Monday, December 14, 2015

(Not really) Straight down the middle

Sometimes riding is like a mystery... you start noticing things that don't seem quite right, and then they start adding up, and you eventually have a eureka moment when you realize what the problem is. Hindsight is ever 20/20 and you wonder how you didn't figure it out sooner because it's just so damn obvious.

That's me and my inability to sit straight in the saddle.

It started a couple of months ago when I noticed uneven wear marks on my saddle's seat. In the last year I've started wearing full seats more often, so for the first time I get wear marks.

Oddly uneven. Like, REALLY uneven.

Then there's this little matter of leg yields. See, Paddy tends to travel with his hind end to the right, all the time. This makes leg yields right easy, and left hard. Strangely, now that I've been riding Taran and Brego (who both travel straight, btw), I notice that they also struggle with leg yield left but are brilliant to the right. This is especially odd given that going right is usually harder for Taran. 

Finally, I've been watching vids of me and Paddy this year (because you do that when your horse is lame). I look straight from the side view, but from the front or back, I'm clearly not. 

I'm more like the leaning tower of Pisa, actually.

All this evidence adds up to me sitting in the middle of the saddle, but with significantly more weight on my right seatbone and stirrup. And because horses reflect their riders, it's easier for every horse I ride to follow my weight to the right for things like leg yields and such. Paddy's just better at faking it left because he's more used to my unevenness than Taran and Brego. Supposedly, most right-handed people tend to sit left and draw up their right leg, but because I can't do something that normal, I sit right and draw up my left leg. And turn my left toe out too, apparently.

I clearly need to figure out how to address this problem, because it's really affecting my poor horses. Several sites recommend riding without stirrups, which I already do quite a lot. The funny thing is, I can WTC both ways no problem - I've manage to compensate that well. I'm wondering if riding with no stirrup on the right might encourage me to sit more left? Having mirrors when riding would help too, but those aren't a possibility. I'm VERY strongly right-handed, and I've started doing a lot more things with my left hand - everything from opening doors to grabbing my chai to mousing left-handed. The idea is to strengthen the weaker side (my left) and stretch the stronger side (my right). Sounds kind of like what we do to help our horses be more even too, doesn't it? I do think that what will help me most is a constant reminder (like keeping my hands down) to weight left and really focus on that. I just need to practice being even at home in front of a mirror so that I know what even feels like!

Do you struggle with straightness? If so, what helps you sit more evenly?

38 comments:

  1. I'm still pretty convinced that there are maybe six people in the world who can ride perfectly straight and the rest of us are going to be plagued with crookedness forever.

    I usually weight my left seatbone too much, I twist off of my right one, pulling my left rein back and holding myself on with my right leg. Tracking right I tend to push horses out on the circle while asking them to be too straight, tracking left my horses all overbend and don't steer. Ugh riding is hard.

    The best thing I did was keep myself in lessons, but I can't do that now, nor do I have (effective) mirrors. So I'm afraid of my next lesson. Very afraid. Right now I'm trying to feel my right seatbone on my saddle and trying to use my left leg and right rein more. Good idea to do more with the opposite hand! And yah I should stand in front of a mirror a bit more.

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    1. You just described me exactly if you switch all of your lefts and rights.

      What I got from this: I CAN DO GP SOMEDAY TOO EVEN WITH MY CRIPPLING CROOKEDNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. I am very crooked also! I took a physiotherapy riding clinic about a year ago. She recommended that when I'm feeling crooked I should do posting trot and do the following exercise:

    1) post trot with weight on left seat bone
    2) post trot with weight on right seat bone
    3) post trot on both seat bones

    It's super simple but I find that it really helps me. She recommended that I swap my stirrup leather weekly so I can't stretch one out more than the other. She also recommended doing a light warm up of stretching before I ride to help warm up my very uneven muscles. I do see a chiropractor and should probably see a physio too. Curious to see suggestions from others (that I can steal for my own purposes haha!) :)

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    1. I was going to recommend this too! I have problems with sitting heavily on my right seat bone, my left seat bone just kind of floating and then my body being very crooked to compensate. I use this exercise (from the same clinician) and it helps me reset.

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    2. I can imagine posting with my weight on my left or right STIRRUP, but not my seat bone. How do you do it?

      My stirrup leathers are lined, so they don't stretch. And I usually do a bit of stretching before riding, but that's a good tip!

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  3. Maybe try a treeless saddle for a while? While I am not a huge treeless fan, when I did ride in one for a while it really amplified any crookedness and forced me to ride correctly or the entire thing would end up under my mare. If you have access to one, it may be worth a shot.

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    1. No access to a treeless... and I can WTC bareback without coming off despite how crooked I am. Apparently we all get really good at compensating!

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  4. I'm extremely crooked, and I definitely struggle with it. I find that riding without stirrups makes it worse, as it encourages most people to grip with their thighs and knees. That's just going to make you tighter, when you need to be more loose in your hips. What I find helps is to look over my opposite shoulder: since I lean left, I turn my head to look over my right shoulder. I keep my head turned for a few strides, then very carefully face forward again while maintaining my spine and seat in the same position. Then I repeat as necessary. Off the horse, yoga helps a lot, particularly balancing and twisting poses.

    I lean as a result of lumbar scoliosis, and I compensate so well that I actually developed a compensatory scoliosis curve in the opposite direction in my thoracic spine. To most people, I look like I'm straight, but if you really look at the position of my shoulders and hips it's clear that they're uneven.

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    1. Sometimes when I ride without stirrups, I'll grab the front of the saddle for a few strides and pull myself into the saddle so I can focus on relaxing. It definitely helps. Interesting about turning your head - I'll have to try that! And yeah, agree with you on yoga - I love it!

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    2. I was going to say what Shannon said in a less-useful way. Dropping stirrups can make that sort of thing worse. Lessons help.

      God knows I'm wildly crooked and woefully un-body-aware too.

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  5. interesting observations and thanks for sharing, my trainer said she noticed my right leg likes to creep up on me which I figured was part of my right side being actually a fetus and not an adult human being.

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    1. Whyyyyy is it so hard to be even????

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  6. Also guilty of weighting my left seat bone way too much, collapsing left and thus my horse constantly is overbent left. ugh

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    1. Hooray for overbent horses! Er, kidding...

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  7. Right side curls like a C, right hip super tight, right leg looks shorter. I officially hate the even people.

    Have you checked out any of Mary Wanless' books? She's all about evenness and how to achieve it. :D

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    1. I think the even people work really really hard to BE even. Us odd people work really hard too, but it's just haaaard!

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  8. I struggle with this too (my right leg tends to lighten..) While, being mindful helps, I really make progress when I see my own bodywork person who is able to tell me how UNEVEN my hips are even out of the saddle. Having him loosen them up a bit every few weeks (mostly it's my hip flexors) makes it much easier for me to address the issue under saddle.. I figure if our horses need help staying symmetrical it's not shocking I do too....

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    1. So what kind of bodywork do you have done for you? I've done the chiro (who cracked a rib, awesome!) and massage, but I think you're talking about something different? What should I look for on Google if I wanted to sign myself up for something like that?

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  9. I was once forced to buckle my stirrup leathers into one giant loop and drape them across the seat of my saddle and ride (and jump!) like that. Don't know how it would work for dressage but it really straightened me up - any leaning one way or the other would send you sliding, staying in the middle with your posting lets you use your stirrups as normal.

    That plus posting with only one stirrup at a time both really evened me out.

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    1. Oooh, sounds like a good exercise! I'll have to try it!

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  10. Get hold of a foam roller and work the crap out of your ITB and hip flexors and get doing some yoga. It will help even you up and strectch out your cramped up side.

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    1. I should have mentioned, I'm totally into yoga :)

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  11. My left side is my bogey side, after years of saying I needed to see a physio/chiro/osteo because I've been told I ride pretty twisted in the saddle; my back gave away a few weeks ago and finally pushed me into making an appointment. Turns out the mild scoliosis i had as a child has gone to town and I'm all sorts of crooked from back, through hips to legs. I'm having bi-weekly physio sessions on my lunch breaks and getting excerices to hopefully help straighten me out. Sadly I haven't yet managed to climb back into the tack, I'm hoping to hop up on Nancy tomorrow evening but I'm sure it'll take another while till I hopefully see/feel an improvement.

    Apologies that I'm not more help - but i guess there is safety in numbers perhaps?

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  12. Oh god I am so glad there are SO many other people out there like me who are depressingly crooked!

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  13. i struggle with straightness too ugh... but also just inside-outside balance. onea coach recommended dropping just the outside stirrup on a circle to help sort that out, but others thought it might produce too much torque for the horse's back. i've also heard about what AnEnglishRider says - linking the stirrups together on top of the saddle. if you try that just be sure to wrap them in a sock or something so they don't scratch your saddle! good luck!

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    1. I struggled with inside-outside balance too but riding without stirrups mostly fixed that. Of course, I've compensated in other ways, so take that with a grain of salt lol!

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  14. I've been super crooked lately. But I just want to comment on how pretty of a butt paddy has lol

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  15. Interesting! I'm a lefty and my right side always seems to get too light and creep up on me. I recently lost my girth and had to ride a dressage lesson bareback, which was terrible from a me walking for the next couple of days standpoint, but amazing for my position. I can't believe how much straighter I felt afterwards. At the beginning of the lesson I couldn't even trot half of a twenty meter circle without going offside and grabbing mane for dear life, and by the end I was trotting around with (almost) no problems at all! It sucks, but riding bareback (especially at the trot) was hugely helpful to my crookedness

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    1. ^ That was going to be my suggestion. Riding bareback has been (for me) the best thing I could do for my balance. But I learned how to ride bareback, so it's also the easiest for me. ;-)

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    2. I might have to go back to bareback for a while. A year ago I could WTC bareback no problem, now... who knows?

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  16. I found the best thing for my straightness (I tend to draw up my right leg and weight the left seat bone) is pilates and osteopath treatments. The osteo will release your muscles so they can stretch and start working properly, and pilates for actually working properly and strengthening, as well as straightening your body.

    I can't tell if I'm crooked or straight, so my pilates instructor straightens me out. I've found it's helped a ton with straightening me out in the saddle because the work carries over! :)


    bonita of A Riding Habit

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    1. I've never been to an osteo before - is it similar to chiro? Super interesting!

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  17. My teacher uses rotation of the torso in the saddle to straighten the rider. She used to have me rotate to the outside, regardless of the direction of travel, because I was collapsing to the inside. Now that I am much better at staying straight she has me only rotate to the right, because carryinging a child around on my left hip causes me to collapse left and drop my left hand. The rotation right onfolds me and Harley almost like magic.

    The seatbone that a rider weights is not always consistent with the direction in which she collapses,so I would try rotating to the outside of the bend and see how the horse responds. Good times.

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    1. I seem to collapse left and weight the right, so yeah, I'm opposite. Go me! I'll try the torso rotation thing, great suggestion!

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