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.....?