Monday, January 14, 2013

What do child birth, horse riding, and achieving an independent seat have in common?

Believe it or not - your pelvic floor!

I discovered today that the key to "ultimate" relaxation for Joey to relax eeeeeevvvvvery muscle, and I mean EVERY muscle - including my, *ahem*, rear, inner thighs, pelvic floor - i.e., the muscle groups that make up a rider's seat.

The benefits of relaxing your seat muscles are numerous; the first one obviously is to achieve an independent seat.

Let's start by clarifying the definition of an independent seat:

"The phrase “independent seat” has historically meant a rider doesn’t need to hold on to stay on, and that the seat isolates the horse’s movement from the hands and legs." 

However, Mike Schaffer, writing about the dressage process breaks it down a little more -

"The words independent seat is easily misunderstood to mean the hands, seat, and legs should be independent from one another as well as the horse’s motion.  However, for any discussion of the aids in dressage, the truth is much more subtle than that.  Rather than being “independent” the rider should be using his hands, legs, and seat in a coordinated way – interdependently with each other and the horse’s movement.
A dressage seat has to be capable of moving with the horse neutrally, or, influencing the horse’s movement by either slight exaggeration or resistance.  So, whether following or influencing, the seat is always working in conjunction with the movement, never independent of it.  When riding on contact the action of the rein should work with or “go through” the seat.  Any action of the seat, regardless of how subtle, should have a proportional effect on the leg.  In this way we use our aids to mold the horse.  We provide him with an envelope of aids within which he is free to move loosely forward."

I really like this detailed and clear definition.  I feel like a lot of instructional books miss this important step in explaining exactly what it is you are looking for when trying to achieve a certain basic positional standard - whether you are interested in dressage or not.

So, we are looking at relaxing the seat - being able to independently control the muscles to either positively influence, and release the horse's energy, or influence through resistance to collect the horse's energy.

The second benefit in doing this was the affect it had on Joey.   I find it really interesting exactly how sensitive he is!   I have been working on relaxing my shoulders, core, and lower back - but today, as I said, I discovered that he requires every single muscle to be relaxed before he fully relaxes himself.

Also, in relaxing the inside of my seat - the pelvic floor and inner thigh - I was able to convince him that there really is no bat-from-hell-horse-devouring-soul-stealing-monsters hiding around the arena and we mooched on both reins around the outside track.  Yes, mooched!!  It was fabulous!

But now, of course, I have to work on sharpening up his upwards transitions - Joey is perfectly happy just to mooch for the rest of his life.  : P  Naturally.

So how did I manage to do this marvellous relaxing?  Well, here's where it gets interesting.  And silly! 
Believe it or not, one of the labour techniques I read about is what did it.   The theory goes that child birth is a lot smoother when you can relax into it, and let your pelvic floor go so that it can do what it's supposed to.   So to do that, you need to relax your face, mouth, and jaw, because those muscles actually mirror your pelvic floor.

So to relax in labour, you breath in and breathe out with 'horse lips' - you know, all loose and floppy?.....   > . >  ........ Yup, you look and sound as silly as you think you do, but it works.

I could just imagine myself warming up amongst the dressage queens and divas blowing horsey lips to relax!!  I was laughing at myself the entire way around the arena.  Which, incidentally is another great relaxing technique!

It was perfect, however, and I now know exactly what is required from me to be able to work out Joey's tension if he gets skittish.  Although, if you have an better, and less silly(!!) ways to relax your seat feel free to let me know.  ; )

See ya,


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