Learning How to Use My Upper Thigh
Several weeks ago I had run into a quote from Stephen Peters that said that the lower legs do the driving aids and that the thighs do the collecting aids. From what Debbie has told me about how she gives her halting aids I knew that Debbie had already figured this out long ago, even it she had not put the idea forth in a pithy statement. After discussing this quote with Debbie I decided that it might be a good idea for me to include my upper thigh in my slowing down/collecting/halting aids.
Last Sunday I experimented a little bit on Cider, she slowed down a little bit but showed absolutely no signs of collecting. I used my upper thighs mostly when she was going down slope, when I usually give her collecting signals with my alternating lower legs. She did not seem to get irritated but she did not lift her back under me, but that might have been because she felt stiffer under me. After a few tries I decided to talk it over with Debbie and try it on Bingo.
I had not used my upper thigh muscles before because it takes a lot less energy for me to tweak my fingers than to use my seat as an aid. However Bingo seemed to have forgotten about tweaking fingers as a valid aid, requiring several repetitions, and finally setting my hands which resulted in a gaping mouth. Right now he is super resistant to stopping from just my hands and my posture, so obviously now is the best time to add another non-abusive aid to my repertoire when I ride him.
The first time I asked Bingo to halt he was as resistant as he had been during our first ride back. All the improvement I saw last week had disappeared. So I added the upper thigh grip, and Bingo did slow down, and eventually I was able to get a halt without too much gaping and resistance. This is a new aid for Bingo (at least a new aid from me,) and he had to figure out what I wanted from him. Since this is a new aid for me I had to start figuring out the best time to apply this aid. At first I alternated according to his hind legs, activating my thigh when Bingo put his hind foot down on that side. Bingo “said” “DUH?” and kept on walking. Then I gripped with both thighs at once and Bingo slowed down a little bit. I alternated gripping with my upper thighs and using both hands lightly at the same time (not alternating) and he finally stopped (and got praised mightily!)
While I was gripping with my upper thigh I noticed that my knee went up a little bit on the saddle, my weight switched from my stirrup to further up my leg, and my heels also went up a little bit. I asked Debbie about this and she said it was normal. Of course this explains why I never really got into using this aid, anything that brings my heels up makes my seat less secure.
I found the reasons for my legs acting this way when I went to my medical dictionary. The muscle that I was using on my upper thigh is the gracilis muscle, which goes from the inside of the bottom of the public bone to the inside of the tibia to the rear just below the knee. It is one of the adductor muscles which we use for gripping, and it also helps to flex the knee. From reading this it seems obvious to me that I will have to alternate between using the gracilis muscle and lengthening my leg so that I can “drop” my knee down the saddle flap and get my weight into my heels so I can regain my security for a second.
When I got home I tried to think of how I could get this muscle stronger, and I finally ended up trying to hold my Equicube up high between my upper thighs. When I gripped my Equicube I noticed that my seat bones went UP a little bit. This explained to me why the upper thigh grip can be useful for slowing down or collecting, when my seat bones go up—even just lightening the weight of my seat bones on the saddle, it gives the horse's back room to go up when he “rounds” and lifts his spine under my seat. I suspect that using this muscle also moves my lower leg back a little which could be serving as a light leg aid.
I am glad using my gracilis muscles as an aid does something positive for the horse. I have been going through months of getting more and more exhausted from my normal activities, so using a new muscle just makes me even more tired. I am so glad I got my Rider Grips, the extra friction means I do not have to use as much muscle to keep my seat in the saddle correct. Right now I can barely handle 30 minutes of walking around with two brief trots, without the Rider Grips I would be consigned to just walking because I would not have the energy to post the trot or even sit the trot, much less use a “new” muscle in my thighs. But with the added security I can afford to experiment some with using my muscles in new ways, at least until the summer heat prostrates me.
Have a great ride!