Thursday, March 8, 2012

Riding Reflection: All Thumbs

During today's ride, I tried to keep my objectives for myself really clear.  I recently read a very nice post at the School Your Horse blog about the rider's thumbs.  The tip was to keep your thumb on top of the rein (check) and point your thumbs at the right and left sides of the bit, respectively.  Whoa.  That reminds of me of my teacher's instructions to "flatten my wrists on top".  Turns out, my wrists are perfectly flat on top if I point my thumbs at the bit.  What a useful image!  I can control my thumbs with ease, which is delightfully refreshing in riding.  However, I needed to put this idea into practice, so during today's ride, I made a point to "point" my thumbs at the bit.  Here is what I found.

Harley loves the contact that is produced when I am "all thumbs".  Not only did he accept the bit, but he also rounded his neck easily and nearly automatically.  All that was left for me to do was keep the engine motoring behind.

The contact was very even in both reins.  Likewise, I could quickly feel when he did not bend properly or dropped a rein by not stepping evenly forward with his hind legs.  The reins felt like rails, which my horse traveled along.  Wherever the rails pointed, my horse went.  Guess what controlled the rails?  That's right.  Thankfully, they are opposable.

Harley's walk was more energized and marching than usual.  Was that all because of my thumb position?  Seriously?  I was kind of shocked, but I have tried it for two rides and he marched in both of the them, even in the warm up.  Amazing.

Concentrating on my thumb position was easy at the walk and not too bad at the trot either.  Harley maintained his energy in trot and was very nicely light in the bridle.  It seemed like I could feel his hind legs more.  Quieting does a lot for the position of the rider.  Having a clear focal point seems to be key as well.  Because of this focus, I made an unexpected discovery.  Sometimes I adjust the rein length too abruptly.  I did not realize that I was doing this, until I was super careful about my hand position.  I went to shorten my outside rein on a small circle and Harley nearly staggered trying to lurch sideways in an effort to follow my clumsy hand movement.  My apologizes, Harley.  Sheesh.  I know that he listens, but I had no idea he would try to follow every movement once I narrowed in on my thumb position.

Guess which gait was the big challenge?  You guessed it again!  The canter always makes the exercise new again.  When I read about this tip, I immediately suspected that I break my wrist in the canter depart.  Maybe not every time, but I can imagine myself doing that.  It was like my last (hopefully) little place that I could brace in anticipation.  No more.  Since I was thinking about it today, I did not do what I imaged, but I am fairly certain that I have.  What I discovered at the canter is that, apparently, I am not too bad going to the left.  Harley was nice and balanced and I felt like I had a better connection on the outside rein.  I could feel his outside hind leg step down into the outside rein at the beginning of each stride.  Awesome.  This made the canter very controllable and smooth.  Even small half-halts had an immediate effect.  I got control of his impromptu hindend changes very quickly and then he settled into a relaxing, fun gait.  The right was a different story, but very enlightening.

My right thumb behaves itself, but my left thumb consistently twists pointing to the inside.  Sometimes my thumb wanted to point at his inside ear, sometimes at my inside hand.  That is no good.  I tried to fix it, but my hand kept turning to the inside in true habitual form.  I have worked long and hard on not dropping my left hand and I think that has gotten better, but now I need to work on not twisting my wrist!  Harley absolutely did not have a nice connection with the outside left rein.  The rein was not totally slack, but he was not stepping into the rein the way he was on the left.  Who can blame him?  There was nothing supportive or pleasant to step into.  Just a twisty, crooked mess.  I forced myself to point my thumb at the left side of the bit.  I had to remind myself every stride!  Add a little inside leg and a soft contact with my whole seat and Harley finally said "Hello" to my outside rein.  He was relaxed.  He was balanced.  And he stopped trying to leap onto the left lead every five seconds (his personal favorite game).  His canter going right is so easy to ride, that I was deceived into thinking that he was on my aids.  I had been suspecting that he wasn't, since I was having trouble persuading him not to hop around and have so much fun while I was trying to canter like I was going for a Sunday ride.  Who would have thought that such a small change, the direction of my thumb, could have such a profound impact?  Even though it will take some time to undo my left thumb's tilt, this change is much easier than many, many other things that I have had to relearn over the years. 

Three cheers for two thumbs!

20 comments:

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    1. I think Sydney and Speedy will like it lots!

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  2. I read that post about the thumbs too. I tried it last time I rode Winston and it did seem to make him happier in the contact although the difference wasn't as big as you experienced. That could be just because Winston is lacking experience in general. Anyway, that was an excellent post and I'm glad it made a difference for you guys too.

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    1. You know how it is in riding. Small changes have a big impact, although visually, it may not have even been that noticeable to a random onlooker. I am sure that my teacher could have seen a difference. I could certainly feel one.

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  3. I think that is a pretty neat breakthrough for you both. "I second the "Three Cheers For Two thumbs"! (that's funny)

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  4. I recently posted about this too. :) It is an easy way to visualize + accomplish something that is hard to do. And the cool thing is it positively affects your whole arm position, not just wrists. ;)

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    1. I remember reading your post! And I totally agree.

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  5. I read the article and it made a lot of sense. I've been keeping my thumbs on top of the reins but my wrists also straight...not forward, creating a "kink" in the reins. I can't wait to try this and see how it works for us!

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    1. The small difference in angle was very noticeable. I even felt like I could detect the contact in my elbows and found it easier to maintain the bend.

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  6. Can it really be this easy? Must try this as well...

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    1. I bet you will notice a difference!

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  7. It's true that little things make big changes. Sounds like it worked for you and Harley. Interesting post.

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  8. Fantastic post - really got me thinking... I discovered that I rotate my right thumb outwards, ever so slightly and nearly automatically, when I ask for canter. With different results on different horses - thank you for making me notice.

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    1. Sounds like you had a similar discovery to mine. You are very welcome. :)

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  9. I tried it, Val, and I love the difference it makes. I even had to blog about it http://www.bakersfielddressage.com/1/post/2012/03/one-two-three-four-i-declare-a-thumb-war.html You get full credit for the idea.

    I loved how the aids seemed to come from my elbows and shoulders. I can't wait to practice it more. Definitely another change to my position. Who knew thumbs could be so important!

    Karen

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    1. I noticed that too. All of the sudden, bending my elbows made more sense, if that is possible, and felt more effective. Great! Off to read your post now...
      :)

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