Friday, February 3, 2012

Lesson Reflection: Melt Your Seat

How does a rider melt her seat exactly? 
And, more importantly, why would she want to?

First of all, this "melt your seat" phrase is mine, but the concept belongs to my teacher.  She gave Harley and I a lesson yesterday in the saddle!  I am not embarrassed to admit that this was my first riding lesson since the spring.  I have met with my teacher for groundwork and bodywork lessons, but I have not been in the saddle under her scrutinizing eye for quite some time.  My teacher is very kind, but I still didn't want to disappoint.  I knew Harley wouldn't.

In my last "rideless" riding lesson, I learned (again or to a new degree) how to position my upper body over my feet.  This allowed me to find an upright, supported posture without leaning back or bracing.  I have been practicing this concept while riding Harley.  I pretended that I was pushing a wall in front of my knuckles.  If you are trying to push an imaginary wall, you cannot pull back on your horse or lean back and brace in your seat or lower leg.  When I got it, Harley definitely had that back to front feeling without me driving, pushing or worrying about inside leg to outside rein aiding.  Seriously.  I think that those aspects of dressage can be overdone and make riding mostly mechanical.  I learned the mechanics for years.  I don't want that to be my focus anymore.  I want the art and I believe that Harley is the unexpected mount to meet me half-way in this journey. 

While practicing my new position and awareness, I noticed that my seat would often dislodge from the saddle.  I had been trying to counteract this by "closing my seat" with muscular effort, mostly from my core.  I told my teacher about this and she had an exercise ready for me.  I dropped my reins and placed my hands, palm down on Harley's withers.  I had to feel my entire seat in the saddle and slowly walk my hands up his neck.  The farther up his neck I walked, the more my lower leg had to come forward and the more my lower back had to stretch and flatten to keep my seat in the saddle.  I repeated the exercise my walking back down his neck and continuing behind the saddle.  The challenge was to keep my seat in full contact with the saddle no matter where my upper body went.  This required that I let many muscle groups around my pelvis relax. 

The first exercise was not so bad, until she asked me to raise my lower leg without tightening my butt.  That is really difficult. 

In fact, it felt impossible. 

Every time I raised my knee and thigh, my "hindend" tightened.  I tried making tiny movements, but this did not fool my teacher.  I whined a little bit, "but they are all connected."  So then she told me to just raise my heel a little to move my knee.  Whoa.  That worked.  Somehow, my seat muscles stayed relaxed even though I was moving my legs.

"This is the way you must allow him to move your leg.  If you let your knee rise and fall slightly with relaxed thighs, that is your trot."

I took my reins back and we moved on to work on the circle.  I walked and trotted Harley, trying to maintain relaxed seat muscles.  I am telling you.  This is deceptively difficult.  You cannot work hard.  You cannot overwhelm yourself with trying.  Those things are counter productive.  The only way that I could find success was to prescribe a sort of softness or gentleness to my body.  No big movements.  No tight muscles.  Do not think work.  Do not think perfection.  Then it might just happen.

And it did.

I felt my entire seat contacting the saddle, from the front to the back.  The whole surface draped around the saddle.  I felt like a heavy cloth with no muscles.  If I started to tighten the muscles and try to leg on my horse, he would stop.  I had to keep my legs forward, but underneath me.  Apparently, Harley had read the lesson plan.  If I kept my seat melted and my legs under my shoulders, he flowed along like butter.  His neck was long and his strides carried my seat and my lower leg forward.  It was so cool.

And then it got cooler.

My teacher asked me to try walking my hands up his neck while he was trotting.  Granted, this was not on a lunge line, but there is a fence around the ring, so I let my reins go long and tried walking up his neck.  I kept posting the trot at first, but that became awkward, so I decided to sit.  Harley approached the exercise and my melted seat with gusto.  He powered along with a long neck and sought contact with my long reins, as I inched up his neck and then walked back down again.  I raised my heels and knees slightly in rhythm with his strides as I walked my hands behind the saddle.  I was so focused on keeping my seat melted into the saddle, that I did not realize how Harley was trucking along until my teacher exclaimed,

"You can slow down if you what, but look how he is just carrying you forward?"

Harley was power-trotting around the ring, and I was sitting in the saddle with one hand resting on the cantle and one on the reins.  I couldn't resist laughing.  Harley was funny.  I was funny.  The lesson was funny and, man, did I have a rough week at work.  That was exactly what I needed.

"This feels so awesome!"

I didn't care that it was fast.  His trot was so forward and the strides were long and comfortable.  My knees flexed in time with his strides and my seat remained firmly glued.  I didn't feel like I was activating my core.  I wasn't working hard.  I was just sitting in a posture that was not creating any resistance to my horse's movement.  If that's not a reason to melt your seat, I do not know what is.  Now that I have "felt the melt", I hope that I can make it happen again!

12 comments:

  1. I read a number of posts here tonight and I am overwhelmed. I am slowly getting terms and some things I think I have to progress to in order to fully understand. I have my first true riding lesson tomorrow on Oberon (QH). I've had ground work and a bit of "how to" with seat and reining, but a whole hour or so of me being watched in the saddle ... YIKES! But I know I need it and am looking forward to it. I am putting a ton of practice in lately as I will soon be riding my 1/2 Friesian...

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    1. Hooray for your first riding lesson and on Oberon! If you feel overwhelmed at all during the lesson, just remember that learning to ride is a long journey. You will learn and relearn many things. Embrace the process!

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  2. That sounds like a really interesting lesson. The best part is that it was effective AND made you laugh. You can't get any better than that! I love the picture in my mind of Harley motoring along with you crawling up his neck. :)

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    1. Thanks, Annette!

      You certainly cannot go wrong with a lesson that is both entertaining and education. My teacher was laughing, too. I am not sure that she had ever seen him trot like that before. Harley is named Harley for a reason. He has always been able to truck, but now he does so with a lifted back. I want to try it at the canter next!

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  3. The isolation of muscles required in dressage is really intense.

    I find it especially hard to keep my seat muscles loose when it's cold out. In my experience a tight ass causes the horse to invert and inhibits reaching...

    "felt the melt"... I like that Val :)

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    1. Yeah. I think that I would have a much easier time tightening certain muscles than letting them go. If your balance is lost at all (I don't mean falling off kind of lost, just slightly off center), muscles have to tighten to keep us upright. So a centered position precludes letting muscles go. I think that a lot of riders go around with braced muscles. I know that I did for quite a long time and I am still learning where to find them.

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  4. "If you are trying to push an imaginary wall, you cannot pull back on your horse or lean back and brace in your seat or lower leg." While I was trying to visualize this particular instruction I couldn't help but feel myself worrying about falling forward or for that matter backwards. I can only imagine how beneficial it would be to try while riding. Then you threw in the "melting seat" and in my mind, I fell off...
    It seems Harley truly enjoys "assisting" in your continuing education. He's just terrific!
    I am curious, did you have sore muscles afterwards? Did you discover muscles you didn't know you had?

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    1. *laughing* Oh no! I hope you were not injured in your mind. The horse keeps moving forward, so he stays underneath you as you push the wall. It really works!

      Harley is great that way, and he doesn't let me cheat.

      No sore muscles, because this was all about relaxing muscles groups. Since I have been at this for a while with my teacher, I have found lots of muscles that I was unable to feel, because they had been tight for so long, especially near my shoulder blades and the long back muscles between them. Those still elude me from time to time.

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  5. Argggghhhh- too much conflicting information- cannot compute!!!!

    Seriously, I think I try to do too much at once, add a love of research on top of that and you get a rider that is completely confused. To my horses for the answer :)

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    1. Sorry, smaz! You will find your way.

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