June 14, 2013

Becoming a Supple Leopard

In the words of Mike Polk Jr, "I know there are more important things in life than (horses), but you are supposed to be our pleasant distraction from those things!"

(Funny video, whether or not you're a football fan.)

I've had an awful week.  Things are crashing randomly at work, requiring lots of overtime and early mornings and I wasn't able to ride Connor at all since my last lesson.  So I was looking forward to my lesson today as a nice bit of stress relief, but then Connor played hard to catch until we cornered him at the pipe gate outside his field after a half-hour of walking him down with tears in my eyes.  Not exactly my "pleasant distraction" at that point.

CrossFit really helped my jump form yesterday, as I had the best jump form of my life (says my trainer) after applying the principles I'm learning in Kelly Starrett's Mobility WOD website and book, Becoming a Supple Leopard.  "I've never seen you ride like that before!" my trainer said, "in a good way!"  I tend to round my shoulders forward, upper back out and lower back in all the time, and I've heard from both my CrossFit and riding trainer about that negatively affecting me lately.  Right now I'm working on the section in Becoming a Supple Leopard that talks about keeping your back straight and spine neutral by "resetting" it, which I approximated in the saddle yesterday.  It consists of three steps:

1) Tighten glutes as hard as you can to bring your pelvis underneath you.
2) Tighten abs to hold the pelvis there, release glutes (ideally, you should always have approximately 20% muscle contractions of the abs at all times for good spinal alignment without getting fatigued)
3) Pull your shoulders back by thinking about pulling the shoulder blades down.

After doing 2 and 3 in the saddle just before the jump exercise we did, I did not jump ahead of him (big deal for me), he did not break to the trot at all, and my shoulders were back.  My trainer was delighted and kept calling it a big breakthrough for me, because in addition to having my shoulders back I also had a flat back over the fence.  She kept telling me that my engaged abs were working to push him into the bridle, and that my lengthened inside leg was asking him to not blow through my aids and stay active.  I'm feeling aches in long-neglected muscles, especially the muscles in the middle of my back, as I try to ingrain this new and better posture into my body, but it's worth it since it made such a huge difference yesterday.

I really encourage you to check out the Becoming a Supple Leopard book, it's got so much in it that will help equestrians improve their form and lessen their chances of injury.  Even though it's designed for CrossFitters, the principles of good movement and balance are the same in everything.  I look forward to seeing what the rest of the book does for my riding.