Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Feeling the Diagonals

Learning the posting trot in the outside arena at Galloway Stables in Linden.
I feel such pressure to learn forty years' worth of riding lessons and horse information in one summer that it was a relief -- and a release of pressure -- to be praised by my instructor, Dawn, this morning, during my fifth lesson.
"You're doing a good job at posting," she said to me halfway through our learn-to-trot session (I'd told her about my less-than-enjoyable experience trotting on a trail horse Read About It Here). "You're getting it faster than a lot of my younger riders."

In my books, that's a gold star for me!

When I first prodded Dakota into more than just a brisk walk, Dawn said we were doing a jog rather than a trot but it seemed plenty fast enough for me. Yet as I adjusted to moving quickly around our circle at the end of the lunge line, I realized the faster you ride, the more smoothly you ride. I started to post immediately; it was almost instinctive but perhaps just some of that knowledge I've picked up over the years of watching horse competitions. The posting trot is such an obvious move; you see the jumpers doing it all the time.  The most important part of the trot, however, is understanding the diagonals.

Diagonals are tricky. According to the book that inspired me to take up riding, Year of the Horse by Marjorie Simmins, "diagonals" refer to the diagonal configuration of the trotting gait.
"When the horse's left front leg moves forward, so does the right hind leg," Simmins wrote and went on to explain that rising out of the saddle -- known as posting -- happens because of the hind leg.
"When you are going in a circle or around an arena fence, the inside leg bears more weight. This is because of how the horse's body is arced. So by lifting your weight out of the saddle as that hind leg bears weight, you're relieving the horse of extra pressure."

With proper boots for riding, I began posting almost as soon as we started trotting but Dawn could see I had no idea what I was doing. She told me to feel for the diagonal but I find I can't feel the horse's movement because I'm worrying about my hands and my posture, my legs and my feet.
"You're thinking too much," she said. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in order to counter my brain: I rode with my eyes closed to try and feel the horse.
"You'll sense right before you want to rise out of the saddle," I heard Dawn telling me. "That's when you start to post."
Now that I've read Marjorie's explanation of diagonals, now that I know the point is to relieve pressure on the inside hind leg, I'll focus on feeling the diagonals as they relate to the inside hind leg.

Now I just have to remember which leg that is depending on which direction I'm going!

There are a lot of confusing elements in riding; it's simply not as easy as it looks. It's like every body part is involved in some way, even if it's just keeping it loose and uninvolved! I have a hard time doing more than two activities at the same time, like lifting out of my seat at the same time I'm squeezing my calves (that keeps the horse trotting) YET with practice, I got it together.
It's often the smallest things that cause the problem.
"Stop thinking about your feet," Dawn said. "You're not really using them."
What??Actually, my foot was too far back in the stirrup; I was using only the balls of my feet and when I slid my foot forward, suddenly stability was there. That small change made a huge difference in "not using" my feet.   
There was a graduation of sorts near the end of our lesson this morning: I walked Dakota around the outside arena free of the lunge line. It was nice to be able to go to the corners and decide which jumps to walk around and when to turn on my own with no instruction. Through the wisdom gained from past failures, I know the only way to learn a skill is to do it yourself then keep doing it over and over.
I let Dakota break into a trot but Dawn hollered from across the arena, "You're only supposed to be walking him."
"I'm enough of a perfectionist that I want to practice," I told her when we came up to where she was standing. "I want to keep going until I get the posting trot down pat."
She laughed. "You're going to be really sore tomorrow."

When I first started riding, I searched for yoga poses for horse riders (sorry, that's yoga for equestrians) but the ones suggested are ones I already do in my regular practice. I told Dawn this and she said that yoga is best for balance "but you're using muscles that you never use in any other activity. This is why riding is such good exercise," she added with a knowing grin.

Look, Ma! No lunge line. Also, I'm rockin' my new helmet.

No comments:

Post a Comment