Social media is funny. Every now and then I’ll write a blog that I think is AWESOME, really knocking it out of the park, and it’ll get almost no response. And every now and then, I’ll flippantly post a funny little photo on my Facebook or Instagram page, and it’ll go viral.
Such was the case with the photo of my Very Sophisticated Classical Dressage Training Technique to try and teach me how to ride Ella with my reins short and my hands down—a neck rope made of baling twine. I slip the twine under my finger holding the reins (which is why I prefer twine to a neck rope: less material in my hands) and, should I attempt to stick my hands up my nose, the twine will hit her neck and remind me to put them back down where they belong.
That photo blew up my Facebook page. TONS of comments, 200-and-counting “likes”… who knew that my redneckery was going to be such a hit?
The success of that picture got me thinking of all the other creative, and not-so-creative, ways that I help my students (and yes, sometimes myself) address bad equitation habits. Here are a few.
1. Tie your stirrups to your girth to teach a stable lower leg. Use thread or yarn, or something else that will easily break—synthetic baling twine is strong as heck, so don’t use that—in case of disaster. Safety first! But it’s amazing what a difference that will make to those whose lower legs tend to roam. It’s also really good for strengthening the inner thigh, as many of us will push our feet away when we post the trot, or even sit it, instead of drawing up and in through our thigh and hamstring and, as a result, keeping our leg much more stable and close to the horse.
This is also great for those out there who like to swing their legs like crazy for the canter aids or the flying changes. While, of course, the leg is allowed to move forward and back accordingly for these aids, and for certain lateral work, there’s a range. And if you are one of those people who sometimes ends up spurring the saddle pad, this is an awesome trick for you.
2. Tie an elastic bandage around your body to control wayward elbows. Another crucial safety tip on this one: make sure the bandage isn’t tied so tight that you can’t easily slip it off in case of calamity (though if it’s so tight you can’t slip out of it, it’s probably also so tight that it’s cutting off your air supply, so you’ll probably notice.) Who among us hasn’t gone through a Bad Elbows Give You Wings stage? This one is so easy and SO helpful.
Knot the ends of the elastic bandage together, then wrap it around yourself, so it sits just above your elbows, and draws your elbows and upper arm into your sides. If you try and stick your elbows out, you’ll feel that elastic bandage engage, and you’ll draw your body back together. Great for keeping your core engaged too, since with the pressure of that bandage right below your bust, you’ll feel it around your tummy and back, too.
Do remember you’re wearing it, though. I had a student once finish her lesson and pop the bandage off her arms, where it lay around her neck like a scarf. It was wintertime, and so she simply forgot she had it on, and untacked her horse, went to the grocery store and drove home all while wearing the bandage. Could be this winter’s next big fashion accessory, perhaps?
3. The colored braid. Long long ago, I did the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association over fences equitation stuff for about a minute. And I sucked at it. The reasons for my sucking are numerous, but one of them is that I had a terrible time figuring out a release; my timing stunk, and it was hard enough to get my body forward, much less get my arms out in front of me that far, so totally foreign to my lifelong-DQ body.
Enter the Release Braid. In schooling, it was a single braid, placed at the point where I should strive to get my hands to make an adequate crest release. And while we never could do this for IHSA shows, I’ve met other girls who had a different colored piece of yarn or rubber band in their horses’ manes at shows to indicate that spot.
For us DQs, I’ve started using that for some of my worst stare-at-the-neck offenders. A braid halfway down the mane is a reminder to NOT stare at that braid; every time you catch yourself looking at it, look up.
4. The Shouldersback. This is a handy little device that was designed, I believe, with the jumper rider in mind, which is possibly why I personally don’t like riding with it. It looks like a backwards sports bra, and the straps come around your shoulders and your chest to make it much harder to slouch. I find it impedes my ability to follow my horse’s motion with a reasonable contact, though you might not, so it’s worth a shot to ride with.
But that’s not what I like this thing for. I like it for driving, and I like it for sitting at a desk.
So many of my students are amateurs with “real” jobs that, inevitably, involve some behind-the-wheel time, some desk time, or both. And inevitably, when they slouch while driving or officing, they slouch on their horses. Try one of these guys while you’re on the road or at your desk. It’ll knock your socks off, and it’ll carry over to your riding. I guarantee it.
5. Kiss those stirrups goodbye. I know, I know, that old chestnut. But man-oh-man, you can’t do anything better for your riding. Your leg will become quiet. Your seat will become still. Your core will become way, Way, WAY stronger. You’ll love it. Eventually. (Definitely not right away, though. Let ibuprofen be your friend.)
But one thing to think about sans stirrups: make sure that you don’t pinch with your knee and thigh. Sitting on a horse is an active process, not a passive one, and you should use muscles to hold yourself in the saddle instead of just being in the saddle and letting gravity do all the work, but if you grab with your knees or thighs you’ll become a clothespin on a bowling ball—you pop off.
Those are a few of my favorite equitation fixes. What are yours?