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Why do I lean *forward* when things go wrong? Any tips to stop it?

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  • Why do I lean *forward* when things go wrong? Any tips to stop it?

    So, I don't think I'm alone in the bad habit of tipping forward if things aren't going perfectly (or just in general).

    It could be a jump that scares me, or picking up on signs that the horse is concerned about something Over There.

    My reaction is to tense and tip forward. In the worst case, up on my toes, butt out of the saddle. ?!! Preparing to flee? From the _top_ of the horse?

    Intellectually I know this is a Very Bad Idea. And I'm getting better at catching myself doing it and saying "Self, sit up and relax, he's not going to *do* anything."

    I'm also improving at understanding when he takes a long spot *because* I leaned at him, and fixing it the next time around.

    Any tips to stop doing it in the first place?

    If you haven't seen the video of Hans Peter riding a scared young horse from the thread in the Dressage forum... THIS is what I want to ride like when I grow up, always right in the middle, no matter what: Video

    I've had trail rides that look like the first part of that.

    ... and Patrick

  • #2
    Jump a few downhill jumps and/or sit on one who wants to stop dirty.

    After you pick the dirt out of your teeth a few times the muscle memory will lock in.

    Joking (though not completely) aside, as you sit in the tack, think about leading with your belly-button as much as possible and feeling the horse jump up out in front of you. A useful visual image for me is the idea of thinking that I am sitting on top of the horse's hind legs - since if you can control the hind legs, you can control the horse. Obviously, you're not actually that far back, but I find it helps think about riding with my leg rather than trying to force something with my hand or seat.


    • #3
      When I had the same issue, I would just put a mental image in my head of going face first and breaking all my teeth out. Worked pretty well for me.

      Oh, and I watched exactly that happen to a woman at a local gaming show two summers ago, and it was horrible. Horse was spooky/being a jerk, and she kept leaning forward. Finally the horse's head and her face connected. She was spitting blood and teeth, and fractured her eye socket. Really ugly.


      • #4
        I have what is probably a silly theory. When you are scared for your physical well being the body subconsciously goes toward a fetal position. Thus you lean forward (and pull your hands to your chest and maybe even stop dropping your weight down into your feet.) The results are generally that you physically do everything directly opposite of what will truly make you safer.

        Intellectual override is how I combat it. Anytime I find myself in an uncomfortable situation I know that instinctually I'll take my leg off and lean forward, (which of course will make the bad stuff I'm trying to prevent happen even more quickly) so even if I'm not feeling it happen just yet, I sit up straighter than I think I should be, and put a little more leg on than I think I need.


        • #5
          Originally posted by subk View Post
          I have what is probably a silly theory. When you are scared for your physical well being the body subconsciously goes toward a fetal position.
          Not silly at all. Actually read that in some sports psychology books over the years. Just your body reacting to a perceived threat by curling to protect it's core and vital parts. On some level, it is quite sensible.

          I finally quit that after learning to really keep my shoulder back over my hip and sit down and around the horse.

          Just mind over matter and changing your thinking. takes time but, once you realize what you are doing and why, it's easier to talk yourself out of it.
          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


          • #6
            Helps to have someone good on the ground shouting instructions during bad moments. After awhile it gets seared in your brain and you hear their voices when you get in trouble: sit UP, right-rein-right-leg, forward...
            The Evil Chem Prof


            • #7
              Originally posted by subk View Post
              I have what is probably a silly theory. When you are scared for your physical well being the body subconsciously goes toward a fetal position. Thus you lean forward (and pull your hands to your chest and maybe even stop dropping your weight down into your feet.) The results are generally that you physically do everything directly opposite of what will truly make you safer.
              I always say that I curl into fetal position when something goes wrong!

              There was a period of time when Jay was having major issues, bolting, bucking etc and I got into a bad habit of curling up because I knew i was going to come off.. whether I jumped or fell.

              I never had this problem in my early years of riding when I did only Western Pleasure, but then again I wasn't riding squirrely OTTBs either!

              My sister also has an issue with it but I think it's more because she's very tall and long through the torso. Her body just folds over when she gets nervous.

              No solution.. but you're not alone!
              http://www.clarkdesigngrouparchitects.com/index.html - Lets build your dream barn


              • #8
                No advice for me but I do the same thing. I think it's because I had two bolters - had to be ready for them to take a breeze at any time

                Whenever my current horse gets tense I lean forward (worse than I do normally) which is completely irrational - the worst thing he does is stop dead to spook - so it would make a lot more sense for me to sit straight or even a tad behind the motion!
                Originally posted by barka.lounger
                u get big old crop and bust that nags ass the next time it even slow down.

                we see u in gp ring in no time.


                • #9
                  I had this problem for a long time, due to some nasty rearers who didn't know they shouldn't keep going over... I got to be very afraid of ANY upward movement with the front end/downward with the back end, including collection. That's not good...

                  My trainer started putting me on horses that were SAFE but had short fuses. If I didn't sit deep and keep myself centered, they'd stop, turn around, go to the center, whatever... no rearing or anything, but it FELT the same to me.

                  Once I could intellectually talk myself out of the fear it got easier. Now when a horse balks or changes their balance and I feel that first spark of panic in my stomach, my brain is there to override it. I just tell myself sit down, they aren't going anywhere.

                  Of course, I haven't ridden one who has given me a TRUE challenge like the horse in that video - some days I feel like I could handle it, and other days I'm not sure. But at least now I'm willing to try!

                  Oh - never visualize yourself falling off or getting hurt. It'll come true!!! Visualize yourself sitting deep and remaining calm on the scariest horse you can imagine. It helps to watch vids like that one, where the rider is successful, and put yourself on the horse in your mind. It's funny how, even in your mind, you'll start to "curl up" and feel the panic setting in, but you can watch the video and use it to recondition your instincts. It works, it really does!


                  • #10
                    Its called the Fetal Position and people tend to do that when they are scared. Kind of like curling up in alittle ball. Its a mental thing that you will have to really work on. Having a very good trainer on the ground couch you thorough it should help!


                    • Original Poster

                      It's definitely curling up in fetal position. Too bad that instinct is so directly opposite of what *actually* keeps you safe!

                      I knew someone would suggest riding one that stops if you lean. Been there, done that, and have the chronic neck and shoulder pain as a souvenir. It wasn't his fault, he's a little guy and really *couldn't* jump with me hovering over his shoulder! That history just makes me more defensive.

                      Now I have the horse everyone should start out with -- jumps what he's pointed at and does what you ask him to, modulo the laws of physics.

                      I do hear my instructor's voice in my head, which helps as I don't get up there very often (and now am moving away. )
                      ... and Patrick


                      • #12
                        Yes, the fetal position is not a silly theory, but in deed very true. My last injury, through eye witness account, instead of sitting back and tall, by the end of the 'bolt' i was in the fetal position going 20 mph when I decided to bail...dont' remember this but I hit my head. I NEVER did this as a younger rider, but with three falls and all ending in injury, that was my body's natural reaction. Now how long it is going to take to fix is yet to be seen. Maybe some sports psychology?
                        Honey Badger don't give a s*#^!

                        "..a three-day event is not a test of speed and endurance, it is a test of character" ~JW


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by wsmoak View Post
                          I do hear my instructor's voice in my head, which helps as I don't get up there very often (and now am moving away. )
                          Maybe you can get him to record some key phrases for you, and just play them back while you're riding ;-)
                          Approved helmet: Every time; every ride.
                          "When a sport gets to be predictable it ceases to be fun." - RAR's wise brother


                          • #14
                            Dollars to donuts you (and me, and everyone else who does this) are tensing up when you tip/curl as well.

                            I try and breathe, really consciously, deeply, to remind myself to sit up and relax (I know, I know, but you can TRY to relax). I talk to myself -- sit up, sit back, stretch tall, leg on, horse in front, ride AT the fence, belly button, present the chest, ....
                            just all these mantras to keep me breathing, thinking, overriding...

                            Something else that helped a lot (for a stopper, not a bolter, for obvious reasons) was to learn to reach back and smack my hesitating wonder pony behind my leg at takeoff -- it's really empowering, it works, AND it keeps you tall
                            The big man -- my lost prince

                            The little brother, now my main man


                            • #15

                              My friends and I would always laugh at our 'going fetal'. What helped me was...
                              1. having a TB that would stop if I got ahead
                              2. my current horse is 1/2 shire and likes me to ride 'deep' to my fences. When I know I'm helping my horse, it is easier for me to train my body, I never want to interfere with my horse. If you are a decent rider, you can just about always catch up in the air. I don't ofter get left behind.

                              Good luck.


                              • #16
                                i did this when i was younger as a result of a really bad bolter/school horse that scared the pooh out of me on a daily basis... i finally figured out that if i always picked a spot to look at just above and beyond the horses ears and stared at it when scared or when i felt him "building" to the bolt/buck i would not only stay on, but counteract my body's instinct to resort to fetal...

                                think about it like when you see a ballerina doing 400 crazy turns but they keep their eye focused in one spot and subsequently dont fall down. it balances your whole body and really, your body goes where your eye goes- especially when it comes to jumping or a bucking fit... so when you are about to think to yourself, "oh sh*t", instead train yourself to think "pick a spot" and stare at it. you simply can't curl over if you're looking up.

                                don't feel bad- it's hard to break a natural instinct!
                                Jazz- 4.9.01 OTTB, loved since 12.6.09
                                Skip- 3.3.91 APHA, i miss you buddy


                                • #17
                                  Same problem here! Keep the tips coming, I'd love to know of all the tools I can use!

                                  My problem is not only fetal position, but I also FREEZE in it, unable to move. My brain is saying I should relax and sit up, and my body does completely opposite! I can't seem to be able to "WILL" myself, so need some tricks to fool the sub-conciousness!


                                  • #18
                                    I have been given the image of pretending I am one of those plastic dolls where the legs snap into channels in the horse's side. They snap in right where the girth is, click! It is a lot easier to keep your shoulders over your center of gravity when you trust that your legs are locked in!

                                    A BNT once told me a story where she was on course and her mount slipped coming around a corner. He went down and she ended up standing with one leg on either side of him. Perfect balance! The horse does whatever, but you stay over your legs.

                                    I still suck at it, but I'm making progress.


                                    • #19
                                      Yes, please keep the tips coming. Evntr06, do we ride together? I do exactly the same thing. When I FREEZE, the poor horse doesn't know what to do. I basically turned into a "soup sandwich" going over a 2'6" vertical. Yes, a simple vertical. I started curling around 5 strides out, then thought I better fix this now. I looked like I was on some sort of seesaw I guess. My poor horse didn't know whether to stop or go. Needless to say, he ended up stopping, and off I went. I have been watching videos of good riding, and I'm trying to watch their body position. It does seem to help. I think I get into the fetal position more often, if I think the horse is getting quicker to the jump, when all he's doing is a normal canter. A bad habit I picked up from a genuine rusher. Everyone, please keep the good tips coming, I'm glad to know I'm not the only "leaner"!


                                      • #20
                                        I do the same thing. Dressage lessons with a great trainer helped a lot. It's all about leading with the belly button and you really can't tense up to ride correctly.