June 24, 2021

Lesson Wrap-Up: Mary Wanless was Right (And Other True Stories)

In my weekly virtual lesson last night, we started out by talking about my revelation in the warm-up of Dressage Seat Equitation last week, which I hadn't really gotten to discuss with her much yet. (Also very much related to my recent Edges post).

"It feels like my position of strength on the right side comes from a place where my right side is collapsed and kind of pulled inward toward my spine, and my right seatbone is pulled off of the saddle with my right thigh creeping up" I said while exaggerating it for her while it sitting on Connor in front of the Pivo. "So if I think,' push my right side forward', he immediately goes better."

We are having THE MOST beautiful weather for late June. In between devastating rainstorms, naturally.

"Ohhhh, interesting! It's your cereal box," she said. "Your cereal box is nice and straight and strong with right angles on your left side, and it's collapsed down on the right. But you're trying to solve this problem with your bones alone, and that won't fix it. This is an internal pressure problem more than it's a bones problem."

And here she dove straight into five straight minutes of Mary Wanless theory meets an anatomy lesson meets Pilates. She had me touching different parts of my body, identifying different muscles, pointing out their relationship to my diaphragm and various ribs, and feeling how different it all was when I was "bearing down" with high internal pressure vs just sitting there.

No filter at all, really

It was SO fascinating, but of course I don't remember the "why" nearly well enough to explain it here, so I won't try. But I so appreciate her ability to take my fumbling description of what I'm feeling, translate it into more sophisticated language and then use that language to explain in greater detail back to me what I'm feeling and why. I came away with a whole new understanding of what I was feeling from that 5 minute anatomy lesson.

(Side note: Are virtual lessons as productive without this Mary Wanless teaching framework?  Do Mary Wanless people get more out of virtual lessons because they can short circuit big nebulous conversations so easily? Thoughts for another day.)

My desire to bushwhack a super tricky trail through the ravine on the barn's property is so strong. It goes almost straight down another 50 feet from where I'm standing, which is already 15 or so feet below the level the barn is at, and runs the length of the property.


When the anatomy lesson ended and I started riding while focusing on my internal pressure, Connor gave me that same feeling from the DSE class where his back lifted and felt so stable and swingy. Quickly, I could feel a bunch of small muscles on my right side engaging and tiring, wrapping around the side of my body from my serratus muscles to my QL to my SI joint. Several hours earlier, I had tried and failed to engage those same muscles in my weekly 1:1 Pilates class - because I was trying to do it with my bones and had no internal pressure!

Exploring the ravine with my dingo

He went amazing in all three gaits, just as good or better than he'd gone on Friday. "Wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww," she kept saying, "This is just lovely! Look at how nice the contact is." "He always tells me immediately when I'm doing something right," I said. "Apparently all he wanted was for me to sit straight!" 

Probably the most telling thing: when I rode with high internal pressure, he initiated the strike off into the walk from the halt with his hind feet - every single time, at least 6 times that I remember. This is NOT normal for Connor, like, if we've ridden 10,000 halt-walk transitions over the last 10 years, 9,990 of them have been initiated by the front feet. It tells me that I must be putting a kink in the energy hose somewhere when I'm riding with low internal pressure.

Now to remember to ride like that all the time...


  1. Interesting. I'm also a collapsed on the right cereal box ;)

  2. I do sort of agree with your theory about Mary Wanless theory remote lessons but then again, that’s my only experience of remote lessons. In my last lesson Meghan and I talked about the same issue with collapsing to one side and the language she used made more of a difference for me than anything I’ve tried up to that point. We didn’t need to worry about a lag or occasionally scratchy audio to get there by describing it vs just working off the visual of how I looked via Zoom video :)

    1. That's actually really cool feedback and a great data point, since you haven't had the experience of Mary or a MW-trained instructor poking you in the ribs in person to demonstrate these things the way I've gotten to do. She's so passionate about teaching teachers and creating that language framework, so that's awesome to see how effective it is 100% remotely.

  3. I just got a Pivo after seeing it mentioned on another blog I follow. I was thinking I could use it to video myself, then send the videos to my favorite instructor who is battling cancer for feedback. But you mentioned using it in real time, which would be even better! I need more information on how that works, though. If you want, you can email me at mmcmillen AT macnet DOT com

    1. You know, I've been meaning to write a blog post detailing how to set it up for real-time virtual lessons, so I'll post that on Monday, then if you have any more questions from there let me know in the comments and I'll shoot you an email! Happy to help, I'm a techy and even I was intimidated by the idea of it at first.