This coming Sunday, I have the incredible privilege to be heading down to Temecula to participate in the Galway Downs Fundraiser Clinic that helps support that wonderful venue. I have signed up to ride with Jil Walton, an Olympic rider who is known for starting young horses and taking them all the way up through the levels. She operates JARBA Farms in Montana, but then moves her training practice to Galway Downs for a few months during the winter. Laurie Canty Training Stables has clinic'd with Jil at this fundraiser for several years, and I am very pleased that I can join the group this year. Spirit and I are ready to get back out on the cross country course!
In the meantime, I have been reading Riding Logic by Wilhelm Museler. This is one of several books from the Laurie's collection that is now in my apartment, collecting less dust than it would at the barn.
Here's the link to Amazon if you want more info on it. It was translated into English from German, and while some of the language is formal and a bit old-fashioned (it was originally written in the 1930s!), I find that I actually like that a lot. Somehow that style reminds me that riding is an art form, elevated from merely a hobby.
Partway through the first chapter, I realized I needed to stop reading. I needed to ride my horse, implementing the book's ideas, before I could go on reading and collecting more ideas. Specifically, I knew that I needed to ride without stirrups. Balance from the seat, without the legs, is something Wilhelm Museler puts lots of emphasis on. And interestingly enough, he is reluctant to give any specific description (or diagrams) on where your body positioning should be; he is adamant that proper rider positioning is based on the feel of the horse, especially as developed when riding without stirrups.
Now, I do quite a bit of bareback riding. But riding in a saddle without stirrups is a whole different beast to me - and not one that I had ever been particularly interested in taming. The idea of stirrup-less riding was giving me a little twinge of anxiety/fear in my gut - the tell-tale sign that I needed to take action and conquer this twinge before it can grow! Reading this book made me realize that I need to ensure I am riding correctly, from the seat rather than from my legs.
So last night I did several minutes of work at the trot and canter where I dropped my stirrups. Both directions of course. Spirit was a little confused, and really thought that we should bypass the trot and go straight to canter (that's what I get for always sitting the trot for a beat or two before asking for the upward transition into canter). Posting at the trot without stirrups was challenging for me - I blame my saddleseat past where you posted from the knees. I literally couldn't post from the knees in my dressage saddle due to the ginormous knee rolls; rather, I guess I posted from my upper calves and upper-upper thighs. I gave up on that pretty quick and opted for seated trot, which I need to work on anyway. Spirit was good, and had a lovely slow canter. She knew something was up with my position.
Now, this was NOT mentioned by the book at all, but I have made it a habit that when I drop my stirrups and leave them hanging down next to my feet, I tap them with my ankle so that they bounce against the horse's body. I've done this with Spirit since I first started riding her, in order to de-sensitize her to that sensation should I ever drop a stirrup in a show or competition setting. At this point all she does when I do that is flick an ear. Such a good girl.
I've decided to make sure I add some stirrup-less work more frequently to my rides. I still have more hours of stirrupless riding to put under my belt before I will have reached Mr. Museler's reccomendation, but already I'm feeling more confident about my position.
I've got a lesson with Laurie tonight, and I am incredibly excited for it!