Watch More Television

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.

From the knee up, these jockeys have perfect feel and communication.

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.

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10 Comments

Filed under Dressage, Training Diary, Training Theory

10 responses to “Watch More Television

  1. I’m in the keep your calf loose and limp as a wet towel, softly, softly on the horse’s side camp. The “stubby legs” works because the majority of your weight is above your knee and when you think about and practice riding with your thigh (rather than off your calf!) you ride with your body (core, seat) MORE, which is as it should be.

    Be wary of becoming tense through the thigh though, as you can quickly develop a tight, unyielding hip angle and confuse the heck out of your beastie when you lengthen your leg and change the angle of your hip when you ride from your thighs/hips.

    The only time I really use my calf on Gabe is for lateral work, then it’s a bump, bump, bump rather than a squeeze. I control his gaits and direction with my seat (fast, slow, long, short, walk, trot, canter, halt) One of my goals with him to be able to “throw the reins away” if I wanted and still have control via my seat, core and thigh. So far, so good! I can get a good halt on a loose rein. 😀

    Keep the good rides coming!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Really good points, Jenn. And while I won’t try to elaborate, I will say that you can continue to keep your hips loose and rolling if you think of straightening your thigh, or dropping your knee, to bring your lower leg back under you… No?

  2. You are doing a convincing job of wanting me to read a dang horse book! It’s supposed to rain here again tomorrow so I’ll order it in the morning. Watching TV doesn’t sound so bad either! I like your training program!

  3. Natalie, yes, you can. Stretching those ligaments on the ground AND in the saddle helps me remember to keep them nice and loose and supple. As long as the rider isn’t bracing against the stirrup, a relaxed knee and ankle will act like a pivot/hinge and follow where the thigh leads. So, if your thigh is correct, loose and under you, your lower leg will position naturally.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Sidebar: Have you ever tried the flexible stirrups? I have always used plain irons myself, and I’m not looking for a change. . but I am curious about their effect.

  4. I agree – you should be a paid spokesperson for Centered Riding (wink wink). That book is my Bible – it lives on my end table! Stubby Legs saved my butt when I was reschooling Legs.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Let’s start a petition. I could be their William Shatner! “Hey – aren’t you the Centered Riding chick?” I’m seeing it. . .
      So now I have stubby legs, birds in the hand, a spring pulling my center upward at the trot, and move like a barber pole when turning. This is painting an odd picture. What do YOU look like when you apply multiple Centered Riding visualizations? There ought to be an app for that. . .

  5. Nope, I’ve never use the flexible stirrups, always solid, regular irons for me.

    I know some people who have used them and given them a ringing endorsement…but for me (and this is just my opinion) they rank right up there with the thing you can wear that was designed to keep your shoulders back or the elastic insert for reins: It’s a crutch that doesn’t get to the meat of the problem. You still have the problem when you take the crutch away.

    I’d like to see a cartoon drawing of you with stubby legs, wrens in your hands, and a spring at your barber pole belt! Toss in the image of anchoring your spine through the horse to the ground(for halts/half-halts) and ice cream dripping from the heels of your boots and it would be quite hysterical!

  6. humpfh. Too busy to slum on the lowly blogspots, are we?
    😉
    Tad’s first temper tantrum was a piaffe. But he wasn’t OTT. Just TB.
    Then he passaged, then he caprioled, oh, it was cooooL. Then it was over.

    I StilL haven’t read her yet, (scared to) but I think you need to get ol’ Mega Corp. looking into this cartoon idea.
    Sally Swift has it right. The believers get it.

    Like ol’ GoLightly the Horse did. (not ME, the horse).
    scritches to the handsome lad, hope the sand is drier, and the skies are brighter!

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