Saturday, April 7, 2012

Crookedness: Flash of Insight

So yesterday (Good Friday) Mercy was kind enough to agree to meet me at the barn after school and saddle up Delilah and ride with Scarlett and I on our first ride outside of the central arena.  I wanted Delilah to lead the way, because Delilah is not afraid of ANYTHING.  And there are so many darn things that are scary on the front end of Arrowhead Ranch.  Like the busy road.  The neighbors have put up a flapping blue tarp on top of a dog kennel.  Neighbor 2 has an RV parked against the fence right by the gallop track, and another flappy tarp covering some kind of old car on a trailer also.  The other neighbors have a trampoline.  And did I mention the busy road?

We had a very successful ride.  By very successful, I mean I kept the horse between my legs.  There were some sketchy moments, but also some nice calm moments.    We saw the sights, heard the road.  Remembered the efficacy of little circles when you don't have brakes.  Mercy commented she saw a lot of Scarlett's private parts from her vantage when Scarlett shot ahead and that flag-like tail went up. But we ended walking back to the barn with a low head and lots of praise.

To end on a good note I took Scarlett into the central arena to stop and back, and then I took off the saddle and bridle and let her roll right there in the middle.  (She loves that.)  I was giving her a little rub on the back where the saddle was, and found a ridge--like a swelling about the side of a finger around and about seven or eight inches long--only on the left-hand side.  It was curved exactly in the shape of the base of my saddle flocking.  Nothing like it on the right.  It didn't seem to be sore and I curried it pretty hard, but it was persistent.  I ride Scarlett in just a baby pad between the saddle and her back (as opposed to the ponies, who both have sheepskin half-pads under the weight-bearing part of the saddle) so it was clearly something pushing down or from outside in on the left side of the saddle.  A lot, to leave a mark like that (on a horse with a body fat score of 1).   I left the barn convinced the saddle (a 40+ year old Crosby Prix de Nations--my favorite saddle for strengthening riders and horses alike) had something wrong with it.  I checked the tree, I ran my hands all over both sides and couldn't feel any difference, but still something was pinching the left seat portion of the horse.

But then I rode the other young horse, Caesar, in a full workout today.  I also ride him in a 40 year old Crosby PDN, although a different one--this one is an extra wide, extra long version, 'cause the ponies are roughly twice the width of Scarlett.  (It was Mercy learning to ride in this saddle, I maintain, that gave her the strong legs and solid seat.  The PDN is basically a hard flat pancake with no knee pads or thigh blocks or anything--the rider does all the work.)  So I was examining how the saddle sits on him and trying to figure out how something could pinch just one side of it and not the other.  We had a long full workout--3.5 miles of trot/canter plus a little tiny bit of jumping, then a long walk--and I played with putting my hand under parts of the saddle to see what it felt like. 

And then it occurred to me--what if the pinching on the left is ME?  See Caesar is perfectly round.  It is nearly impossible to keep a saddle centered on him.  I have to kind of leap to get on without pulling the saddle off the side toward me.  And so during a workout the saddle will shift, a lot, TO THE RIGHT most of time (except when I get on, on the left).  Paying close attention, for the first time, to how I was sitting when I was feeling perfectly balanced at home in the saddle, and I found I was standing on the right leg a lot more than the left. And my left seat bone?  Well it was holding me up on the left.  I barely weight the left stirrup. It turns out when I ride, when I think I am straight and forward and light, I am actually balancing between the ball of my right foot and my left seat bone.  

I am completely bearing weight on my left seat bone and very little on my right. 

I am now sitting at my computer realizing how much I do this, just sitting here.  Also how I like to flop down on the couch and cross my legs just so.  It probably goes back to an old distance running injury in undergraduate school, where I had a stress fracture in the right hip. 

I'm just blown away thinking that I'm this naturally crooked, AND I'VE BEEN RIDING AND TRAINING THREE HORSES LIKE THIS without even knowing it.  No wonder we always have trouble picking up flying leads one direction!  My seat aids must always be "On" on the left no matter what.  How confusing must that be?  Not to mention how uncomfortable.  Those sheepskin pads on the ponies might have kept their backs from pinching, but didn't do a thing about my basic imbalanced seat and one-sided aids.  

As I've been sitting here typing this I've tried very deliberately to weight my right seat bone and lighten my left (and use my left leg instead).  I have been literally tipping over!  I am so far unbalanced I find it difficult to know how to tell my body what to do to correct it.  And I feel like I should go and apologize to the horses over and over again.  

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