Here is a video evaluation I did for my friend Mallory, a graduate of New Mexico State University’s equestrian program. Mallory is an awesome rider with a lot of experience & time in the saddle, but even she has a few things she can really finesse! Have no fear if I evaluate your riding, just as we would do in riding lessons, we may start with simpler exercises, before graduating on to the more advanced lateral work! Enjoy & I’d love to hear what you think! e-mail at Christina@BuckarooBalance.com
Thanks so much for such a fun video to evaluate! Seeing you on different horses & different saddles really showed me what a dynamic & confident rider you are, but it also showed me how much your saddle can affect your seat & position. I hope that my notes lead you to see the same. You’ve really demonstrated some beautiful riding here, but you hold quite a bit of tension in your muscles as you ride. I call it the not-pleasurable western pleasure ride. Here are my notes, feel free to ask me any questions you have at all & we can set up a time to Skype too if that helps! I’ve also included a few exercises to help you with a few of the issues I’ve spotted, hope these help!
.25-.30 good breathing! Less movement = actually more movement up & down your spine, between your shoulders & hips. Each vertebra is moving one on top of another in alignment (think slinky) to really take the impact of the horse’s hooves hitting the ground.
.35 your hands come forward, you unconsciously felt that you were falling behind the motion here, so pushing your hands forward was your way to try to save your posture
.36 here you are behind the motion of the horse, so your center of gravity is behind his (we want yours above his at all times!) See the change in the movement of your ponytail? Compare this moment to the 10 seconds prior, what differences do you see?
1.20 here you are behind the motion again, the first stride of the lope your horse needs to pull you into it. See how much your hips shift forward when he takes that first stride? You need to be initiating that movement with a push from your seat & a lift of your center of gravity (deep breath in) so that you are as light as possible to make it as easy for our horse to stride out underneath you.
1.54 behind the motion again. The whoa should be a drop in your shoulders, a drop in your center of gravity & a deep exhale. When I say a drop in your shoulders I want you to bring those shoulders straight down, keeping the alignment of your shoulders over your hips & allowing each of your vertebrae to ‘shrink’ closer to one another with the impact then expand again when you breathe in when your whoa is complete.
1.12 Here I REALLY like how your inside knee is more open for the smaller circle. This allows your hips to be more open & relaxed, when your hips are open & relaxed it’s easier to move your legs independently. See how your inside calf is just barely touching the horse? Reminding him you’re asking for this bend around the small circle, so out his ribs go, as he traces the circle with his spine, very nice!
1.14-1.16 this equitation could win you in a ton of classes, but to a trained eye I see future knee pain. You are young & healthy so you may not yet feel the tenseness in your knees (or maybe you do already after a 3 hour + ride?) I want you to work on loosening those legs, allowing your heels to drop as your leg extends (don’t push your heels down!) feel the rotation of the horse’s walk almost like you’re riding a bike. When you relax into this motion you will feel a right left right left drop in your heels & I will be able to see a change in the wrinkles of your jeans behind your knee. Once you get the feeling in your ankles, bring that slight movement up to your knees & then up to your hips to keep them loose & relaxed.
This horse/saddle combination is pretty bad. See how far back your hips are tipped? You are constantly struggling throughout this ride to hold your hips straight.
2.06-2.11 here are those stiff knees I was talking about earlier. I’m surprised you’re not pushing in your stirrups more to help you keep your seat, you’re really gripping with your thighs! Strong rider! Many riders couldn’t pull this off at all! But the fact of the matter is no matter how strong you are you’ll never be able to hold yourself on your horse by pure strength, it’s like a clothespin, you know those old ones that are made from one piece of wood without the spring? The harder you push them down the further they fly when they pop off! Don’t be that clothespin! Let your seat, balance & weight keep you on.
2.11-2.14 looser knees here! Good! And a smoother back, see how your lower back/lumbar spine is better aligned? That’s great! Notice how much less movement there is in your elbows too! If you are able to ride like this more often you’ll be able to ride more comfortably for longer periods of time AND win some blue ribbons too!
OK here you are having a few steering issues, then you shortened your reins instead of using your seat more. Most instructors classify your hands as a natural aid. I disagree, unless your pullin’ some mane! Typically your hands are holding reins, which yes makes them an aid, but an unnatural one! So here’s the deal, use your natural aids FIRST! This horse is actually more sensitive than you’re giving him credit for, if you get a chance to ride him again please try this simple exercise, I think you will be shocked how easily this horse will go where you want him to go!
EXERCISE #1 LOOK MOM NO HANDS
In a small arena, corral or round pen (after warming up both you & your horse) knot your reins so they don’t fall & loop them on your saddle horn (if they’re not pulling) or lay them on your horse’s neck. Pick a place on the rail to ride to & guide your horse there with your seat & legs only. Feel free to point with your hands or hold pretend reins so you key into the muscle memory you have from riding. Pick your point, look at it (feel the shift in your weight when you turn your head? Yes, it’s slight but remember your horse can feel a fly land on his back, he can feel this too!) Did your shoulders turn slightly when you turned your head in the direction your headed? If it’s a dramatic turn they will! Are you breathing deeply? Now you’ve done your upper-body check, do your lower body… Are your toes pointed one on either side of your destination. Use your toe that is closer to your destination, when you point it out, let your knee roll open, feel your hip joint opening. Check in with your seat bones your weight should still be even & check in with your upper body that your shoulders are over your hips & not leaning! Don’t look down at your horse, take a big breath in & imagine yourself at your destination. Did you make it there?
2.27 here your knee came open & your horse turned in! but then you pulled out on the reins @2.30 he flicks his tail (he’s telling you that he’s annoyed with your mixed signals) but here besides your head looking down instead of out where you’re headed, your body is in really nice alignment
3.00 less rein more seat! You would be surprised if you dropped your reins right now & kept on riding!
3.20 much better departure!
3.28 behind again see air behind your butt & the back of the saddle’s seat?
3.33-3.36 smoother with the motion, see the change in your hips?
3.38 you loose it again, catch another good stride or 2 before your shoulders fall behind
You’re holding your breath!! You’re behind the motion for your stop
4.09 you’re pulling on his head before you stopped your seat (and therefore his backend!)
HORSE #3 Harley
This is a much better saddle for you! Although I still wouldn’t say it’s awesome!
4.42 nice straight lower back!
5.20 your horse’s timing is off here which throws your timing off too, collect that guy up!
5.45 hips tipped forward, lower back concave (compared to 4.42), shoulders behind
5.50-53 better movement in your knees
6.10 struggling to correct your body position
Schro! Bareback! AWESOME!
Here you are with no saddle to influence your seat! BEAUTIFUL! A good saddle that fits you & your mount correctly would give you the same alignment in your pelvis (albeit with a bit less work on your part!)
7.00 Beautiful! Looking where you’re headed! Check out that alignment! Ear, shoulder, hip & heel!! Good constant give in your knees (see the wrinkles in your jeans change behind your knee at 7.10) Straight back & a straight hip! Beautiful!
7.14-7.17 What happened??
You stopped looking where you wanted him to go, you’re leaning & pulling instead of encouraging & enabling. Compare this to 6.57 when your outside leg is on, your head is up & your inside knee is open. Even at 7.17 you can see that your hips are too far to the inside so your shoulders are compensating by being too far to the outside, your leg is working hard to hold you on!
EXERCISE #2 GET A LITTLE BIT SIDEWAYS
This is one of the toughest ‘feelings’ to grasp when riding, the lateral. FIRST, do this exercise unmounted. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on your hips. Now shift your weight onto your left foot and step across in-front with your right foot. Do it across a room & get to feeling like you’re really balanced when you do it (yes I know the first few steps can make you wonder what was in your sweet tea at lunch!) Look where you’re going it helps! OK now go the other way too! Feeling confident with it yet? Now while you do this exercise key into your hips, are they staying parallel to the ground?? They should be! (Remember your feet are only shoulder-width apart). Do you feel that very slight twist with your right hip just a shade forward of your left when you are stepping across with your right foot? (Note: this should not be a dramatic twist, very subtle & natural) Is your tailbone still pointing down? Don’t tip! Now, take a step out a little bit wider, feel how your toes start to point the direction you’re headed (instead of straight ahead)? Awesome take note of that lengthening feeling in your thigh, as your leg extends into that open stride. See how your hip is open to allow this to happen? This is your neutral pelvic position! OK now keeping the palms of your hands on your hips point your fingers down your thigh, do the exercise a few more times (back to normal shoulder-width strides). Do you feel the ‘swing’ of your outside leg as it crosses in front? Does it feel like you’re gliding across the floor?
This is how it SHOULD feel when you are doing laterals with your horse! Think of your entire outside leg coming across as your horse’s leg comes across, your inside leg extends & lengthens. You have put as much pressure on the outside thigh as you have released off the inside thigh, and this pressure & release comes & goes with each step. All the while you are keeping your hips balanced & centered and your shoulders balanced & centered over your hips. Please Please keep in mind these are very subtle cues we’re talking about! Everything you’re ‘feeling’ in your body is quite minute! Some people seem to be able to feel it better at the walk, others during a true sidepass. Try both & see which one speaks to you! Now, do you feel like you & your horse are gliding as one across the arena?? If so I’m sure it’s as beautiful to watch as it is to feel!
7.40’s some good trotting, I still feel like you’re holding your breath more than you should be &/or breathing really shallow L Open your lungs & let your body relax into the movement, depend less on your strength & more on your balance & timing. See at 7.47 you finally breathe out!! Your legs relax & come back underneath you but Schro also feels it & breaks to a walk! If you breathe more often he won’t use it as an excuse to not work.
SUNNY last horse!
Here you start out in that not pleasurable equitation hold, but this could be the best saddle you’ve shown me yet! Maybe that’s why Sunny is one of your favorites ‘cause his saddle is easier to sit in!!?!? If you just release some of the weight from your stirrups…imagine holding a cherry tomato under your big toe, you don’t want it to roll around, but you don’t want to squish it & have tomato juice in your cowgirl boots either! That’s about how much weight should be under the balls of your feet on your tirrups. Relax that little bit & your legs will actually feel like they’re getting longer, without pushing.
8.23-8.25 Here is your first stop on Sunny, not bad, but you can make it SO much prettier!! Breath out! Drop your shoulders to your hips (not behind like you did!) & try this…tuck your hips under. Yup, make a hip thrusting motion….you know like little boys innately know how to do! Push the front of your pubic bone forward, feel your tailbone tuck under? & your seat bones will come up just a hair, but your seat will actually be deeper in the saddle & you’ll be able feel that for sure!! This will also help to align your lower back, you do want a natural curve there, not pin straight, but not concave either.
8.34 this turn on the haunches looked great until here, then he steps out in the hind….see the difference in your shoulders as he steps out? There is a slight rotation in your shoulders as you’re asking his shoulder to move around. That lateral exercise will help here too!
Beautiful departure here, all I can say is BREATHE!!
9.18 here you finally breath out, see him slow down, if you breath more consistently it won’t shock him into thinking it’s a cue to slow down. I want you to work a bit more on using your back to it’s full advantage. See how much front to back motion both your seat & shoulders are taking at the lope & how your shoulders are often behind your hips? Work those hips, do the hip thrust we were talking about, let the motion roll up your spine & let those vertebrae work independently, like you’re doing here from 9.28-33
Much better breath on this stop, your shoulder still got behind instead of grounding though
Beautiful back-up. I like how your lift your tailbone & lift your chest
9.42 Now here where you transition from a back-up to your turn on the haunches, you need to drop that tailbone to close the door behind you, so the energy changes back to forward motion (see how he’s stepping behind instead of in front). Your hips are really straight in this turn, that lateral exercise will help you find the comfort zone for your body in this exercise as well. I like how your holding your upper inside leg open, but just the thigh needs to be out, not the whole foot & lower leg. This last 180 here ending at 10.02 is much better, it’s hard to see when you cut off screen there, but when you come around can you see the slight twist in your hips. See how your right hip is just a shade back & how your inside leg hangs, but is still open at the knee? NICE and your horse is really locked & loaded, he’s on his haunches & they’re spring loaded, see how easy this departure to the trot is for him? His body was set up & made it easy for him! Super cool Mallory! THANKS!