Dressage and developing a good seat

Today I asked my best friend to help me on the flat to improve my seat. She is an eventer and, in my opinion, has very good dressage work. I trust her as an extra pair of eyes on the ground. It also helps that she is an athletic trainer and is able to help pinpoint where my physical weaknesses are in my riding.

I have been fighting lower back pain and stiff hip flexors for quite some time. I noticed recently that this has begun to affect my seat at the canter. My seat tends to “pop” due to tight hips and lack of fluidity in my seat to follow my horse’s motion. I explained this to Kelly so she suggested I try riding in her dressage saddle and do some stretches in the saddle before beginning my ride.

Kelly’s dressage saddle is a CWD monoflap with a thigh block and slightly deep seat. The higher cantle of the dressage saddle and the large thigh blocks put me in the exact position I need to be for higher level flatwork. My bad habits were quickly exposed when I rode in her saddle. The thigh blocks helped me to stretch my thighs down, open my hips, and really wrap my leg around my horse.

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I trotted Rudy around for a bit to warm him up, get used to a longer stirrup length, and get used to the saddle. We then started at the walk on a 20 meter circle holding the reins in my outside hand and doing various stretches. I would reach across Rudy’s neck with my inside hand and reach down to touch the point of his shoulder. Then I would reach back with my inside hand, look, and turn my body towards Rudy’s tail and reach for his outside hip. Each time when I was as deep into the stretch as I could get, Kelly would remind me to take a deep breath in and exhale completely before slowly returning back to my centered riding position. We did both of these stretches at the walk in both directions and at the trot at both directions.

After stretching, we worked on being fluid with my hips and lower back. She told me to over exaggerate and go with Rudy’s side-to-side motion at the trot as well as the up-and-down motion. I think because I am so tight in my hips and back it is easier for me to remember to follow the up-and-down motion because that comes mostly from the knee and ankle joints. However, Rudy has that desirable swinging hindend motion at the trot. I need to remember to follow that motion as well. As I became more fluid through my hip and back Kelly said, “That’s better! Now your back is starting to have some motion to it. And when you follow with your seat and lower back, your shoulder is more still”. Ah-ha!

We proceeded to do some shoulder-in and lengthening work. All while thinking about following with my seat. I carried that idea into my canter work. Doing some counter canter and lengthening. My seat felt much better at the canter. I am not sure how much of that is due to the stretching, trot work, or saddle itself.

I will try to ride in Kelly’s saddle once a week. Overall I was happy with the ride and felt as though it was productive and can be applied to the flatwork I do in my own saddle.

In other news, we just got two new permanent jumps put in! There is a training-level ditch and a training/Prelim level bank. I am very excited to school those later this week. Rudy has not done either. Put your big boy pants on Ru!

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