Sunday, December 8, 2013

Posting without stirrups

One of the things I've been doing because I'm new to this teaching riding thing therefore I've had a lot of new students in the last few months (since I never had students before then!) is to ask them how to do something before we work on (assuming they already have taken lessons).  Of course I don't do that with brand new students, but the best way for me to know what kids have been learning is on their first lesson to say "Show me how to so x-y-z".  Well, first I have them "warm up" by walking the horse along the outside of the arena and then I can see what their seat is like and how they steer and know if we need to work on that first, or if I can ask them what they want to work on if they've got a fairly balanced seat and are steering without yanking the poor horse's head around.

So, yesterday I asked one of the girls "How do you post without stirrups?"  because she said she'd done that in lessons before.  To my horror, she put her fists down on the withers of he horse and pushed herself up for the upward part of the post and then sat back down.  She was actually using her legs somewhat correctly, but the main upward motion was pushing herself up with her fist from the withers.  I asked "How do you do the two-point without stirrups?" and she put her fists down on the base of the poor horse's neck and pushed herself up.  Ouch!  I was getting sympathy neck pain just thinking about it.

So, since it was not at all her fault that she was taught how to do it that way I smiled and told her I was going to make her do something a whole lot harder and she would hate me by the end of the lesson but it would be worth it.  She thought that challenge sounded good and was all for trying (she's an awesome student!).  And in fact afterward she laughed to her friends about how much her legs hurt and how mean and awful I am and what I made her do - all the while sounding very proud of herself that she was able to do it.  I thought she did a good job too.  Anyway, I had her lift and lower herself the same way only with her arms up and balanced at the neck but not at all pushing on the neck.  It helped to have her hands on either side of the horse's neck so she couldn't fall back on pushing down on the horse's neck.  And of course that is nearly impossible when the horse is standing still, but when the horse trots the movement (on the correct diagonal) will push/bounce the rider up a little and then the leg strength comes in handy when you gently lower yourself so you don't slam down on the horse's back.  I also explained to her *why* we post, why we make sure to be on the correct diagonal and why I didn't want her pushing herself up with her fists.   Which is cool that I have teens I can teach because they can understand it, unlike my poor five and six year olds that if I slip up and start talking theory and horse anatomy look at me like I'm speaking to them in a crazy moon language.

So, since yesterday I've been thinking a lot about that whole pushing yourself up with your fists to post without stirrups things.  I don't know who taught her that and that part doesn't really matter, what I'm wondering is if it is a normal and readily accepted way of teaching people to learn how to post without stirrups or go into their two-point without stirrups?  I've been of course perusing the internet and can not find anything specifically relating to that particular teaching method.

But my first thought is that it's not a good idea because it is not teaching beginners how to use their body correctly from the start.  Sure, they'll go up farther, but they'll go up at a forward diagonal which throws them off balance (unless the forward diagonal is very slight and you have a very balance hunt seat which is quite different than pitching forward) but it also teaches them to use their arms to push themselves up and not use the movement of the horse to push them up, and then their thighs and core to stabilize them while they're coming down.   And using that to go into the two-point also doesn't teach that the stability and balance are coming from your thighs and core, not from your arms holding you up.

But it also seems like a really bad idea for the horse.  The horse uses movement of his head to balance at all gaits - with more movement for some gaits than others.  And movement of the head is directly related to movement of the neck and the base of the neck is the withers - and the withers are the transverse processes of the spine meeting the scapula (shoulder blade)- which needs to be free for movement at the trot the same way our scapula needs freedom of movement when we swing our arms.  Can you imagine trying to swing your arms while someone is pushing down with all their weight with their fists on your scapula?

So, even if that is a readily accepted way of teaching beginners to post and do two-point without stirrups I think it is a tradition that needs to end.  Just like heels down just for the sake of heels down without any thought to a relaxed leg, that is something that is more damaging (in my opinion) to teach than to not teach it at all -both for the horse's body mechanics and the rider's balance.

Here is a video that shows the movement of the horse's bones at a trot.  The big rectangle-ish shaped bone above the front legs that stretches to the base of the neck is the horses scapula.  Imagine pushing down on that with your fists with all your weight while the horse is trotting.  Or pushing down at the base of the neck right on the spine, and imagine what that would do to the horse's movement.  Not a good idea.

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