July 1, 2020

Lesson Wrap-Up: Sitting Heavy

What my arms are doing is only one part of the equation in getting me to stop pulling. My weight aid and position of my pelvis in the saddle is the other big part, and last night's lesson proved that in spades.

Connor like to be heavy on the forehand and heavy in the bridle. I also think he's learned that he can pull me out of an effective position - he tugs me forward just enough that I'm no longer really sitting in the saddle a lot. I'll be good one moment and then a few minutes later I realize he's pulled me out of alignment without me noticing.

August of 2015, he has me right where he wants me

Last night my trainer started the lesson by having me focusing on sitting deeply and solidly in the saddle. For me, that means consciously eliminating the tension I like to carry in my glutes and really SITTING.

As she was explaining why we were working on this and joking that I needed to use all of my very small amount of weight to sit in on him, I wondered out loud if riding him was easier for people heavier than me (so, everyone), because both of my trainers always look so rock solid sitting on him, in a way I don't feel like I can physically achieve. She says she does think there's something to that.

I have gained 10lbs of mostly muscle since this photo was taken in December of 2011, when I weighed 105lbs:

I'm a strong 115lbs now, and I've developed an instinct to rely first on my strength in riding and second (not at all) on my weight/seat aids.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing I was still as skinny as I was in the first photo, and then I remember all the amazing things my body can do now that it couldn't back then. Like a 200lb deadlift.

A couple of interesting things happened in this lesson. Encouraging me to sit deeply and not worry about the horse at first really made me aware of the moments when he tried to pull my torso forward, and I was able to resist him. Resisting him took every bit of my newly discovered core muscles.

And thanks to I think a combination of my saddle getting reflocked last week and Pilates, I had a newfound sensation of being able to keep my lower back flat effortlessly. If you remember, my Pilates coach at first said I had one of the most inflexible lower backs she'd ever seen, and we've spent months working on loosening my lower back, getting my lower back veterbrae to articulate more, and strengthening my abs to take some of the pressure off of the back muscles surrounding those vertebrae.

Saddle is sitting so much better on his back now, and no longer pops up in the back when I girth it

I can now do movements in Pilates that were impossible for me months ago, and I have sensations in my lower back I've never felt before, but this is the first time I've seen Pilates directly pay off in the saddle. Between my new understanding of contact and being able to feel my lower back connected to the reins, Connor had more air time in the trot than ever before. I even felt him puff out against my legs just like he did at CGPs!

My long-suffering partner, continuing to teach me things

So I've started to think that there's this multi-step cycle that's been happening in which we continually sabotage each other:

1. Connor pulled me forward into an ineffective position because my core wasn't strong enough and I don't weigh enough to resist that in a way someone heavier might naturally be able to resist it a bit more/Connor would have to work harder to dislodge them
2. Because I wasn't anchored in the saddle, my weight/seat aids were useless, and I over-used my hands.
3. Because I needed my arms to stabilize myself, I pulled
4. He pulled back
5. My inflexible and out-of-alignment lower back couldn't absorb the motion of his gaits, which meant the force of his gaits affecting my body gets transmitted straight back into his back (cue NK saying "something about the way you sit shuts this horse down")
6. Horse goes poorly, I wonder what's wrong with me
7. Cycle continues

Definitely a hashtag dressageishard moment, but also, this is why I keep on with this horse, because he IS a genuinely challenging ride, but he always immediately starts going well when I get it right. He's a good teacher even though we're bumbling our way up the levels together.


  1. Ugh I really related to this. I have started asking May to be a bit more through into the connection. This is, physically, just not easy for her. You know what is easy? Pulling me right out of the saddle. I like your tips on how to really feel your weight in your seat (something I do not lack in). But I also think part of my issue is having a saddle that already wants to put me in that slightly tipped forward position, throwing off my balance.

    Dressage is... so hard.

    1. You never want to blame your tack, but the balance of the saddle matters a lot for this. I think back to when I tried the Patrick and it went from actively sabotaging my position to making my position effortless with the addition of a small rolled up towel stuffed under the gullet. It can be such a small thing that makes a huge difference in saddle balance.

  2. As a person with a solid 30 pounds on you, I can say that Gav pulls the EXACT SAME THING on me. Only recently have I started keeping my position more solid (thanks lunge line lessons) and letting him react to it/figure out what he needs to do. It has totally changed our rides for the better. Sneaky ponies ;)

    1. Yeah, my weight isn't the primary problem at all, it just makes solving the primary problem harder!

  3. #dressageishard is right, lol ugh.... also, idk about you, but i picked up the habit of holding in my back instead of my core from riding hunters in the IHSA, and damn it's been a real slog trying to reverse that muscle memory haha. ah well, at least it's a fun slog!

    1. That is probably where it started! Nothing like being told to stick your boobs out and perch to screw your Dressage position forever lol

    2. *where it started for me. I was also an IHSA hunter rider in college! Many bad habits and survival coping mechanisms were learned.

    3. lol for real tho.... i was pretty sure i remembered you did IHSA too.. and like, probably actual proper hunters equitate more "correctly," but i was definitely alllllllll aboard the "perch with arched back and popped out butt" position, and ya know... have yet to recover LOL

    4. Definitely riding every discipline correctly and not just slapping basic fundamentals to get out and show IS hard lol

  4. Dressage is hard. Carmen and I fight the exact same battles. when I was doing my 'strong' classes they really helped. Then everything stopped. Fortunately they are starting back. I also realized that I was trying to hold until she gave and then she just happily hung her head there forever.