No, it’s not BBC America – although I can watch Gordon Ramsay and Top Gear pretty much to the exclusion of all else.
Some of my favorite riding tips come from television, and I don’t mean the paid advertisements that masquerade as training shows on that tractor channel. I mean just sitting down and spending a few hours watching racing on TVG or HRTV, whether it is cheap claimers or multi-million dollar stakes horses on the Derby trail.
I know I’ve brought this up before, but it’s important, and I have yet another breakthrough with Final Call’s pea-sized brain that I have to thank simulcasting for, related to – believe it or not – Centered Riding!
(I’m not a paid spokesperson for Centered Riding. But I would be. Hint hint.)
Final Call, bless him, has been a little bit of a pill for the past few days. The head-tossing into a mini-crowhop maneuver was coming every time I put my lower leg on and, quite frankly, it was getting a bit old. Attention all horses: the quickest way to trick me into being hard on your face is to pretend you’re going to buck. Eventually, my poor fractured jaw will start to ache, and I will lose my nerve, thereafter assuming that you are going to buck at any given second, all the time, and you will never get to put your head down again, and this whole experiment will grind to a halt. Miserable rider, miserable horse, the works. One doesn’t want to get too stuck in a rut of paranoia with horses, they all have tricks, after all – but one hoof on my jaw was enough. I’m good.
The big breakthrough came in watching horses headed from the paddock to the track. The first few minutes of the post parade are dedicated to jogging up in front of the grandstand. This is when a lot of fireworks start going off and TBs starting dancing around and showing off their athletics. I watched a colt burst forward into a canter and his jockey, riding without stirrups, very calmly shifted his sternum down and forward, pressing his seat into the horse, which in turn closed his upper legs. He squeezed from hip to knee, leaving his lower legs away from the colt’s sides, and the colt sat down his hindquarters and slowed back down to a jog. He did all this with loose reins, which makes me think of it as a very subtle and beautiful half-halt.
Now, class, if you’ll open your text books to page 59, you’ll find an illustration of this seat position. Sally Swift calls it “Stubby legs,” when you ride with your upper body down to your knee, “and forget your lower legs altogether.”
Try it! Final Call responds to upper leg pressure with pleasure. I took him out for a jog and got the usual head-toss that is becoming part of our daily routine. Then I shifted my seat more underneath of me, brought my knee farther underneath of me, and closed my upper legs. Head down – to the ground – on the buckle! Jogging – on the buckle! I was so happy I sang along with my Pandora.
Do they respond better to “stubby leg” riding because that was how they were ridden at the track? Does the lower leg just confuse and irritate them? Probably. I have known a few dressage trainers who wouldn’t allow me to touch my lower leg to any horse, including imported European warmbloods, unless it was for a quick cue. And I have known dressage trainers that want it on all the time, with varying degrees of pressure. There are as many theories as there are trainers. But I say, give this one a shot. And, watch more television.