March 3, 2017

Forward and Down

It was a huge compliment in my lesson last night when my trainer said, "Wait, was that your FIRST trot transition?" I confirmed it was, and she said, "That was incredibly good!"

A post shared by Jenifer Slabaugh (@j_alean) on

I wrote earlier this week that I've started really taking responsibility for my own riding, and I've had truly incredible rides on my own, so it was nice to get some actual validation that something was very different in my lesson (FWIW, my first like...20...trot transitions usually suck.  So this is a dramatic change.)

A big part of this change is due to a change in my hands and elbows.  I have two sources to thank for planting this seed in my head.

The first is Megan's post "Screw Up With Confidence."  Specifically, the section about horses that lean.  Specifically, these lines:

"If you don't give him something to pull on, he won't pull. But I say fuck you, if you don't give him something to pull on, he won't be on the bit"

So true. With Rico, the leaning went away when we improved his self carriage, and more importantly, when I improved mine. I think that more riders than we think are reliant on their horse's heaviness/leaning for their own balance and that more riders need to work on their own self carriage before insisting the horse carry themselves. Test: ride along and randomly drop the reins, if you even slightly change the way you're sitting, you're using the horse's mouth for balance and the horse will never be in self carriage because you'll prevent it. 

I read that, and then I almost immediately started re-reading "When Two Spines Align."  She was describing the way the hands must allow the horse's head to travel "forward and down".  I should probably get that tattooed on my thumbs so I see it when I look down while riding, as dramatic of an impact as that phrase had.

I was trotting, sitting trot, and "forward and down" scrolled across my brain like a marquee, and I let my hands go forward AND DOWN, and the whole feel through my body changed in an instant.  I know that feeling, because that's how my body feels when Connor is going well, but I never thought it was my body that was causing him to "go badly".  I never thought I could change something about my hands to get that feeling through my whole body, I thought it was all Connor, and I had to figure out how to manipulate his body to get him to go well.  Wrong.

Thanks as always to Kelly's husband Paul for this picture.
When I let my hands go forward and down, the angle of my elbows changed from more closed to more open.  My biceps were taken out of the picture.  My hands started following his mouth, my body felt elastic, and I could really feel each of his steps coming through my body, whereas before, I wasn't.

Downright shameful, but why do I blog except to think through this stuff and look back at evidence?  Connor's leaning, and I don't realize I'm pulling here, but everything about my body says "Don't go forward!"

Confession time: Even though I really didn't think I was, I've been pulling, holding, and balancing on Connor's mouth this whole time.  And he responds by leaning, of course.  When I break that cycle, I get trot  transitions that make my trainer's jaw hit the floor.

I won't say I've 100% fixed it in the three rides I've had since the "forward and down" moment, but I can notice it and fix it myself.  For someone with very little body awareness, being able to feel and fix something like that without being told to by my trainer is 75% of the battle.


  1. This kind of thing is so neat to think about and play with. On Stampede since he is prone to tripping with his back issues I have a very hard time with this since I feel I need to help hold him up (like that's possible!). When I was taking dressage lessons on him Elise really worked on teaching me to give and the difference was truly amazing.
    On the opposite side I've done this kind of thing with P simply by working on my bridleless riding and the neck rope. It really forces you to use your body to give cues for transitions versus just relying on hands. I found that especially in downward transitions I want to lean when I have reins but I sit nicely without them so I've been trying to be conscious of that.

  2. Such interesting concepts, that riders of all disciplines can benefit from learning

  3. Love these kinds of nitty-gritty biomechanic explorations! I'm finding lately that 90% of my flatwork/contact problems can be solved by me engaging my core more fully and using it as an aid, and dropping my elbows down to create more elastic arms. I get all flustered and annoyed that my pony isn't just Doing The Thing, and then I fix my core and my elbows, and he does it. Whoops.

  4. This is so challenging! And how huge that you're starting to create these changes without your trainer.

  5. I love this post! Giving me lots to think about for my next ride :)

  6. Those "ah ha" moments are sometimes the best (:

  7. I love ah-ha moments. I love Meaghan's post too and I need to try it (once it warms up so I can ride!)

  8. Love it when those ah-ha moments happen :)

    As a sidenote, I just wanted to let you know I have changed my blog name, so it may not show up in your reader list anymore. The new url is www dot twoandahalfhorses dot blogspot dot com. You may have to re-enter it into your reader list to follow again.