First Demo In Suffolk – After A Break Of 20 Years!
Well ... people always say ... if you’re lucky enough to own a Lusitano – ask! And, don’t feel bad about it! If your request is reasonable, it’s ten to one – they’ll give it to you. And so it proved to be. Prazer had arrived at his new stable at Water Farm, Raydon after a long journey from Scotland only three weeks before - but within a few days he felt so good... I knew he would rise to the occasion. It was so be a small ‘friendly’ demo at his new home and the subject would be The Seat. Fortunately, he felt hugely motivated. He is surrounded by activity and with 28 horses on the yard, coming in and out, lessons or schooling in the indoor arena, in sight of his stable door, there is always something going on.
Horses do love to be involved. He used to spend hours looking down the valley from our ridge at Eden Hall, high above the River Tweed and the Coldstream road but the faintest glimmer of a car, or the far away zoom of a motorbike always grabbed his attention. Often, he would spot the gleam of a far-away tractor on the foothills of the Cheviots opposite which I could hardly see, but they never failed to attract. I always feel so sorry for horses who only look onto bare walls and have nothing to distract them, day in day out.
Where other people get their buzz out of competing, I have to admit, putting on a Demo gives me a much greater ‘high’ as well as a real feeling of satisfaction. With a willing horse, there is so much to show and explain and although I wrote my book The Classical Seat just under 30 years ago, there are always people who want to know more, who need to see it in action and for whom, reading or DVDs are simply not sufficient. One of the break-throughs this time, was having my saddle perched on a saddle horse in the middle of the school at the very beginning and inviting people to come and feel the lowest point (also the most central) of the saddle for themselves and to take on board that this is where our seatbones should be.
You wouldn’t believe how many people are hazy about the seatbones. Many think they’re at the back of the seat, when actually they are bang in the middle – at the top of our thigh bones. They are the knobbly bits, known as the ischial tuberosisties which form the two parts of the triangle which comprises the underside of the human pelvis. It really should be made clear to all riders right from the beginning of their riding education that this is a very different part of their anatomy from the commonly held theory that it’s the back of the bum! The third point is of course the fork – which meets the saddle as it rises up to form the twist.
I wish I’d been told all this when I first went to Pony Club and got berated for not sitting correctly. I have a vague feeling that my instructor of the time – a sarcastic woman who never failed to discourage – led me to believe that it was better to slump than to sit up straight. Of course once the back and the core muscles are allowed to give way, you invariably slip towards the cantle as that’s where the forces of nature take one! Yet children invariably sit perfectly when you first put them on a pony and it’s so sad that instructors often knock this out of them by insisting they over-relax. I know one of my best old photos was the one where I had only just started riding. Everything straight, legs hanging and everything in natural alignment.
It rather proved my point, when everyone who examined my saddle saw the indentation of two seatbones in the leather -right at the lowest part of the saddle. I am lucky enough to own an Albion dressage saddle, and there is no way one would end up on the cantle if you sit up upright and proud. Not stiff – I hasten to say – just nice and tall with the hips well opened so that the legs can can fall away and not an inch of spare flesh under the seatbones. It’s important that all that unwanted muscle and flab (if one has any!) can find its own place further back. We are not desisgned to sit on our glutes except perhaps in a squashy sofa.
So - long before we even saw the first horse, people were looking for the right balance from the two guinea-pig riders that were going to come before them, and they also had a rough idea of what their rather demanding clinician was going to demand of them and their horses. Perfect posture!
After that, it was relatively easy. We looked at a novice rider on an experienced horse – one of Water Farm’s excellent schoolmasters – to show how important it was to ride without stirrups to allow ones weight to drop and how we can use gravity to help us in our quest for the safest seat and conversely, how fighting gravity – by tensing up the leg muscles and glutes – we can impede progress and make it altogether harder for the horse.
The next horse was a six year old Warmblood who after a difficult start has not been the easiest to bring on. A beautiful dark bay, he was ridden by Chrysie Warner, daughter of Gerda who runs Water Farm. As an instructor herself she is very skilful with young, hot or nervous horses and our main work there was about relaxation and using the seat to direct the horse with a brief introduction to the weight aids.
Finally, after the interval, it was my turn to ride Prazer who had been anxiously wondering why he hadn’t been first out! I think some of the usual pzaz and ‘I am a stallion!’ aura had dissipated after such a long wait, but he was probably better at showing at the work I needed to display which basically summed up all the aids of the seat and how the slightest tilt of the pelvis, or loading of one or other of the seatbones can make all the difference to quality of movement and direction. For many, I felt this was a new scenario. How many I wondered had realised that in rein-back you have to open the back of the seat, rather than close it and how conversely – when one is looking for the more extended gaits, you have to change the balance in the opposite direction?
This Demo was so popular we sold out of tickets within less than a week of putting a notice up on the web and on Facebook. For that reason, I hope any of you who want to see the whole thing again – although I have to say, no two demos are ever a carbon copy of each other! – or who did not make it last time, can book up quickly.
The Seat does not get discussed enough in the average riding lesson and you don’t even have to be a dressage rider to appreciate its uses. Any rider who wants to be better balanced on their horse for whatever they do, will I believe get plenty of food for thought by attending our next outing on Saturday, 20th June. See you there!