Back when I was young, I found myself participating in a clinic in front of a big-name trainer. Being the motivated, overzealous teen that I was, I was desperately trying to make a good impression. After being put through our paces, the big-name trainer said to me, in dubious tones, “When you ride… you look like a monkey on a baseball.”
I might not have known much, being so young, but I knew this was NOT a compliment! And I certainly knew that I never would be able to rid myself of the confusing mental image of a monkey on a baseball.
I VOWED that I would dedicate myself to bettering my riding and NEVER hear again those dreaded words (monkeyyyyy… baseballlllll… so haunting!).
Fast-forward 20 years.
I’m now an adult and a professional to boot. One of the things I am famous for is being a stickler for correct equitation. I put the notion of impeccable riding into all of my students’ minds, whether they are young or old. In my spare time, I do my very best to set a great example! While I often ride young horses, where function occasionally outweighs form, you better believe that I take “No Stirrup November” seriously.
SO. Imagine my HORROR, when I was viewing my professional photos from a summer show, and I saw monkey-on-baseball-itis IN FULL FORCE. (Side note: my horse looked great and is evidently capable of ignoring my idiot riding!)
I can cut myself some slack, especially when looking at photos that only capture one small moment. But you guys, there were enough “moments” to cause me to create a whole photo slide show, complete with arrows and artwork to bring attention to the burgeoning equitation meltdown.
I showed the glorious photo montage to my student Casey, who currently has the ride on my retired FEI horse, Baffin. I have known this kid forever, and we are pretty honest with each other. She looked at a particular shot, which I like to call “posting canter in motion,” and she said, “Yep. You probably should fix that.”
(While I would love to show pics of “posting canter,” they are not for public use, so use your imagination! It was quite spectacular.)
I promptly threw myself into full blown Equitation Boot Camp, also known as “Operation get your head UP and your a@@ in the saddle!”
I gave myself two weeks to lay the smack down and bring a complete cease and desist order to my wonky hand, downturned cranium and posting canter. My coach, Susanne Hamilton, had not been shouting at me about my position, and I assumed that it was because I was catching things just in the nick of time before total chaos became the norm. Or, because she is nice. (She is. but not that nice….!! She just trusts that I can keep myself in order.)
AND RECLAIM ORDER I DID.
Every day, on every horse, I picked my head UP and sat my a@@ DOWN. I said “NO MORE” to my weird little left hand/claw (wtf?). I asked people to video my riding so I could see, in excruciating detail, MY FLAWS!! I gave myself a lot of (friendly) crap. Casey gave me crap. My MOM gave me crap! I did some squats and planks! (But only about three, so that was not the key to success.) I asked Susanne to tell me to quit riding like a jerk! At one point during a lesson she said to me, “Hey…. You know… if you would quit riding like a… (her voice turned to a whisper) …jerk.. you’d be ALL SET!” She was horrified by herself and said that she could not say such things with a straight face.
The whole thing was a lot of fun, because while I take my riding very seriously, I do not take myself very seriously at all. And if you can’t have a laugh at your own expense, then you really are missing out! I’m also lucky to be fit enough to make significant form changes to basic issues in short order.
Since I was certainly not private about Operation Don’t Ride Like A Jack@ss, I got a lot of comments (and laughs) from my adult amateur riders, and they had questions about things they could be doing at home to improve between lessons. (They don’t want to suffer another No Stirrup November, from the looks of things!)
So, for riders who want to whip themselves into presentable shape, here are a few suggestions that anyone can benefit from:
• Ride without your stirrups, and take some longe lessons.
• Get some video or mirror feedback. Those sources are very honest.
• Get your head up and your a@@ DOWN, and remember that improving a little every day is all we can expect!
• Have fun. Laugh about your posting canter. Then work on getting better. (We all work towards that, believe me!)
• Stock up on some Advil and/or beers and/or butt paste and/or bourbon. Because all that no stirrup stuff can be rough.
So at the end of Operation Equitation, how were things going?? Well, riding better, wiser and smarter is feeling more like a habit. It can be hard to ride a bunch of babies and remember to ride the horse you want, not the horse you have. I know that my horses all benefit from any improvement that I can make in my own riding, so focus like this is basically money in the bank. While I hope to have retired the monkey on a baseball once and for all, I’m sure he’s still lurking around!
I’m Sara Bradley, USDF bronze and silver medalist, young horse trainer extraordinaire (today anyway) and owner of Waterford Equestrian Center in Maine. When I am not wrangling 4-year-old horses, I am wrangling 4-year-old children and attempting to teach them to focus and ride ponies. (I also teach adults, who occasionally require less in the way of wrangling.) I also enjoy long walks (runs, let’s be real), my giant hairy dogs, horse showing with my mom Linda, who everyone calls “Sara’s Mom” and adventuring with my excellent horse husband, Eric. Read all of Sara’s COTH blogs.