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Getting the balance right

June 29, 2012

Over the years, my riding position has altered more times than skirt lengths. Partly this was due to fashion – for there are fashions in riding, just like anything else – and partly it was due to the horse I was riding at the time, and what I was doing.

When I got my first pony, Gyp, I’d been riding once a week at a riding school for years, and didn’t ride nearly as well as I thought I did. Gyp was a very well-bred Fell pony, and excelled at Mountain and Moorland showing classes, which quickly became my new passion. Show classes in the eighties required a slightly over-weight horse, and a rider who smiled manically at the judge all the time. Manic smiling made my cheeks hurt, but I quickly got the hang of ‘show riding’ – i.e. sitting up tall with my shoulders back – unfortunately, this made me arch my lower back and severely weakened my leg position. I’m now going to be very brave and show you a picture of me during this period – pretty awful, and that’s not mentioning the fact that I was clearly going through a goth period – well, it was 1985.

Gyp was a superstar, and a fantastic first pony, but was definitely on his own agenda. He was sluggish for 90% of the time, which led to me developing a riding position where my leg was on all the time, forcing my toes to turn out. The remaining 10% of the time, he liked to put a few lively bucks in. After coming off several times, I learnt to keep my knees in and my weight back. The overall effect by now on my position was very odd.

In the nineties, I was taken inhand by a series of excellent instructors, and they carefully picked my position to pieces and put it back together again. Things were better than before, but Gyp was gradually getting older, and could soon only cope with light hacking. My bombproof pony (he’d giving up the bucking by now) was so easy to ride that I soon started to slump, drop my hands and arch my back even more, as I was never actually called upon to do any real riding.

Fast forward to the present day (sorry, I just can’t put up any more photos of the early days, it’s too depressing), and I now have lessons with a fantastic Centered Riding instructor, Lisa Pritchard of The Modern Horse. My current horse, Blue, is as different from Gyp as it is possible to be. She’s sensitive and forward-going, and if I rode with my legs on permanently I’d end up in Scotland – but she does like me to keep my legs round her as it gives her confidence.

We all have an unconsious fault, and mine is that I still tend to tip my pelvis the wrong way, arching my lower back. To counteract this, I start each session by standing in my stirrups and kneeling down onto the saddle until my knees are firmly against the knee rolls. I then sit down slowly into the saddle, and push myself what feels like past the vertical, until the angle between my hips and my upper thigh is open and wide. This still feels strange, and will need up to two thousand repetitions before it feels natural, but as Blue’s back is weak it’s even more important that my balance is correct.

Here’s a more recent pic of me learning to play polo in France, earlier this year. Allowing for the fact that I’m rubbish at polo (no eye/hand co-ordination), and I’m concentrating very hard on something that isn’t the horse, you can see that my leg position is much stronger, with a level foot and no turning out of the toes.

Only another 999 repetitions to go, and it might start sinking in – there’s clearly hope for all of us.

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