Working on My Knees

When I got to the stable on Friday to ride Mia it was already warm, I even took off my hoodie before I walked into the barn. Mia is still shedding, though not as bad as last last week, so grooming was quicker. Since she still has a good bit of her winter coat still covering her body I decided that it might be a good idea to leave her BOT butt blanket off. She was definitely less body sore than the previous week.

Ever since my ride on Magic two weeks ago, my hip bursitis in my left hip has bothered me. It was so bad Friday morning I was sort of worried about mounting Mia, but I managed to get up into the saddle without causing Mia too much distress, though she made sure to tell me that I needed to do better! A few minutes into the ride it was obvious to me that I made the wrong decision to leave the butt blanket off, she was stiffer than usual and I did not feel her normal “drive” from her hind legs. So I decided that this was a wonderful opportunity for me to work on the little picky details of my position while Mia walked around.

Lately, while practicing my “rider's push-ups” Debbie has gotten after me about my lower leg moving back and not being steady. This weakens my whole position and makes the “rider's push-ups” a mildly terrifying exercise where I feel like I could become a “lawn-dart” if the horse moves wrong. The answer for me is to move my lower leg forward so it rests in the “girth groove', where the back of my lower legs rests just where the horse's rib cage starts to swell out. This helps, BUT if I pinch with my knees my lower leg still gets wiggly and I still feel like I am teetering in the stirrups. Once I stop pinching with my knees and grip with my upper calf muscles my lower leg becomes stable and I feel perfectly secure when I do the “rider's push-ups.”

As I relaxed the tension in my knee joints my whole leg rotated a little, with my toes coming in. I could get up into two-point easily. I HAVE TO be aware of my knees the whole time I am doing the “rider's push-ups” or my knees start gripping. This has been a habit of mine dating from 60 years ago when I first mounted horses and “learned” to ride with minimal instruction (my parents thought more than two riding lessons was a waste of money.) Every time I feel insecure in the saddle my knees start gripping and my whole position goes to hell.

Of course I was also working on getting my shoulder blades back and down against my rib-cage, pushing out with my diaphragm, and keeping my face vertical all through the “rider's push-up.” All of these help prevent the danger of becoming a “lawn-dart”, but I've found that with an unstable lower legs I do not get any feeling of security. When I finally got everything right I ended up feeling like I was riding race horse exercise rider's seat, with my lower leg definitely more forward than usual, and I felt a little behind the motion of the horse.

When I did everything right it was amazing how much deeper I felt in the saddle when I finally sat down. My hips felt open rather than clenched and my seat was moving with the horse better. Then I practiced being erect in the saddle, with some of my weight going down my seat bones. After I shrugged my shoulder blades back and down, and pushed out with my diaphragm I felt like I was falling backwards, so I then concentrated on keeping my face vertical which helps me avoid feelings of vertigo. Mia rewarded me by continuing to stride forth confidently and by promptly obeying my leg, seat and rein aids.

Even with my Rainbow reins, Mia tells me that I still have problems keeping my reins even enough to content Mia (and Bingo.) As she obeys my driving leg aids I can feel her moving her head along the cable that goes through the mouthpiece of the Wellep bit. I then concentrated on keeping equal weight on my seat bones while they followed the motion of Mia's back, and I made sure to move both sides equally forward and back so my seat does not interfere with her forward movement. I have this bad habit of LOOKING DOWN to the horse's head, this habit is almost a “security blanket” for me, and it seems to squash down on the free forward movement of the horse. It increases my tendencies to want to micro-manage the horse. With my posture, with my seat, and with my hands I had been squelching Mia's forward movement somewhat, and she was greatly relieved when I finally got myself together and stopped interfering with her!

I don't think I had ever gotten quite so tired just walking a horse as I did with Mia on Friday. I had worked my legs, back, shoulders, arms and hip joints. My muscles were tired and I felt like I had ridden for an hour instead of just 30 minutes. Keeping a proper position can be physically challenging at first until the proper muscles get strong enough.

All this nit-picky detail does not matter that much for riders who are naturally athletic, with good balance, reflexes and proprioceptive sense. However for those of us who are less gifted physically a good position can be a life saver (as in preventing becoming a “lawn-dart”!) The horses approve of good positions for their riders, it makes the rider feel less heavy in the saddle, the rider becomes more stable in the saddle, and the rider can make their aids lighter to get the same results. Spending time on concentrating on these nit-picky details can make your horses MUCH HAPPIER with you!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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