Last week, riding on three horses, I tried out the new (for me) technique for turning described in Jean Luc Cornille's blog "Lateral Bending and Transversal Rotation Part 2."
When riding Forward Seat turning is rather simple, the rider uses the inside leading rein for gradual turns, the inside rein of direct opposition for a sharper turn, always advancing the outside rein, and using the inside or outside lower leg as needed to control the size of the turn. Caprilli did not believe in using the indirect reins of opposition for turning the horse, but later Forward Seat authors did use the indirect rein, mainly to reinforce the inside rein if the horse resisted turning. I've used Caprilli's method most of my riding life. It is nice and simple, the horses, once trained, seem to find the aids easily understandable, and since I am not trying to regulate the turns exactly the horses do not get upset. Of course, since in the Forward Seat we keep a lot of weight off our seat bones, weight aids did not enter the picture except for weighing the inside stirrup for a fast sharp turn in order to keep the rider's whole body inclining the same amount as the horse's body.
Later on in my riding life, when I started reading heavily in the dressage books, I did not use any of the dressage turning techniques I tried for long. While the turns I made using the Forward Seat system may not have been ideal I did not cause the horse any great discomfort. Part of my problem with using weight aids was my horrible side-to-side balance, it is very hard for me to judge exactly how much I am weighing a seat bone and the horses did NOT appreciate that! But even those times that my body worked well enough to give a subtle weight aid the horses turned like they were under a compulsion instead of the cheerful "yes, lets do this" I can get when turning using the Forward Seat method. I tried most of the dressage methods for a short time, and if my horse did not turn cheerfully after a few rides I dropped the new technique and went back to my old methods. Finally, after years of study and thinking, I changed my Forward Seat method of turning, instead of doing the hand aids using the inside rein, I kept normal contact with the inside rein and advanced my outside rein (still keeping contact.) My turns immediately improved, the horses cooperated even more cheerfully and they stopped slowing down. I also changed my leg aid, for most of my turns nowadays I use my outside leg AT THE GIRTH when the inside front leg is advancing, and I use my whole leg starting up at the hip and only adding my lower leg if the response is not as much as I want. This method is not perfect but at least 75% of the time I get the turns I want. When the horse resists I go back to the inside leading rein and if that is not enough I add my inside leg. Sometimes I have to be persistent to achieve success, but usually all I need are light aids applied for each step of the turn. My method works but there are limitations.
After 40 years of riding I had definitely come to a place where my turns were not improving any more, and I thought I had explored all the possibilities that did not interfere with my horses' movement or my system of riding.
When I read about Jean Luc's method of advancing the outside hip and shoulder together I decided to try it. My first experimentee was the Arab gelding Mick who came to Debbie's barn with back problems. Mick has shown great improvement with two adjustments by a chiropractor and finding a saddle that fit him and a girth he was content with. I was not expecting much. I was wrong. The first time I advanced my outside hip and shoulder Mick was on a loose rein and I made sure not to use my legs. Mick started turning immediately and did not stop turning until I moved my outside seat bone back to its regular place in the saddle (maybe 1/2 inch to the front and back, no more), making sure my outside shoulder moved back with my hip. I got great success just using my seat while turning toward Debbie, turning away from Debbie I had to use my inside rein and outside leg occasionally. I was worried that I was doing something wrong because I was rotating on my inside seat bone which went down and Mick was not totally sure about that. But I was pleased, Mick was voluntarily and cheerfully turning without me having to use much hand or leg. ANYTHING that allows me to move my muscles less can really help me since any additional movements make me tired. After reporting my results to Jean Luc he suggested moving so my inside seat bone does not go down.
My next experimental subject was the Arab mare Mia. I was not in a lesson, just riding around the ring with no one in the center. I had changed my bit from the Dr. Bristol snaffle to a Mullen mouth snaffle since the horses had been suddenly getting irritated with my hands, probably from neurological damage from that pesky head cold I had. So the first half of my ride Mia was busy exploring the new mouthpiece, getting upset all over again about walking through puddles, coming up with old evasions and resistances until we got in tune with the new mouthpiece. Halfway through the ride we got in synch again and I tried my new method. Mia was pretty cooperative with moving into a turn but her response was not as dramatic as Mick's and I ended up having to use more inside hand and outside leg to get her to complete a circle, but even so I was using maybe a third of the hand and leg aids that I normally do. Since Mia is twice as old as Mick I just tried my new method occasionally during my ride, I got cooperation but it was just that Mia was not quite as cheerful as Mick about my new technique. I had changed from rotating around my inside seat bone when I advanced my outside seat bone to rotating around the center of my seat, my outside seatbone and shoulder slightly forward while my outside seat bone and shoulder went slightly back. My inside seatbone stopped going down but I was having some problems getting my whole body coordinated between the new way of using my seat and the different way the Mullen mouth snaffle operates in the horse's mouth and this surely affected Mia's performance. I even experimented with using this new technique in the two point position, bringing my outside thigh slightly forward with my inside thigh slightly back and Mia seemed to like this better than when I did it sitting down. The important thing is that Mia did not get irritated with this new seat aid. She even gave me very good contact in the last part of my ride.
Today I got to ride Cider. If you have been following my blogs you may remember that Cider has been giving me trouble with going straight at the fence and she has had a tendency to fall inward while turning. Cider is the horse that convinced me that I had some neurological damage with my hands when she stopped keeping contact cheerfully with the Dr. Bristol snaffle. Cider totally approved of the Mullen mouthpiece from the moment we put the bridle on. After a few minutes of riding and enjoying having really good contact again I loosened the reins and rotated my outside hip and shoulder forward. Cider turned cheerfully, I needed no rein or leg aids when I turned toward Shannon, and minimal reminders when I turned away from Shannon. After I explained to Shannon what I was doing new and showing her how readily Cider was turning I went back to the fence and, wonders of wonders, Cider started going STRAIGHT with only occasional indications that she wanted to dive in toward Shannon. Such a big difference from when I had to use a rein aid and a leg aid for each stride with Cider leaning on the outside rein (both bitted and bitless). Cider's trot was also a lot straighter, full of impulse and with good voluntary contact. Then I did more turns at a walk using just my seat, went back to the fence and then Cider gave me the best ride around the arena that she has ever given me, straight and soft, with gentle responsive contact. Of course I ended my ride then because Cider finally gave me what I wanted after years of trying one thing after another. Cider was a GOOD GIRL today!
Wonderful and amazing, I finally learned a dressage technique with the seat that does not irritate the horses! It will take me a while to integrate this fully into my riding, especially when I am riding Forward Seat. I know that Jean Luc said that the pelvis has to be in a neutral position, and I did that with Mick and at first with Mia. Most of the time on Cider I was going from a central seat with a neutral pelvis with me rotating my seat to a Forward Seat with my weight on the front part of my seat bones and a definite caving in of my lower back, and up to two point position, moving my outside upper thigh forward. This technique worked with both the central and forward seats. I am excited, since I am riding other people's horses with problems from past riding and training I have had to spend a lot of time gradually getting the horse's back to work right and I am not always successful. Now, with me encouraging the horse to do a proper transversal rotation with my seat or thighs, I think I will become even more effective with getting the horses to move properly. I just have to get properly coordinated and figure out how to do it best while riding in a center position to riding in a full gallop/jumping two point seat. I am excited, just by adding this all of a sudden I am becoming a much more effective rider. Now I have to learn how to do it subtly and in rhythm with the horse's motion.
Next year I will have to save up my money to buy Jean Luc's books. Considering the positive results I am getting from reading Jean Luc's blogs I think these books will be worth every penny.
Have a great ride!