Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Straightness: one word, LOTS to think about.

I have had such an interesting morning. Regular readers will know that I have struggled with straightness in my riding for years- I know that many of Echo's straightness problems are actually mine and having a couple of years off regular riding has only exacerbated these. Tammy has tried to get me to bring my right leg further back when I'm riding and twist myself a little to try to get me straight, bu the habits are fairly solidly ingrained. So after my hack yesterday, Tammy asked if I'd be interested in taking part in a straightness clinic with a physio called Jo Spear, who is extremely highly regarded and is the consultant physio for the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket. I jumped at the chance!

Basically, Tammy and Jo gave me a lesson together, then Jo worked with me off the horse, to see how I could make some changes to improve things. I rode Echo while they talked at first, then Jo got me to adjust my upper body, as I tend to twist to the right, collapsing my right side, which forces my right leg forward and means I have little influence or strength in my left seatbone and leg. It even means that I can't really take a contact with the left rein properly. So, I twisted to the left more, sat more evenly on both seatbones (which felt awful on the right rein) and then Tammy tried to get me to turn my right thigh in and lift it away from her side so that I could reposition it. What we found is that I could hardly manage to lift it from the hip without tensing every muscle on that side. I was able to do it if I physically picked up my thigh and rotated it, but I found it really difficult to maintain.

When I did manage to get the two things - the upper body position and the leg position- in place, Echo was suddenly much straighter and more forward. And- weirdly- I softened my right hand and was much more effective with my left hand and leg. So that was interesting lesson number one- I just need to work on keeping that!

I was chatting to Jo at some length about Echo's suspensories and her back soreness. She said that Echo has masses of mobility in her hind legs- probably actually too much, as she over tracks far more than necessary and her fetlocks sink right down. She said that this is almost certainly why her suspensories went, as she is producing so much movement and is always at full stretch, so when working on an arena surface, it makes it even worse. Echo and I have spent a lot of time schooling, so I feel terrible that I'm partly to blame for it. 

She also said that people think that cobs don't have much movement, but actually the majority of cobs are extremely naturally mobile and many are hyper-mobile, like Echo. She said that one of the reasons people don't think this of cobs is that often they are ridden by less experienced, less balanced, perhaps more nervous riders, so the horse learns to limit its movement to stay comfortable. Because I have always ridden Echo and, for all my issues, I'm a fairly competent, balanced rider, she has never had to limit her movement and has therefore offered me her full range. If you add to this the fact that Jo thinks I am also extremely mobile, I have not restricted her movement at all and so she has always worked at her full range. In order for her to stay sound in future, Jo has recommended that I do as little schooling as possible on a surface, and that I do the majority of my schooling on hacks, working on getting her as straight as possible, containing the movement and building her core stability.

This is fine- it's what the vet has been saying since he first saw her and Echo is my baby before she's a dressage horse - I just want her in work and sound. Jo is concerned that if I don't work to contain her movement then we may end up with front leg lameness, as she is putting a lot of pressure on the front limbs, particularly as her front legs turn in a little and are a bit wobbly. 

After I had ridden Echo, Jo had a look at me on her table and we found that I have a real weakness in my right mid glute muscle. Lying on my left side with my feet together and knees fairly bent, she asked me to lift my right knee- I could only lift it about 10cm off my left knee (still keeping my feet together) whereas on the other side I could lift my left knee more than twice as high. It isn't that it's stiff- Jo could lift it and there was loads if movement, but the muscle won't lift it, which is exactly what was happening when I was riding. She's given me some exercises to work on this - which will hopefully make my right hip much more stable when I'm on Echo. 

So it was a really interesting experience, particularly in understanding a bit more about our problems and what we are working with. 

In other news, Echo and I have now cantered twice and both times she was brilliant- she was pretty strong but just felt like she was loving it. Tomorrow, my boyfriend is coming hacking with me, so I should get a few photos of me riding.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lot of really interesting observations and learning - a lot to digest and try to implement.

Suzie said...

There was an awful lot to digest- which is partly why I wrote it down here before I had a chance to forget any of it!

Wiola said...

Sounds great Suzie! This is what Kari and I have been doing on Aspire clinics. She's a chiropractor but the format is the same and difference in the riders amazing! I find that, as an instructor, you can only correct as much and as a rider, only try as much until body limitations come in. To have it sussed out be a physio or a chiropractor on hand (we also use video analysis for this) is just such a difference :) So glad to read Echo is improving!!

achieve1dream said...

Interesting!!! I'm glad the clinic was so helpful for you and that you learned so much about Echo. Yay for cantering! I'm glad she's doing so well!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.