Getting FORWARD in my Saddle

I'm sorry it has been so long. My son visited and he was carrying some bug or another and I got sick. Since then my energy levels have been LOW.

I did get some rides in. I got some different stuff from MJ but I paid for my rides with my aching joints and muscles. Then my energy levels plummeted, I went from 30 minutes total on the Home Horse then the next week I could only do 10 minutes, with 2-point, 3-point, “walking”, posting some and trying to keep my balance.

The next week I got worse (I did too much too soon) and by Friday I had started staggering around the house after bouts digestive problems. Boo, hiss. I was also pretty weak and I felt tired all the time.

Shannon had not been able to come out on Sunday for two weeks. Last Sunday I got my husband to help me with the Home Horse. Since I was so tired and weak I decided just to spend 5 minutes in the saddle with my feet flat on the platform and to just concentrate on keeping my balance.

Watching the bubble balance attentively my husband worked first on getting me even from side to side. I made sure that my feet were in the same place on each side which helped. Finally I got my balance from side to side, so I asked my husband to concentrate on the bubble that shows front to back balance.

Sitting in the saddle on the HH like I always do my weight was too far back. First I scooted my saddle as far forward as it would go on the HH, and that helped a tiny bit. Then I moved my pelvis so that my pubic bone was right against the pommel of my saddle. That helped a little bit more but I was still nowhere near balanced. Then I advanced my waist by bearing down with my diaphragm which helped a little bit more. Then I leaned forward from my hips with a tiny bit more improvement. During all of this I was keeping my face vertical, got my shoulder blades flush with my rig cage, and I made sure that my loin was concave.

And that darn bubble was still too far back.

Only when I put my weight on my pubic bone and taking all weight off of my seat bones did I finally get that bubble centered. The crotch seat worked when nothing else worked. I managed to stay centered from side to side and from front to back while sitting still on the HH. It took a lot of energy to keep my body centered like this and I only lasted 6 minutes before I got too tired and stopped for the day.

When I got to the stable on Wednesday I told Debbie how exhausted I felt and not to expect much beyond a walk. I mounted and told Debbie about my HH adventure in finding my balance from front to back, and I showed her the seat that worked, pubic bone against the pommel and no weight on my seat bones. It was easier to do on MJ than it was on the HH, it really helps to have the horse's barrel support my thighs. I asked MJ to move to a walk, he responded, and for the first time in months I did not feel MJ asking me to get my butt off of the saddle.

So long as I kept my new position in the saddle MJ was nicely responsive to my leg aids. I also did not have to keep repeating my leg aids to keep MJ moving along. Then Debbie wanted me to trot MJ a little bit to get his muscles loosened up. It took much lighter leg aids to get him into the trot and keep him trotting at a decent speed. I did my usual short posting trot, doing a rather shallow S so I could change diagonals at least once in my ride.

Back at the walk MJ responded even better to my leg aids. He strode off at the walk with a longer stride than normal and I used a lot less leg to keep him at that speed. When I asked him to extend his stride a little bit more he responded immediately, and again I did not have to do leg, leg, leg to keep him moving out. He reached for and kept contact with the bridoon just fine, and while it took a little bit of time for him to realize that my aids still meant the same even if I was sitting differently on his back he quickly figured it out.

Then I did my normal tying up the bridoon rein and asking for contact with just the curb. Everything went fine, he strode forth confidently, kept contact with the curb bit easily, keeping his mouth, tongue, poll and back relaxed and moving smoothly. Then I asked for the slow walk with my lower legs.

At first he did not understand why he should slow down when my seat was so forward in the saddle. After feathering the sagging curb rein lightly he slowed down a little bit, not dead slow though. Then I felt something really interesting under the saddle, MJ raised his back under me which he had never done before in the slow walk. After a stride or two I told him good boy and asked him to go back to his normal walking speed.

Every other time in the past few years I had asked MJ to go from his super slow walk to his normal walk I always felt this little hitch in his back, sort of like a gear slipping in a straight drive car, with MJ showing reluctance to move out again. This time however I did NOT feel that little hitch in his back and he accelerated smoothly and willingly.

I had been trying to figure out how to get rid of this hitch going from the slow walk to his regular walk and nothing had worked. Getting my butt forward in the saddle and keeping all weight off of my seat bones worked quickly and easily.

At home I dug into my Forward Seat section of my horse library. In “Riding Reflections” by Capt. Piero Santini (Caprilli's fellow Italian cavalry officer and student) I read this in Chapter Two, page 9:

“The verb 'to sit' should be eliminated from our vocabulary where riding is concerned, for the idea it conveys is intrinsically misleading.”

“... the word 'perch' would more aptly suggest the position of the rider should assume in what is commonly described as the 'forward' seat.

“ By saying that if the back of the saddle were cut away the modern horseman ought never to notice its absence, we would be giving an extreme but accurate illustration of the only poise which makes the rider elastically one with the horse. In other words he should be well forward in the saddle, with loins bent inwards, and fork close to the pommel, thereby reducing to the least possible fraction contact between buttocks and saddle. If this position is adopted we are immediately struck by the impression that a horse can comfortably carry much more than his usual burden, and for obvious reasons: he has the bulk of the rider's weight where he feels it the least, ie., on the forehand, (with) his propelling apparatus—loins and quarters—free of encumbrance.”

This WORKED with MJ on Wednesday though I was really, really tired. His back was happier without my butt pressing down upon it, and he responded by moving easier, with fluidity, enjoying his back's freedom to move. MJ went from feeling like a sort of sluggish lesson horse under me to feeling like an athletic mover with impulse and reach, looking forward eagerly for more ground to cover. MJ moved like he was a decade younger than his 25 years.

MJ is a convert. Now I just have to get myself strong enough so I can keep within this position for my 30 minute ride. At least I have my Home Horse at home that will SHOW my spotter when my weight is too far back, and I can use it to help me build the proper riding muscles for getting my weight FORWARD in the saddle.

I'll get there eventually. With my use of Forward Control and Forward Schooling I will finally be able to fulfill Vladimir Littauer's three basics of Forward Seat riding in that my seat will FINALLY be forward like it should be!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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