I decided last month that I was going to take advantage of the fact that I don't have a whole heck of a lot to do right now. I purchased a block of 20 lessons with my instructor and have been riding in three lessons a week for the past four-ish weeks.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a lesson and struggling with my freaking feet. My legs/feet have been an issue for a while. A long while. When I first started down the dressage road, in December of 2007, I was losing my stirrups on a regular basis. Because of my spinal cord injury, I can't feel my feet. The general consensus was the I was losing my stirrups because of that loss of feeling, but if I could stop gripping with my legs I wouldn't suck my legs up and if I stopped sucking my legs up I would be able to keep my feet planted in the stirrup. All this effort was put into trying to figure out how to tell my damaged body what it needed to do and where it needed to be.
Anyway, I had some success. I got to the point where I wasn't losing my stirrups, but I was still having problems. I would feel like my feet (especially the right foot) would start to rattle around in the stirrup, and my legs would get grippy to compensate. It was a circle of errors.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was in a lesson and my instructor told me that as I started to rise in posting trot to feel like my upper half was lifting up, while my lower half was sinking down. Nobody had ever offered that direction before, and it made total sense. Suddenly my leg stabilized, I could feel my weight sink down through my legs and into my heels and yet, I was also rising at the same time. Unbelievable feeling. Suddenly my rising trot seemed effortless, and simple. It felt right and good.
And the best part was that I wasn't gripping at all. My saint of a gelding was able to to really lighten in front, and move forward in a way that I had never really experienced before. I mean, I had experienced it before, but never because I was purposefully doing something to get it since in the past I had been clueless as to what I had done to get it.
This all made me think about something I had heard before, and read, about how the rising portion of the posting trot did not happen from the feet. We aren't pushing ourselves up from our feet. Which had never really made much sense to me. But now I am thinking about it, and considering how it would seem that if I am letting my weight sink down as I am rising, I wouldn't also be pushing up from my feet at the same time.
So I am riding in a lesson the other day and playing around with this, thinking all these deep dressage thoughts and it suddenly hit me why my feet had felt so un-anchored in my stirrups for so long. I had spent years posting from my toes. I was raising and lowering my heel! It has been my feet all along! No wonder my leg has been so unstable. It has nothing to do with being a para-rider, and everything to do with an incorrect technique.
My transitions have improved immensely. My horse is so much better at being forward now. It feels wonderful. And it looks so much better.
Yay...good for you! I know exactly what you are talking about even though I ride western. I started out with feet WAY out in front and out to the sides. Gradually learned to bring them under me and point them straight ahead. Last week I had the same light bulb in MY head. I ride off my toes with heels up...not posting or I would have had the same up and down as you.
Once I relaxed my feet (which started up in my thighs) I sat down. The jog got soft, he relaxed and we are both very happy now!
You're doing great! And kudos to you for getting the lesson blast!
That is why it is good to do a change of trainers, or do a clinic, every now and then - a different set of eyes, a different way of saying things, a different emphasis on a certain point. So when a person is all worried about upsetting a trainer by going to a different instructor, they need not to think that way.
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I just got back from my last lesson of the week, and I am just blown away by how much more effective I am with everything, simply by addressing that one issue.
I finally feel as if I am riding, as opposed to just wandering around the arena. And, OH MY GOD! I now know that the outside rein does serve a purpose.
I cannot even begin to explain how helpful it has been to take so many lessons. I wish I could afford to do it forever. But at least I am equipping myself with the tools necessary to make my non-lesson rides productive, too. I am not very dedicated, but my riding friend who moved barns with me last September is. She pushes me to get up in the morning and ride with her.
And I am going to ride in a clinic next month, too. My instructor is bringing up someone from California, and I am going to do it. I am so thankful that para-equestrian sports have gotten all this positive attention in the last year or so. Especially in the dressage community. It makes instructors and clinicians more open to working with riders who have physical issues.
I think having a new instructor has helped. I think moving to a busier barn, where there are lessons going on and so much learning taking place, has helped, too. I might come out to ride, and then hang around and watch someone else have a lesson. This barn isn't any bigger, as far as the number of horses goes (both have about 10 horses), but there is just so much more going on here. Having the health issue and surgery last fall scared me, not knowing if I was going to be able to ride again. So now that I am riding, I want to really and truly ride. Make it count some how.
And to have this light bulb moment? Icing on the cake.
Last edited by IdahoRider; May. 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM.
Thank you for posting about your success, IdahoRider.
I'm newish to this style of riding and have been struggling with coordinating all the parts so your post is very encouraging. I know a big piece of it is just hours in the saddle and you have just reinforced that.
Wishing you many happy light bulb moments in the days to come!
Congrats on the major light bulb moment, IdahoRider! How exciting, and for you to instantly notice all the great changes in your way of riding right away just because of this one change. Wishing you continued success!
Thank you, everyone! I am thinking that sitting in the the saddle, and having a stable leg and a stabilizing heel, is such a foundational block that 'fixing" that one aspect brings everything else along exponentially.