Monday, June 6, 2011

Hangin' Tough

Eddie's first encounter with a rolltop in a schooling show, one week after I
got him. There go my stirrups, there go the reins, there goes the rolltop,
but because I maintained control of my seat and upper-body, I
stayed on.....that time. And, Eddie has never looked twice at a
rolltop since then. Once he's figured it out, he's got it!

No, unfortunately, I cannot help but to hear the refrain of the classic New Kids on the Block song "Hangin' Tough" when I read the title of my post. If you can't help it now, either, then let that be my gift to you for this afternoon. 

My other gift to you is this link to the recent Chronicle of the Horse interview with George Morris about the importance of riding without stirrups in your lessons or schoolings at home. We all HATE TO DO IT, because it's, like, HARD. But, we all know how important it is, especially for eventers. Now, I'm not talking about learning to foster a rabble-scrabble riding style that means, "Wow, that person can stick in some pretty sketch instances," as part of an ongoing manner of tackling courses with grit. That is one major misconception about eventers that I wish could be universally disputed (no, eventers don't just point their horse and hang on....on the whole), and it would be nice to always ride with rhythm, consistency, poise, and grace. But, when the chips are down, it's nice to feel we have the tools to get us through so that we don't end up on the ground amidst those proverbial chips. 

I really appreciate that this Q&A with George starts off with the primary point that riding without stirrups develops a rider's SEAT.....not their LOWER LEG. How many times have we heard someone lament the state of their loose or weak lower leg and the inevitable advice is, "Oh, you need to ride more without stirrups"? Riding without stirrups should improve a rider's seat, balance, and position....not just the strength of the leg position. You can "sit and grip" with your calves all day long, but if you are off-balance in your seat or hips, then it just really does no good. So, how about riding without stirrups and focusing on what is happening in the saddle, and less about what is happening where the stirrups are not?

Watch Will Coleman through the water at Red Hills 2011 in this video, below (at about the 55 second mark). Notice that he doesn't just grip with his lower leg to hang on and get through; he ramps up his upper-body and seat motion in order to stay with his horse, and to remain with him, so that he doesn't get caught out riding with his hands to keep his balance and so as to not get left behind. It wouldn't work the same way if he had just grabbed the reins/mane and tightened his leg, but went stiff and immobile with his seat and upper body. 

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