In order to be effective as a horseman - (or horsewoman) you have to be able to use every part of your body effectively and make minute changes in your muscle tone, strength and position on a second by second basis. For all the non-riders out there - I know that you think we just sit there and kick-on - but no - it's a lot more technical than that. Your position has to be correct, and that includes correctly placing your skeleton and your muscles to get the achieved result. Take into account that the horse is moving all the time - and that means minor adjustments have to be made all the time also.....still with me ?
Now some people are blessed with a great riding shape - long legs, long thigh bones, slim shape for example Carl Hester who is one of the UK's top dressage riders. If you want see him ride go here.
Look at the length of his legs and where they sit on the horse's body - I would give my eye teeth to have legs that long when it comes to riding my horse instead of the stumpy ones that I do have !!!
Unfortunately most of us aren't blessed with that shape - and we have to compensate.
Now, dear readers - who knows where their seat bones are? To find them - sit on a hard chair with your thighs (horizontal) at 90 degrees to your torso (vertical), and your lower legs vertical, and your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands , palms up - flat on the chair seat - underneath your 'undercarriage'...as if you were cupping the part of your buttocks where they meet the top of your thighs - and try to get your finger tips to meet (you probably won't manage to do that - but try). Then gently rock backwards and forwards and you should be able to feel your seat bones quite strongly moving over your finger tips. If you move from side to side also - you should certainly feel them.
These 'bones' are the points of bone at the bottom of your pelvic girdle - and they are what we use to 'plug' ourselves into the horses back. The horse can feel them very strongly - even through layers of saddle pads and the saddle itself. Even a slight movement (as you will have felt) can make a huge difference to how these bones feel to the horse and the messages they give. A horse can and will respond very quickly to even the slightest change in pressure and direction of these bones. You can - with practise - make your seat bones work wonders on a horse without the rider appearing to move at all.
Now - your seat bones have to be down and straight for most of the time. So to achieve that you have to visualise that your trunk is pushing down to keep them plugged in. It's quite important when cantering to keep this feeling otherwise you will get bounced right out of the saddle. The 'vision' that works for me is that of a cafetiere and the plunger is my inner core - I just push it down as if I was making coffee!!! That gives you a feeling of 'bearing down' - but it's just with your inner core - not your outer self - so you have to leave the glass jug (your outer self) absolutely still. Just try it while you sit here.....quite effective..no? Just slightly altering the direction or strength of that pressure by a tiny amount can make quite a difference to the horse's way of going. You can actually get Phoebe to stop from a trot just by altering the pressure of the seatbones and making everything else in your body 'still' - no rein contact required at all.
And there are loads and loads of visual pictures like that which we use to make minute difference to every part our bodies when we ride. It's totally fascinating and I love that way of learning.
Anyway - as always after an hour of that kind of stuff this lunchtime - tomorrow I won't be able to walk!!!!