Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Retraining the Trainer

Although I teach riding lessons, I do not consider myself to be a particularly advanced rider, nor do I have perfect equitation. I have worked very hard to get myself to the level of riding I am at today, and in the world of dressage I am not very far along at all. I beleive I am a better instructor than I am a competitive rider because I have had to learn, re-learn, and reflect various lessons in balance, equitation, and execution that my more talented peers have picked up apoun almost immediately. I've read countless books, attended thousands of lessons, participated in clinics whenever possible, and constantly search for new teaching material on the internet.

That said, I must admit I have been out of regular lessons for almost two years. I attended two clinics and squeezed in a few lessons with an amazingly intuitive reining trainer in my area, but that's about it. Granted, I rode on intercollegiate teams and competed on a somewhat regular basis. After my intial introduction to Shorty, I was paid to train him for three months. Shorty's progress was slow going but he was improving, but my boss told me he could no longer afford to pay me for training. Shorty does not like strangers and would have been a terrible lesson horse, so I was the only one working with him. I decided to keep on riding and training him for free, and also paid for many of the necessities Shorty needed that his owner refused to provide... but that's another story. Let's just say that even though I wasn't in lessons consistently, I was learning from the horses I rode on a regular basis.

And herein lies the problem. Riding a strong, crooked horse that tends to lean into the bridle has tipped my already shaky balance off the scale. In the saddle, I feel terribly off. I sold my old saddle, which was too small for me, and bought a beautiful Albion dressage saddle. I bought new leathers, thinking that one had stretched and was the cause of my instability. I am in decent shape, good enough to walk twenty miles and bench press 150 pounds, so I do not think muscle weakness is the cause. My old half chaps bore significant wear marks in distinctly different locations, meaning that one or both of us is seriously off-kilter. Considering that the aforementioned dressage saddle was flocked specifically for Shorty's back after I bought it a month ago, I'm betting the imbalance is due to some subtle asymmetry in my body. However, I do not remember feeling this way four years ago as a freshman riding three hours a day, mostly in lessons.

There are some possible causes to my problem:
  • I've been crooked all along, but the mass amounts of lessons I teach has made me more critical of equitation, including my own.
  • My rheumatoid arthritis is causing my joints to shift slowly. Yes, I have RA, which is basically arthritis in every joint in my body, but my hands and knees are the worst. As a result of the swelling often seen in my joints, my doctor explained that I will likely experience blood clots, pinched nerves, and instability in one or both sides of my body. Other than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, there's nothing that I can do to stop this degenerative disease.
  • Last year, I broke three bones in my left foot when a horse I was grooming spooked and landed on me. The horse, a Hannoverian tank, knocked me down and stepped on the arch of my foot as I hit the ground. I did not have insurance and the employer did not offer to pay for the medical bills, so I didn't get treatment. Stupid, I know, but I didn't realize how severe the damage was until the swelling went down and I could feel the displaced bones in my arch. By then, the breaks were fusing as is, and I didn't feel like taking time off for surgery and re-breaking.
  • I've been out of lessons so long, I've been getting sloppy. Although I hate to say it, and please do not think me arrogrant, I am the most experienced rider in the barn. There are no others around to give me corrections or pointers. In fact, I've had to give the other instructors lessons because they know so little about riding. (I didn't hire them, but I'm stuck with them).
  • I have adapted my riding to my crooked horse. Shorty is a lovely boy, but he does not have great confirmation and tends to hang on the right rein. He leans on me quite a bit. I have effectively convinced him to lower his head and relax at the withers, but he still lacks flexion at the poll and jaw. In fact, his entire spine is as rigid as a 2 by 4. There are days when he flexes beautifully, and others were he is extremely stiff- stifle, knee, and hock arthritis is the cause. I have been working on building impulsion and strenthening his previously anorexic hind end.
  • My riding has always been crooked, but my old saddle saved my ass. It was a wintec with CAIR panels, and I had to use a big, thick, foam riser pad to keep it balanced. Perhaps the air cushion flocking canceled out my lopsidedness. Now, I have a traditionally-flocked saddle that has been customized to Shorty's back, but I'm still riding the same way.

With all of this in mind, I need to get back into regular riding lessons, maybe even two or three a week at first. All of the things I listed are sadly not quick fixes; I will have to retrain my body to regain my balance, and that takes TIME. It also takes strengthening and increased flexibility. I am strong, but I can't touch my toes to save my life. I have a strong diaphram, thanks to twelve years of playing the trumpet and a lifetime of blatting impressivly long and loud belches, but are my abdominal muslces strong enough remian centered in the saddle? Yes I can walk twenty miles, but can I wrap my legs around the horse without pinching in any one area? Yes I can benchpress a lot of weight, but can I retrain an elestic elbow and a soft hand? Probably not, which means I should start adding stretches into my daily routine, including during the minutes before getting on my horse.

I've looked up a few instructors in my area that specialize in dressage, but very few of them travel and possess the qualifications. I can't tell you how many ads I found for 17 year old girls advertising themselves as experts in their disciplines because they've been riding "since before they were born." I found one woman that specializes in OTTBs and looks legit (nice website, actually literate, certification with ARIA). I will start making phone calls this afternoon; updates will be given soon.

1 comment:

  1. Oh the joys of being crooked! I have a weaker right side and so does Gogo, so it's this constant uphill battle going in that direction. Glad you got a sexy new Albion though! Where is this place you might take lessons?

    And barn-owner-who-must-not-be-named needs to be inhumanely euthanized... did you move Shorty yet?