around I asked for the walk, and she still flung her head around for a minute, then she stopped.  She did allow me to keep contact some more at the walk but she was muttering about me expecting her to be happy in the Pee Wee bit since years ago she had told me that she did not like this bit!

Mia did not seem to react much to me using my thighs to make a corridor for her spine with my thighs.  I hope that the next time I ride her I will remember to change the bit on my bridle and she will be more willing to “listen” to my thighs.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran 

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