Thursday, March 18, 2010

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

I had a pretty good lesson this week. Gem was resisting loping and LA had me push him through his resistance. Encouraging a 1400 lb animal to keep moving can be a daunting task, but I did it. It was hit and miss and we didn't lope around the arena consistently, but I think Gem got the message that I was going to make it as "uncomfortable" as I could if he resisted. When he started to slow down to a jog, I would clamp my legs on him, which meant my spurs had contact on his side, and I pushed my hips through more assertively. He didn't like the fact that I was not allowing him to stop when he felt like it, but eventually he got it. If he stopped resisting and loped, the pressure came off my legs and I sat back and enjoyed the ride. When I finally got off him, my legs were rubber. :-)

I came to the realization that I have improved my seat quite a bit in the last 6 months. Yes, I have improved!!! This has been a real confidence-booster for me. I knew that my balance was better. My body is now accustomed to Gem's size, which has helped physically and psychologically. His BIG moves are not as intimidating, so I am more relaxed on him. I have come a long way since last summer. Using a Western saddle for my lessons has helped (that horn poking you in your gut is a great reminder to sit up straight!) and I am thankful that LA suggested it. As well, my teeny tiny abdominal muscles are becoming stronger through riding at least twice a week.

In addition to the above, there were a couple of other ideas that helped with my improvement and I want to share them. A couple of months ago, Shannon at It's Quarters for Me did a post on strengthening her weak leg. It has been pointed out to me that I lean, but I have always tried to adjust my stirrups to compensate. It never really corrected the problem. After I read her post, the penny dropped. I had a weak leg! My right leg is stronger and I tend to put more weight on that leg, which pulls the saddle off center. This picture was taken last October and demonstrates exactly how much I pull down on the right side. I started doing very light exercises (p-leeease, me do hard exercises???) on my left leg. Standing on my left leg only, I go up and down, careful not to straighten my leg completely. Standing on one leg while bending it helps with your balance, too! I do this a couple of times a day (my thigh burns after each session!). I believe that this simple exercise, which I can do while watching TV or standing at my desk, has made a difference in keeping me stationary in the saddle. Thank you, Shannon! Paying it forward.....

STA videos herself all the time. She works with trainers outside the city, so recording her lessons and then recording her practice sessions allows her to monitor her improvement. She highly recommends it. What a great tool! Using my camera, STA took a short video of me a couple of weeks ago. I did a sitting jog, posting jog, walked, and loped (hope I got the Western terms correct!). I am not technical - there has always been an IT Department or my husband to deal with my technical inadequacies. However, the sense of urgency I had to see my video led me to bypass my usual options and actually DO IT MYSELF. I poured myself a vodka soda and went to work. When I finished my second vodka soda, the video had been safely downloaded and I was ready to watch, for the first time, me riding Gem.

We are our own worst critics, but in this case that's a good thing. Initially, I cringed when I saw myself on Gem. But after a few moments, I started to analyse what I was looking at. First, I was reminded how my boy, for a big guy, is quite an elegant mover! Wow. Now, on to me....not so elegant, but my legs were pretty solid and even, my feet were well positioned in the stirrups and my posture was not too bad. I did tip forwards a couple of times when Gem transitioned to and from a lope. I was pretty good at looking ahead to where I wanted to be and not looking down. I appeared that I was actually breathing!! My hands need work - they were very busy! I don't know why. When I was riding English, my hands were the ONLY thing that were steady and consistent. But the point is, now I know that my hands are busy! When I compare myself to other riders, I can tell that I am physically weaker than them. But, that too will change over time. Having this video as a reference has been amazing. I have been able to stop/start it at different times to see how my body is aligned (or not!). I will be regularly begging people to video me! I am a very visual person, so this is going to be a great tool for me and perhaps it will for others. So, I am paying this forward, too. :-)

Now, if I can just figure out how to boost my confidence when it comes to trail riding..... baby steps, baby steps....

What was I thinking.....?


  1. AWESOME! Isn't it wonderful to see your hard work paying off :) congrats. Have a vodka and soda in celebration!

  2. You are very welcome! I feel like an awesome leaning guru right now!

    Good point about watching yourself ride, I've thought quite a few times that there are probably things I'm doing while I ride that I wouldn't like if I saw them. That's part of the reason why I think it's so important to get lessons- I need someone on the ground to tell me when I'm getting bad habits (like leaning).

    PS- good work on developing that independent seat!

  3. I think it's great that you're getting more confidence in your riding. And you can't help but get stronger the more you ride. I haven't ridden in so long I fear I will be like a bowl of jelly once I do. Those rubber legs are great, especially when you hit the ground on a dismount. You're very brave to video yourself, I never would. It would make me feel awful to not only know how out of shape I am and how much weight needs to come off, but to actually see it in living color, not ready for that yet. I'd rather not know. It's a good learning tool though.

  4. I can totally relate to those rubber legs and the automatic video cringe... you are right we are our own worst critics! I get the big butt video cringe :-/
    So awesome to read about your enthuisiasm and hard work and the trail riding will come... baby steps:)

  5. Yay, rubber legs! Love that feeling.

    Thanks, Rachel! I am actually quite pleased with myself and don't worry - I have had my little vodka soda celebration!

    Shannon-I absolutely agree about having lessons. You need to have another pair of eyes looking at what you are doing. If I had been left on my own, I would never have pushed Gem through the lope - I would have given in to him and would spend the rest of my life with him just trotting. :-)

    GHM - I have to say that I was a bit horrified when I first saw myself on Gem so I understand where you are coming from. But, learning to ride at this stage in my life highlights that I have to use whatever I can to learn quickly. I am willing to look at my round body on Gem if I can learn from it. :-)

    Stephanie - Yep, I can totally relate to the big butt video cringe. :-) I know the trail riding will come. Baby steps....

  6. Video is so helpful... but yes, we all have the cringe moment until we force ourselves to use it as a learning experience. I need to have someone video one of my lessons. I know I will learn a lot from it. It's so nice to hear about your progress! Now... pass me a vodka soda please :)

  7. Hi Marissa! One virtual vodka soda coming your way!! :-)

  8. I'm going to try that - vanity be damned! I'd love to see what I'm doing wrong.

    I'm impressed by how much work you're doing and how quickly you're progressing! So exciting!

  9. Absolutely, Breathe! Vanity be damned! Thanks for your ongoing support.

  10. That all sounds great - what a great boost to your confidence. I found that once you've got over the cringing stage of having to watch yourself on video, and picked out all the bad things you do and what you need to work on, what you have left is the fact that you are RIDING and your horse is responding and you pretty much look like most other people who ride. Surprise yourself with the realisation that, in fact, you might even be better than some others!

  11. Thanks, Jooles. Nice to hear from you. Yep, I am starting to look like some of the others who ride. :-)

  12. Funny how those rubbery legs feel. Had that experience myself a few times.

    It's great you have someone who can do video for you. It is such a great tool!

  13. Hi Rising Rainbow! I am actually starting to like the rubbery leg feeling. :-) Thanks very much for stopping by!