August 2, 2012

Blocking with the Thighs

I have to admit that I was a little surprised today when my trainer said Connor taught her something in their latest/last training ride.  As always, I am roughly paraphrasing because remembering what trainers say to me in lessons is incredibly difficult for me.  (And blogging is my attempt to remember it even a little!)

"We were on the right lead and he was running through my right aids.  I stopped and really thought about why that was, and realized that I was tight in my inside thigh.  When I relaxed, he immediately stopped running away and got softer.  I realized that I did that on the other horses too, but with them they'd just give me a slightly less quality of canter.  With him, since he's so sensitive and small, he just immediately shut down when he felt that."

Being tense is not a new problem for me, but being aware of that particular body part so acutely was.  Before we cantered tonight, she had me try leg yields while thinking about not blocking him.  We've tried lateral movements in the past, but I'd never say that they were correct or easy.  When I thought about keeping the outside arm/elbow in a straight line, keeping the outside thigh light, and keeping the inside leg on him, he gave me the most fluid, graceful, correct leg yield I've ever ridden in my life.  I think I actually yelled "HOLY SHIT!"  I just could not believe that feeling.

"I bet that's the problem with our tense turns on the forehand too!"  I was high on life.

"Well..."  she said.

"I know, I know, it's probably more than that, but it feels like it's probably contributing."


The meat-and-potatoes of today's lesson was working on his canter, which my trainer has advanced to the point that I feel like I can work on it by myself and actually get something done rather than cantering just for the sake of having cantered.  She had me canter him up in a half seat, with the reins quite short and my knuckles drove into his neck.  This is so that he can't pull me forward and get "runny" and off-balance.  (When she says "runny", all I can think about are egg sandwiches.  Mmmm...)  She had me think about sinking equally into both knees and ankles, evenly distributing my weight, and taking care not to block him with either thigh.  I also had to think about pumping 75% less with my arms than I thought I should.

The other thing I am to remember at the canter is that it's my hip movement, not my tight legs, that need to tell him to keep moving.  "I almost felt like I was doing the hula on him," she said.  When you cue for the canter, the inside hip will slide forward, but I need to make sure that doesn't cause the outside leg to go tight on him as well.  Again, like 95% of riding, it is all body awareness and making sure that my brain is actively aware of where my body parts are and how they are affecting him.

And then I come home from the barn and my husband has salmon steaks with a carrot quick pickle topping and broccoli with a homemade herbed lemon cream sauce waiting for me.  Ladies, I have to recommend snagging a husband whose hobby is cooking if you're at the barn til 9pm like I am.  Love this guy!


  1. I have had that lesson, too. It makes a big difference. My mom calls it "smiling with the hips." You will find it will give you a more solid position too.
    You are very lucky in the husband department :)

  2. Wow on having such a great husband...his momma raised him right!

    It was good to read how you described relaxing your thigh and being super body aware of pressure and position. I am going thru this with canter also - I tend to get tight in the thighs and block the motion. My other main problem is leaning back too far when circling or turning. I never would have guessed the differences all this makes - esp in green horses.

    Keep up the lesson / training posts! I always take something away from them.

  3. Nicole, how does she describe the hip thing?

    Kelly, it sounds like we have a similar thing going on at the canter (and two horses in a somewhat similar place in their training at the canter, go figure!). I've gotten corrected for leaning back lately too, after fixing my perched forward hunter position it seems that I am overcompensating. Does your instructor have you do anything in particular to help you relax through the thighs?

  4. Jen, by smiling she means opening thru the hips. That prevents pinching with the knee which causes the blocking you describe. It also puts your lower leg in position. The result is that you are around the horse instead of just on top. And by smiling you horse is able to move forward without blockage. To help open the hip, try doing leg rotations as you sit on the saddle, up, out, back and down. If you have someone with you, have them do the stretch for you adding a slight jiggle to relax the muscle. Sounds weird but some people have to drop their stirrups a hole because they released enough tension to lengthen the leg.

    1. Oh and the hip movement, mom would say to think about sitting on a skateboard and using your seat to move forward. To do this you have to relax the thighs, open and swing thru the hips.

  5. Wow, that is a lot to think about with the canter...I think that will help me, thanks for sharing!

  6. Hey Jen - you know, once we get all this down - we are going to rock the canter!

    My trainer just keeps saying, 'relax your hips, relax your hips'...when I think I am.

    I like Nicole's suggestions about the stretching in the saddle and the skateboard imagery. Will be trying those tonight!