September 23, 2019

Lesson Wrap-Up: In Which a GP Trainer Ties My Hands to My Saddle

Ever since the Mary clinic, I'd been tossing around the idea of riding with the GP rider that hosted it.  She's been riding with Mary for a decade, is a certified Mary instructor, and her students have been killing it at USDF shows on all different types of horses this season, including drafty little ponies.

Plus I was feeling the itch to get off the property and GO somewhere. I don't know why this is a thing for me right now, but it is.  Plus, this barn has miles of mirrors, which is SO helpful.

This is going to be epically long, and I'm not apologizing, I need to digest this and this blog is how I do it.  It was a great lesson that made me feel like a beginner rider, in the best way.  It felt like Part II of my Mary Wanless rides from May, and I was tickled that she did a lot of the same things Kate, Megan and Mary all did with me.

Right off the bat, she said regardless of how much warming up I'd done before she got there, the horse she saw was not ready for sitting trot, and that the back needs to be swinging before I sit. So we posted.

When I started posting, she had me look in the mirrors at how much my hands moved up and down with each post, and pointed out what that did to Connor and how that influenced me feeling like I have to pull. This was pretty eye opening, I had no idea I was committing this particular sin.

So the next thing she did was tie my hands to the saddle!  Not exactly "tied" of course, but she took two lengths of baling twine and made loops that she attached to my D rings and had me put my hands through, with the loop between my thumb and my hand.

The loops were a devilish but effective trick.  If my hands continued to move up and down, the twine went slack and then snapped taut with each step.  If my hands were still, the twine stayed stable.  I also couldn't pull back as easily with these, even though I tried.

Trailer tack room so cozy in the dark
This also highlighted how dependent I am on the reins for things like steering.  She said she wanted me to steer entirely off my seat, the most I was allowed to do with the reins if he was leaving the circle was to give him one "bump" with the inside rein (but by bringing my hand out from the elbow/into the circle and NOT back) and outside leg.

She said the loops should give me a feeling of pushing a shopping cart forward or holding a tray on my hands.  Those were both very effective images that NK has used with me before.  My elbows also had a lot to do here - I had been keeping them closed (which is why my hands were moving) but they needed to slightly open and close with each post.

Next we totally blew up my posting mechanic, which ended up being more challenging than I thought it would be in my jump saddle, which puts my feet out in front of me more than I realized with my stirrups at Dressage length. This was the part of the lesson that was most similar to what Mary did with me in May, but this trainer (who I'm going to call CGP) took it further.

First she pointed out that I don't have enough tone to post actively, that I'm letting gravity take me down, which is not creating a space for Connor's back to come up.  She had me pull my leg waaaaaaaaay back, to where my thigh wasn't even touching the back of the kneepad on the CWD.  She showed me in the mirror how that got my heel under my shoulder and how having my ankle under my shoulder allowed my hip to move all the way forward at the top of my post.

Then she had me post with Connor halted, very slowly, and told me not to actually sit in the saddle but to lower myself almost all the way down (slowly) and then come back up (slowly).  This felt like a CrossFit workout!  She pointed out how much more tone I needed in my thigh and calf to achieve this, and how if Mary's (or Kate's!) hand was in my stirrup right now, it would be crushed by the weight of my foot in the stirrup.  I needed to get my foot onto the front of my stirrup and be more active in the post, especially through the thigh, and think about my knees pointing down.

After demonstrating some serious improvement in relaxation, stride length and shoulder freedom in the trot once I got a little better at the posting and my hands, we moved on to the canter, which I think is where my mind was most blown.  This is also where I wasn't quite able to digest her explanations well enough, but I'll do my best.

First, we worked on my hands in the loops.  She got onto me for closing my elbow angle and causing his head nod by not letting my hands go forward enough through the stride.  She had me shove my hands into the loops until the twine was really digging into them, and it felt like my elbows were REALLY moving, and also staying in front of my torso.

We got home around 8:30pm and it was already pitch black. :(  I'm not ready.

Finally, we worked on his down transitions out of canter.  I had started the lesson by showing her my last Dressage test (the 62% one) and telling her about the c-w tx strugglebus. 

She had me pick up the canter on a 20m circle, then take my hands out of the loops and push my hands all the way forward, arms straight toward his ears, with loops in the reins.  Then she had me ask for the down transition like that, using only my seat and no reins whatsoever.  She didn't care how fast he went, or what he looked like, or how long it took to bring him down, and we did spend a long time on that canter circle before we figured it out.

She said the two of us currently rely on the reins for balance, and that we need to break that habit and re-teach Connor how to perform his own balanced down transitions without that crutch of leaning on my hands.  That's Step 1 in a broader plan to improve the canter and get c-w's reliably, and is our homework, along with riding with the loops.

The most fascinating thing about this?  During that long, forward canter while my hands were up by his ears and I was trying to figure out how to bring him back with my seat, his front end elevation scores at the canter were the highest they've ever been by a solid 1-1.5cm, sustained over several minutes.

All in all, it was a great ass-kicking of a lesson, and it didn't deviate from, but did expand on, all the things I got out of the Mary Wanless clinic and the things I get from my regular trainer.  I'm looking forward to going back once a month-ish for more.


  1. Sounds like an amazing lesson with some really great insights!

  2. This sounds like an awesome lesson! I really think I need to find a way to get some Mary Wanless or Mary Wanless protégé lessons into my life! Don't ever apologize for long and detailed posts!

  3. Sounds like a few lessons I've had! Previous trainer had me using my thigh more in the posting trot and no pressure in the stirrups. Current trainer has me sometimes hold the breastplate to keep my hands more still and have to use my seat and leg.

  4. What an amazing lesson! She sounds like a great resource.

  5. Ugh I am going to have to do the loop thing. I have been having issues with connection and I 100% know that it is a ME problem. Love the deep dive posts!

  6. I think I'm going to add some loops to my saddle. I swear my hands are possessed and just wander off when I'm not looking.

  7. Oh man, I'm trying the loop thing tonight. And I also rely way too much on my stirrup to post. Ugh I need more lessons. And more money for more lessons.

  8. Oh I'm so glad you did this! She sounds really awesome!

  9. Very cool!
    My trainer has been telling me to "touch my saddle pad with my pinkie", I decided to up the ante by leaving the billet straps on my saddle pad loose and holding them, I think this is a pretty similar position to holding a loop on the D-ring. Even though my hands have a mind of their own sometimes, it was less weird then I expected and really has helped me keep a more consistent connection!

  10. Oooooh... I really like that tying hands to saddle idea... going to borrow it for a couple students!

  11. You are making me so jealous I want crazy mind exploding lessons like this