Saturday, December 08, 2007

For SxKitten and her daughter

I keep saying, "Don't grip with your knees." And what in the world does THAT mean?

OK, after much Youtube surfing, here are two comparisons for you. (I have to admit, it was surprisingly hard to find the sort of video I wanted, with a young beginner posting the trot, soles of the rider's boots flashing in the sun, and lower legs swinging everywhere. The one I found is almost on target.)

When you sit on a horse, your legs are open, and your first impulse is to pinch with the knees to get your legs back together. No. Don't do that. It creates saddle sores for one thing, and for another it pops you OUT of the saddle and makes your lower leg fling itself all over the place.

The girl in the first video has her stirrups too short, but watch it for a sec. Watch her knees, calves, and stirrups. Don't watch the whole thing, just the first minute or so until she starts cantering over jumps.

OK. Check out the posting. She's holding on with her knees and standing UP in the stirrups when she posts the trot. I know this because her ankles are jiggling all over the place and her stirrup irons swing out (when she's standing) and back to the horse's side (when she's released pressure on them). To make matters worse, she's wearing spurs. Agh. So every stride her knees grip, her feet swing out and her horse gets spurred. Noisy leg and unstable seat.

The shorter your stirrups are, obviously the less contact you have with the horse until you're in jockey mode where your knees are in your chest and your butt never hits the saddle at all.

If you lengthen your leg and open your hips, you can learn how to grip the horse with your entire leg. Think of sitting on a barrel. If you wrap your legs around the barrel and grip the UNDERSIDE then you're sucked down onto the barrel. Grip with your knees and it's like gripping a bar of soap in the shower. Whoops! Off you go.

Then when you get to jumping, you can lift slowly and securely out of the saddle using the strength of your legs, not by standing up in the stirrups. If you go over jumps with your knees pinched to the horse, your lower leg swings back and away from the horse's side. And you've got no stability as the horse leaves the ground. Quite dangerous.

In this video, watch the horse acting up at the beginning. Ignore his actions for a minute and watch the rider. Especially her lower leg. I'll comment again after you've seen it.

She gets left behind his movement only once in all that leaping around. And her lower leg doesn't budge. Sometimes she's in the saddle trying to move him forward through the rearing, sometimes she's hovering just above the saddle trying to keep her center of gravity over his, but her feet and lower leg stay still. It's quite a testament to her ability that she can do this.

And then there's this girl. Watch the whole video to see the same horses after she's worked with them. As the horses act up, watch her upper body stay straight and tall. Watch her lower leg stay pretty quiet. Especially with the bucking dun, you can see how her HIPS are the fulcrum here, not her knees. What an excellent rider she is.

Long and low, lengthen into the horse's movements and you'll be a lot safer up there. And you'll get fewer saddle sores. That's why God made BOOTS for your CALVES not knee guards for your pinchy-thingies!

Good luck!


Chris said...

Those videos are excellent - thank you. A lot. I don't have great expectations for my own riding career (I'll be happy if I just get to shamble around the ring a couple of times a month without falling off), but the Kid Who Needs An Online Nickname is fairly serious (and her father's willing to indulge her completely, hang the expense). I'll show her this as soon as she gets home, and I'm going to order a copy of the book you suggested, too.

You also make an excellent case for buying myself some proper boots, which is always a good thing :-)

Lyvvie said...

I took riding as a kid to get over my fear of horses, and after horse camp I knew a lot, but still decided to leave horse riding to braver souls than I. Watching the first vid I could tell her stirrups were too short, and yes she seemed a bit all over - but the big thing I noticed was : She needs a frigging sports bra!! Ouch ouch ouch!! And spurs are wicked things, with a good tame animal you shouldn't need them.

I got palpitations watching the horses trying to throw the riders. That's the stuff that makes me fear/respect them. Give me dogs any day.

Suisan said...

That first rider is getting VERY bad advice.

Her stirrups are too short, she's wearing spurs AND she's got a curb/snaffle combo bit. (Hence the two reins)I highly doubt she's in a true double bridle which has two independent bits in the mouth, so it's some sort of pelham or kimberwicke. Those are useless -- every time you steer you're jabbing the horse with the curb chain and asking him to stop. But then you've got the spurs making him go forward.

Which is it? Stop or go?

The horse is also wearing a martingale, to prevent him from lifting his head. Most horses lift their heads when their backs hurt from someone's seat banging on them, or from the action of the curb.

Horses are done up like this all the time. Let's add brakes! Oops, that was too much. Let's add a gas pedal! Oops, that was too much. Let's add more brakes!


Notice that in the last video, the girl who worked the horse's through their discomfort (a lot of that bucking is from a sore back and tight hips which can't canter freely), had only a simple bit, a dressage whip for forward movement, and her own quiet skills. said...

And spurs are wicked things, with a good tame animal you shouldn't need them.

Well, spurs are refinement tools (as are pelhams (though I agree about kimberwickes)). Not their fault they're misused. ;) They're really not for beginners or riders with loose legs or horses that don't know what leg means.

Great post.

lengthen into the horse's movements and you'll be a lot safer up there.

*nods* Also more effective. As my trainer is has pointed out many, many times, if your inner thighs aren't sore after you ride, you're not working hard enough. :D (The sore inner thighs don't come from gripping with that part of the leg, though (or saddle sores); it comes from keeping your leg as long as it can be and wrapped around the horse -- calf/lower leg "on" the horse.)

Ah, for the days of lunge-line lessons without stirrups or reins.

Suisan said...

Rode my horses for years in a pelham before I knew what I was doing. Won't ever ride another horse in one.

If you want a curb action on a horse, you should simply USE a curb bit. Sticking the second 'snaffle' rein on there does no one any good. It just muddles everything up.

For a horse who needs "more" bit than a eggbutt snaffle, I'm a fan of the full cheek. One hunter mare we had who had a strong attitude and a dull mouth after years of giving lessons went in a slow twist jointed full cheek snaffle -- That's the harshest I'd go, and I'd go there well before I'd get a pelham.

How would you say a pelham "refines"? I may be misunderstanding you. said...

Sticking the second 'snaffle' rein on there does no one any good.

But the second rein isn't a snaffle rein -- it's a curb rein.

I don't like kimberwickes because it seems to me all you do is ride off the curb with it.

I wouldn't say a pelham "refines", but I would use one on a well trained horse that needed a leverage bit*. I say it's a refinement tool because I feel they're to be used on horses (and with riders) who are at a level where all they need is a very small bit of pressure when asked to do something. It's not a bit to get the horse (or rider) to that point -- and that, to me, is where it's greatly misused. Same with spurs.

I prefer loose rings or KKs for every day riding. The pelham only tends to come out, for some horses, at shows. IMO, you don't use a pelham as a training/every day bit and you don't use it to mask problems; you use it if you want to be able to use a more subtle hand than you might with a snaffle.

'Course the key part - and one that many people seem to miss - is that more bit = more leg (and less hand). And I don't mean that this is where you add more spurs to get more "go" (and more bit for "whoa"); at this point, to use a pelham correctly, it's (should be) more subtle than that; it's the difference, when you're on course, between getting the horse back into balance in one stride vs 4 or 5. And I would not use a pelham if I couldn't ride with two reins -- and ride mostly off the snaffle rein and only use the curb when needed.

*It's also the only leverage bit I can think of that's legal and conventional in the hunter ring. Though most hunters show in dees.

Suisan said...

Yeah, I usually see pelhams ridden in "dee" rein adapters. At which point you're basically riding the curb and using the whole thing as some weird leverage device. That's why I put "snaffle" in quotes when I talked about it being the extra rein.

When I was bouncing around on lesson ponies, they all had Pelhams. When we bought our own horses, we were told to put them in pelhams for everyday trail riding because it was dangerous to go out on a trail with only a snaffle. My snaffle rein used to be slack, and I rode essentially on the curb.

So I go back to, what's the point? You want a curb bit, put a curb bit in there and forget about the blended thing.

I know you can't ride in a single curb for hunter shows, but I thought that a full double bridle, with a curb and a bradoon was Always considered acceptable turnout. Complete with the ham sandwich and whisky in hip flask tucked into the saddlebags. (Isn't that where being "on the bradoon" comes from? You're "on the bradoon" in the morning and "on the curb" on the way home.)

But after all that nitpicking, I agree completely with the rest of your comments about correct application of the same.

Personally, knowing how easy they are to misuse, I'd never put one in a horse's mouth to begin with. Especially since the rider who sported one on her horse, the one who started this whole conversation, hasn't a clue how to balance seat, leg, and hand as it is. Check how often his head is in the air when she's slowing him around the turns, cranking on that curb rein. She doesn't know the first thing about proper leverage. said...

Oh, yeah. Converters are odd things. Though maybe it's that mix of snaffle and curb rein that some people like (or not having to use two reins - in which case, I agree about not using a pelham at all).

Double bridles aren't illegal in the hunters, but are so rarely seen that they might very well be considered unconventional (which, yes, ironic, but that's the way things have evolved).

Neither would be appropriate for beginners anyhow.

She doesn't know the first thing about proper leverage.

Totally agree. She should go back to the basics and develop a leg and seat and stop balancing off the reins before attempting to jump, use spurs, a pelham or even canter. The poor horse.

Personally, knowing how easy they are to misuse, I'd never put one in a horse's mouth to begin with.

Not for beginners, no. And also not if I wasn't comfortable using one or didn't think a horse needed it. It is important to remember than something with that much possible pressure/leverage will magnify anything the rider does, be it good or bad...

I don't have an issue with riders using pelhams or spurs or most other tack properly. But I suppose this is where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing because who isn't an expert after they've had a few lessons and bought their first horse?