Five Steps to Straightness

Caught collapsing

Different horse, same left hip too far in advance.

Do you collapse on one side? Perhaps your shoulders look unlevel and try as you can you can’t seem to correct it. Maybe one heel doesn’t stay down, or your horse is just stiff and resistant on one side and you haven’t gotten around to blaming yourself yet. As you can see in these pics I sit asymmetrically like the barber who never gets his own hair cut so I thought it’s about time I corrected my own biomechanics. You’re welcome to watch & comment and hopefully we’ll all learn something.

Here are two pictures from a couple of weeks ago showing the side of shame at its worst. My left hip is too far advanced and as a result my leg is crunched up, little man has too much bend in the neck and his left shoulder has drifted out. Note also the crinkled numnah as I’m twisting it with my crooked riding of shame!

Tension, resistance and fall out of left shoulder.

So: Step 1) Hips. I look like I have slightly asymmetrical shoulders. Technically I do but what’s more important and normally entirely overlooked is that I have very asymmetric hips. What you’re seeing in my shoulders is a result of that pelvis rotation, not a cause in itself. Similarly it looks like I’m sitting to the right, but this is just because I’m rotated to the right. If I pull my left hip back so that my pelvis is actually straight my horse stops resisting on the left. I can tell when I forget, because luckily my main horse is an unforgiving git – or if you prefer an excellent teaching horse who is sensitive to my aids. If I sort out my pelvis, my shoulders should look after themselves. Same goes for you, rubbish left leg.

Step 2) Sleeping position. Have you ever noticed that people that crunch forward when they ride also sleep in the foetal position? I like to sleep on my right side, with my right leg straight, left leg bent up. It’s lovely, we snuggle. It’s allowing me to practice my folding up on the left bad habit to the extent that it feels natural & safe to sit that way. So I’m now going to stop reinforcing this asymmetry every minute of the day. I’ll try to sleep in a better position – stretching my left side; try not to sit on the sofa with my legs tucked up to the left; try not to carry my bag on my right shoulder… Basically if something feels natural I’m going to reverse it!

Step 3) Halt. Not the horse, little horse recently has stopping as a forte – I need to practise my own halt. This morning I looked at my shoulders in the mirror, and noticed that when I’m on the ground they are indeed unlevel. Then I looked down and saw that my hands are uneven – I can see more of my left hand – so I tried to roll my left shoulder back. Then it twigged and I looked even further down. I’ve only got two legs and still I had not pulled off the square halt. My left foot was way in front. If I shut my eyes and stop left foot first it looks fine. Right foot first and I don’t naturally halt square. I’m not mentioning any names, but one of us is going to practise until I do.

Step 4) Horse is going to go straight. Little boy and I had a good deal going – he likes to go crooked – I like to be crooked in a matching way! Great! He likes to put my weight on his right, where we both reinforce each other’s bad habits and just hope we never need to go left. So now that there’s a new regime in town we are going to go straight. Even when on a circle or going sideways we are going to be straight. My hip will be back, my weight will be down his left side as well, and I’ll know when it is as our lateral right will be as easy and round as our lateral work left, and when we land from a fence, we’ll go straight between two ground poles. For our piece de resistance when we turn left towards a jump or in counter canter in a test, he is not going to get gobby and complain. And I will pat him; with my right hand.

Step 5) Biomechanics. I often video and check what’s going on. I video my riding & I video trot ups. Sometimes I’ll calculate joint angles, but this isn’t biomechanics. Joint angles and videos are kinematics and they’re useful – particularly if you have a robust way of calculating accurate and repeatable angles and aren’t just “joining the dots”. Biomechanics is the combination of these kinematics with kinetics – the study of the forces. By including the forces we can work out where the rotation originates – what is a primary problem and what is a secondary compensation, which muscle is too short, which one is too weak. Clinically and in training it’s important to consider the biomechanics, not just the kinematics. In my case that’s correct the pelvis, not the shoulder or leg position. If I just force my leg into the right place without correcting the pelvis I’ll make things worse. I need to correct the muscle imbalance & tightness that causes the pelvic rotation in the first place. That’s why I’m also working at it on the ground. So: I’m not going to force my left heel down, I’m going to drop my weight. I’m not going to correct my shoulders I’m going to straighten my spine. I’ll get my thumbs on top by correcting my elbows. I’ll go to the gym and stretch and correct until I’m neutral. I’m relying on you guys to keep me on the straight and narrow!

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