Look, no hands!

So this week in my lesson, I did the coolest thing I’ve ever done on a horse: I rode with no reins.

I realize how fundamental that sounds to someone who’s been riding forever. In fact, that was the first thing I said to my trainer when she put me on the lunge line and took away my reins: “I know that, in theory, I shouldn’t need them.” If your balance is good, you should be able to ride a well-trained horse off your seat and your leg.

The thing is, though – my balance sucks.

Also, if truth be told (and it was – several times), I was a little afraid. I was riding Suzie, a TB mare who used to be my trainer’s daughter’s primary jumper. She’s much bouncier than Cinnamon, so you don’t have to work as hard to get out of the saddle. She’s also much bigger – 16.3 to Cinn’s 15 hands, which is a good seven inches’ difference, which in my head, translated to, “Seven inches farther to fall.” It’s not that I was afraid that Sue would throw me. It’s that I was afraid that my balance would be terrible and I would tumble.

Turns out, Suzie was an excellent babysitter. Every time she felt me lean forward, she would slow down. Riding with no reins was really enlightening. I learned a bunch of stuff:

  • I instinctively lean forward when I ride, especially if I feel I’m about to fall.
  • I have a super hard time keeping my back arched properly to post the right way, hence the posting from my back and not my knees.
  • I also have a crazy hard time keeping my center of gravity low.
  • Apparently I really had no idea what any of that felt like, because my trainer would tell me to do them before and I would go, “Okay!” and then do what I thought it was, but riding with no reins really brings it all into focus.

I also learned that the way that I’m built makes it difficult for me to ride properly. I was slightly pigeon-toed as a baby, and you can still see it on my right leg. I see it all the time when I just hang out and stand. Well, apparently it’s no different in the stirrups. Because of the fact that my leg comes out of my hip weird, it wants to sit the opposite way that it should in the stirrups: with my weight on the outside of my foot. Also, it pops my right knee way out from the saddle; my trainer was able to slide her whole arm between my knee and the saddle without me moving. I think it’s fixable, but she says it will be hard to change. Joy.

What she ended up having me do was to hold the “holy shit strap” (connected to the d-rings on the saddle) with my inside hand and to make a fist with my outside hand. I needed to press the fist into my back, arch my back against the fist, and post. The first few circles on the lunge were bad. I didn’t trust myself, and I kept tumbling forward. After a while, though, I got it. Once we had a few good circles around, my trainer told me to put both hands on the strap, and shock of shocks, I was able to maintain the post without the fist. “Now put both hands on your hips!” And all of a sudden, I was posting almost effortlessly, with no pain in my back, and no freaking hands!

I knew I was grinning like a fool. It was seriously the coolest thing ever, and we’re going to do it again for the next few weeks because I really, really need to confidence and the balance.

I wonder if the fact that I’m so imbalanced makes it hard for me to find the correct diagonal when I trot. My sitting trot is amazing, but my posting trot blows, partially because of the aforementioned “posting from the back” thing, and partially because I only get my diagonals right about 30% of the time. But once I got going without my reins, I could pick up right almost every time, and I could tell almost instantly whether I had it wrong. I think next week I’m going to ask if I can tell my trainer when I think it’s right versus wrong and just see if it’s easier to feel when I’m actually positioned correctly.

I’m taking two lessons next week because I’m taking my comp day off of work to make up for all the overtime I’ve put in. I ideally want to start taking two lessons a week once we’re done paying for the wedding, so it’ll be fun to see how it feels. I can’t wait to have my reins taken away again, though. I just hope it doesn’t all fall apart when I get them back.

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