Monday, April 25, 2011

Getting to “Ouch”

The Two-Point Position

 This past weekend it finally hit home that I’m not quite as balanced and fit as I should be.  It is very easy for me to believe that I am riding correctly because Dusty has such smooth even gaits there is no effort required to walk or post the trot.  I’ve never had a horse that was as comfortable as her and I have definitely gotten lazy about my leg strength, my core and my balance. Also, by simply riding Blue at a walk and trot it was easy to see that a horse with a stronger trot requires more leg and core strength, plus balance.  For riders to be secure and safe in the saddle these are the three absolutes that we can’t be without.

I came to these realizations during my ride on Dusty.  After some lovely trot work where she is really “getting it”, we started some shoulder – in exercises up the long side to start helping with her straightness issues. I wasn’t being particularly effective for more than a few strides here and there and so I had the proverbial light bulb moment: I had better stop the excuses about not being able to ride more than a few times a week and get on the ball. Not being effective while riding just isn’t going to get the job done for Dusty, Blue or me.

So, you may ask, what are you doing about getting back to your former skill level when you rode a few horses a day?  The answer isn’t easy or one I particularly wanted to hear.  From this point on I will be living in a two-point position because I feel this is the best single exercise to help you develop a secure, correct leg.  I don’t mean my patented lazy two-point either, where I would stand in the stirrups and ride around with a grin on my face looking for all the world like I had the perfect position in life.  No, I will be practicing the two-point correctly.

So to remind myself how to do this properly here is my mantra on two-point: Leg stability and position comes from balance - not from isolated gripping or pressure.  I’m guilty of gripping with just my knee at times but I’ve learned that gripping with any one part of your leg on the saddle rather than distributing the pressure between thigh, knee and calf will impair your position.

By dropping my leg gently around Dusty’s barrel I will allow my weight to sink through my knee, thigh and calf into my heel. By balancing with my knee and inner thigh and to do a good two-point position, you need to close your angles, so shortening stirrup leathers is usually a good place to start if you’re used to riding in a more “dressage-y” position.  Then I always have to remind myself that my knee needs to come forward and down, lower leg back to where my ankle is under my hip and my upper body can incline slightly forward.  All of this is done while resting the ball of my foot in my stirrups and allowing the weight to drop into my heel, rather than balancing on my stirrups or forcing my heel down, which pushes the leg forward and the seat back.  If I can work on this my leg should have the stability it needs in a few weeks time.

And let’s not forget the “look ma, no hands” aspect of a good two-point either.  By this I mean no pressing into the neck for balance (although it’s okay to grab mane if needed.)  I needed mane a few times; Dusty is built with a flat topline and I’m used to horses with a more upright neck.  This has been one of the hardest adjustments to get used to with her conformation.  It seems there is nothing in front of me but air.  

I did this exercise over the weekend and I can say that my inner thighs are a little ouchy. For some reason I find practicing this at the walk much harder than at the trot or canter. This position also helps get your abdomen or “core” in better shape.

Secondly, I am taking my stirrups away (though not while doing the two-point…yet.)  There will be no more relying on the stirrups to balance my position. I also tried this over the weekend and again “ouch.”  But really, it is one of the only ways to truly get a balanced seat.  It involves holding your leg in the position you would normally have with your stirrups and maintaining the correct position with inner thigh, knee and upper calf while sustaining a light seat.  It’s not as easy as it sounds and can be amusing to onlookers while my saddle is still in its non-broken-in slippery stage.  When done correctly after a while your seat will be balanced and you will feel more secure and safe. And that’s what I’m striving for …secure and safe.

Until next time
Quote for Today
Most persons do not ride; they are conveyed. 
    - M.F. McTaggart

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