Since my last blog entry, I decided to follow up the Centered Riding clinic that inspired that blog, with some lessons in the process of becoming a Centered Riding instructor.
It's an interesting journey. If you've never read Sally Swift's book, Centered Riding, I highly recommend that you do: there are great illustrations and visuals in there which can really help you with awareness and posture while you are riding.
The Equifitt work I do most of the time is about building balanced strength and flexibility, and developing muscle memory and correct muscle firing patterns for effective movement and good posture. If you were riding in an Equifitt clinic, you'd go home with some exercises selected for you, based on what your biomechanics are in the saddle, and other health or wellnes priorities you may have which have an impact on your riding. You would have recommendations to do the various exercises for several weeks: some every day, some a couple times a week over the following month to ensure improvement.
Improvement in flexibility takes doing something about it, every day. The good news is, even just a couple of minutes a day make a difference. Strength imbalances and 'faulty' muscle memory or movement patterns which may be causing tightness, or other structural issues (such as you may see a chiropractor to treat), would take longer to fix because muscle fibre builds relatively slowly, and it takes tens of thousands of repetitions to create a muscle memory...and even more to undo an ineffective one and replace it with a better one.
The catch is that you are always creating muscle memory. When you're in the saddle, you're out there hardwiring movement patterns. If they aren't the ones that are producing the results you need, then it's time to change them. It's exactly like training your horse: you're either reinforcing the desired behaviours, or you're training (rewarding, encouraging) the other behaviours.
Because the work I do as a personal trainer and clinician is all about your posture and effective riding, and Centered Riding ideas, like Equifitt training is all about correct biomechanics for horse and rider, people have been asking me what's different about my new journey into Centered Riding.
You create new muscle memory and a better feeling for true 'straight' on the ground through your rider fitness (stretching, strengthening, cardio..other aspects). You carry what you have on the ground into the saddle, but sometimes there's a little bit of a gap between your awareness on the ground, and in the saddle. This is where the Centered Riding images and exercises can help. If you have ever heard your coach tell you to imagine a string from the top of your head pulling you up, then you have already been introduced to a Centered Riding image.
In my case for example, even though I have been diligently training my core for good back posture, and doing balance training for sitting symmetrically in the saddle, I have had some challenges with flying lead changes. The challenges have brought me back to some basics in my riding. No matter how much good ground training you do, you still have to have good riding coaching to get to the next level. I have a good riding (dressage
) coach, but she was not helping me catch the biomechanic issue that was behind the flying change problems. Since I couldn't see myself ride, I couldn't catch it for myself.
In my last Centered Riding lesson, my coach shortened my stirrups, took away my offset stirrups and told me to lift my little toes. Because of my fitness, I could just go with the changes. My fitness level made it possible to make a lot of progress in a very intense lesson, because I had the muscular strength, stamina and body awareness to just keep doing what I was told until we got to where the coach was trying to bring us. That was a trot that was so high off the forehand it felt like we were floating. I had been inadvertently driving my horse onto his forehand with too much pressure in my stirrup irons. No wonder canter pirhouette was hard work and canter generally had a front to back feel to it, rather than the back to front motion of energy needed for nice work through the back. In fact, it almost seemed that just by lifting my little toes, I suddenly needed leg aids 75% less strong to keep momentum, or change direction. My Centered Riding coach is not the person I'd go to in order to learn correct aids for canter half pass and lead changes. She also wouldn't be the person I'd go to for advice on building lean strong muscle and improving my own body control. But she was definitely the right person to help me take the biomechanic roadblocks out of the way.
The lazy version of myself (she/he is in all of us) had a bright idea: why not stop all this sweaty working out and core work, and just go with these easy loosening exercises we learned in the Centered Riding lesson?
Because I'd lose the self-carriage and stamina. Awareness and lightness can only work when you can hold yourself there for the duration of your ride, without using compensating patterns that would create other issues structurally or gymnastically (need for chiropractor, need for massage therapist). I never advocate strength training as a way to muscle your way through a ride.
Remember: the Ride Fit 1-2-3 blogspace is an 'online clinic' where you can post questions and pictures and get some feedback for free. You can also watch for my monthly rider fitness articles for Dressage Today at www.equisearch.com
under 'Fitness Tip of the Month for Riders' (click HERE
to go to one of them) or sign up on my website for free monthly tips (click HERE for the FREE Fittips Signup Page
Until next time,
happy riding and training!
Heather Sansom, owner www.equifitt.com
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, and don't get tired partway through the lesson.