Last year I ran across Mary Wanless' name in a comment on a blog. I googled her. The book excerpts on Amazon were enticing, so I ordered Ride With Your Mind - An Illustrated Masterclass In Right Brain Riding. A life changing book.
Round about the same time, my partner in crime N - we rode with the same trainer for years - attended a clinic in Va. N was noncommittal about her initial clinic experience with this trainer, who as it happened, focused on biomechanics and was a student of Mary Wanless.
For her birthday, I sent N a copy of Ride With Your Mind. It blew her away too. At some point the book rang a bell, and she remembered the clinician and found her website. N set up a lesson early this year, which was super helpful. So have the subsequent visits. As it turns out, L has been a student of Mark Rashid for many years as well. Bonus!
Two weeks ago (a birthday present to myself), I drove to N's home in Va. We caught up, shopped and had a nice dinner out. Hit the road Sunday at o' dark thirty for (another) three and a half hour ride to Maryland.
At this point you could be thinking "she must be crazy driving fourteen hours round trip for a riding lesson." And you would be right. About the crazy part. But - ever since delving into biomechanics, I've been overwhelmed by a feeling that this is the right path for my riding education. The key to unlocking dressage for me. I think have a good understanding of what I should be doing and the outcome I want, but the signal often gets lost or disconnected between me and my horse.
Some people, especially you young bendy ones, naturally have correct position. And some trainers, while they might be terrific riders, aren't always the best at conveying knowledge about position and the body on horseback. No fault of their own, they just haven't had to think about how they do what they do. In RWYM, Mary mentions a BNT at a clinic of international riders where the frustrated clinician eventually resorted to yelling "Ride better!"
Back to the story. We arrived at L's tidy farm. Well kept premises and horses are always a good sign. The first part of my lesson involved assessing body and position. Tom Terrific, a patient grey ottb, was my mount. Oddly, I wasn't nervous or anxious at all.
Once L had gotten me sorted - legs under me, core engaged, hips rotated in, thighs bearing weight, kneeling feeling in my knees, calves with feather contact, feet pressed toward the outside of the stirrup and almost no weight in my stirrups... sound like a lot? It was. The core engaging part is complex. There are inner abs, and outer abs. The inner abs push out while the outer abs push in - kind of a core sandwich. Pardon the very unscientific explanation, but that's what it felt like to me.
L helped me pinpoint the affected anatomy and how it felt, and then it was time to ride. To try to ride. Of course things went to hell in a handbasket once I focused on anything in addition to position...
While bringing my attention to the moments when I coordinated everything and how it felt, L urged me to come up with key words that I could associate with the feeling when my body cooperated - a shorthand checklist for examining / correcting my position. She frequently had me assess how much (percentage) of my attention maintaining position took up. That was enlightening and needs improvement.
N was up next. It was so helpful to watch her ride. She worked on influencing her mount's stride with her seat and refining her posting technique. As usual - the horse never lies. When N got herself together, her mount immediately responded by picking up his back, reaching into his (bitless) bridle and producing a lovely and visibly higher quality trot.
At this point I had the epiphany that the seat is everything, there is so much more to the seat than I ever realized, and my seat needs an overhaul, stat.
The lessons concluded with an exercise designed to bring attention to the engagement of the core + breathing. We blew up a (new) balloon held in our mouths (no hands or teeth) and kept it inflated using our core, while also inhaling and exhaling. Now either I am a stone cold champion at this bizarre skill, or was cheating and didn't know it. We'll have to wait and see at the next lesson. ;D
N and I are planning monthly visits through the summer, and then hopefully caravaning our trailers up for a three day weekend or two this fall. L was so fun and comfortable to work with. I can see myself learning a lot with her. Well worth the journey.