The last several months I have been working hard to improve my position, with probably the vain hope of getting secure enough on horseback to safely jump two foot fences. My legs have improved greatly, I have gotten my seat forward in the saddle, and I feel like I am moving with the horse more. The biggest problem remaining has been my shoulders and back. My spine is mildly curved in two places, with a minor hump, and I had begun to despair about being able to get my shoulders working properly. My teacher would tell me to get my shoulders back and straighten my back. I would move my shoulders back, but my back was still curved, and it limited my hand's ability to follow the horses mouth forward smoothly, my shoulders felt like they would "catch", and I would have to "unhook" them to move my hands further forward.
Last week I finally received several riding books I had ordered on line. One of them was authored by Vladimir Littauer's partner in the Boots and Saddles Riding School in NYC, Sergei Kournakoff, a book called "School for Riding" (a primer for modern horsemanship.) I had never even heard about this book before. But in this long neglected riding book I finally found the remedy for my shoulders. Starting on page 24 there is this paragraph in the description of a boy's first lesson.
"Now, try to get your back straight....No, not that way: you tried to do it by throwing your shoulders back. This stiffened you all over, "up to the ears." Do it in the most effortless way: push your diaphragm forward....No, don't throw your chest out. Just push the upper part of your stomach (the solar plexus) forward."
So for the next few days before my lesson I practiced pushing the upper part of my stomach forward, trying to get the feel of it. This worked well for straightening my back without involving the muscles in my back. On Thursday I described this to Debbie, my riding teacher, and she had never heard it described this way either, and she agreed to remind me about moving my shoulders back using this new method.
It worked well. For the very first time in my life I was complemented on my shoulder placement while riding! And my back straightened enough for Debbie to tell me that my back was FINALLY straight! My arms felt so much freer when I followed my horse's mouth, moving forwards and back without any hitches. My knees also went down into the knee rolls without any further action on my part. The complements kept on coming throughout my ride. Wow, one little movement, so many good results!
It will take me a while to integrate this new movement into my riding. I will have to "relocate" where my body is in this new, correct posture. I felt mildly off balance because my posture was subtly different, it is something I will just have to get used to. But once I get it I think that I will finally have corrected the posture that had prevented me from advancing in my jumping all those decades ago. I do know that, without forcing my shoulders back, my muscles were much more relaxed and the stiffness in my back and arms went away.
So I have one more thing to check myself on while I ride, along with the head up-heels down mantra I now will add, "push my upper belly out when I start to hunch over." Too bad I did not run into this book decades ago. I would have saved myself a lot of pain.
Have a nice ride!