Last night I had two marvelous lessons. They were both with horses and students I'd never worked with before, so much of the mounted time was spent helping the riders find a neutral pelvis, and begin learning to use it to move with their horses. In both cases, the results were phenomenal.
In the first lesson, the horse was a 7 year old Warmblood. Tall, leggy, and goofy, this horse had plenty of reach through his neck, but very little engagement behind. He lacked 'swing,' didn't bother to flex his lumbo-sacral joint, and dragged his hind toes on the ground. This all changed, though, when his rider put her back in the back, let her upper body buoy forward, and allowed her thighs and knees to roll out with the rhythmic motion of his barrel.* Suddenly, he was visibly lighter in the withers, and the sound of his hind feet kicking sand ceased.
An even more exciting change came when we began working at the trot. Because of her horse's tendency to lack impulsion, the rider had developed a habit of posting very actively, moving her lower leg dramatically with every stride to try to urge him on. This in turn led to her hollowing her lower back and gripping with her knees. When she softened her back, quieted her posting, and released her thighs, all of the sudden her horse began swinging through his back! His plodding, laborious trot became springy, buoyant, and free! His back and hindquarters were visibly more mobile. It was a joy to behold.
The second lesson was completely different. In this case, the horse was a small mare, with a tendency to be quick and spooky. I nonetheless began the ride by helping her rider get into neutral and find the forward buoy, but in this case, it was to promote soft, quiet, organized motion, instead of the mare's habitual hyperactivity.
We were in an indoor arena, and every time the mare would go by the end with the doors (read, bogeyman,) her head would go up, her step would quicken, and she'd come out of the corner crooked and tense. At least, this was true until her rider stopped trying to correct her, and instead unified her upper body (taking the wiggle out of her middle*) and found the forward buoy. This allowed the mare to soften her back under her rider's now-quiet seat, and go by the doors without panic, with a long neck and an even stride. Good girl!
The next challenge was to correct the mare's tendency to drift off the rail on the long side. Once again, her rider was valiantly trying to guide her horse using inside leg aids, but this was causing tightness in her thigh and lower back, and her upper body was getting stuck behind the motion. As soon as she concentrated on maintaining her buoy and following the swing in her horse's barrel, the drifting stopped, because the mare could no longer brace against the rider's tight knee and thigh, and instead felt encouraged to go forward evenly by the rider facilitating the rhythm!
What do these two rides have in common? Both horses benefited from their riders doing LESS. Instead of constantly using aids to correct their horse's habits, all these riders did was get out of the way. In so doing, they helped the horses break their habits of habitual tension which were causing the problematic behavior (ie, lack of impulsion, spookiness, crookedness, etc).
When we struggle against our horses with our muscles, it gives them something to brace against. It makes them tight. This causes pretty much every problem you can think of; too fast, too slow, cutting corners, refusing fences, you name it, a tight topline is involved. Thankfully there is a better way! When we learn to ride in a neutral pelvis, breathe into our backs,* and offer our aids without compromising our own balance, our horses can perform to their full potential with joy and ease.
Many thanks to my new students and their horses for their hard work last night, and to all of my students for constantly inspiring me!
*This is a Connected Riding (TM) concept, created by Peggy Cummings. www.connectedriding.com.