Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Elbows on Fire!

All of our recent dressage instruction has been with a horsewoman who moonlights as a physical therapist. Well, actually, that's how she makes her living, but she's also excellent at teaching biomechanics on horseback. At any rate, she doesn't just tell me to do something--she explains from an anatomical perspective why I need to change the way I ride.

It's kind of amazing.

Exhibit A: hands flat, elbows locked
For my entire life, I have ridden with my reins too long and my hands flat. I've gotten better in the past couple years about the reins length issue, but I still seem to like them longer than is good for me. The hands flat thing hasn't really changed much at all.

When we started our lesson on Sunday, she explained (I'm abridging: any and all errors mine) that there are two tendons that run through your arm. The larger tendon is attached to your bicep and is very strong. Putting my thumbs up disengages that tendon and allows my hands to follow Cuna's mouth.

Exhibit B: hands flat
According to her, either I can sever that tendon and ride with my hands flat, or I need to pick my thumbs up and give Cuna half a chance. 

Interesting. In our photoshoot the week before, Cuna and I BATTLED over the canter. This shot shows my thumbs up a little bit, and Cuna is responding well, but my flat hands and locked elbows were pissing him off and that is not a good way to do dressage.

Yesterday, I decided to really hone in on that piece of information.  I kept my reins short, my hands UP and my thumbs UP. I focused on following Cuna's mouth no matter what. I kept the connection with the bit by allowing my elbows to work.

It was actually pretty hilarious. Cuna cantered around half the arena acting tight and braced. Then his rhythm slowed, his head dropped, and his weight shifted ever so slightly back. It wasn't a fancy dressage canter (I was half seating in jump tack after all), but it was 100% better than the canter we battled over a week before.

The feel was incredible. My hands were light and connected and my elbows flowed with the horse.

I'm really excited to keep developing this trend. I can be so much more correct and effective as a rider and I know Cuna appreciates it. I feel like I've had yet another breakthrough that will impact every area of my riding. * Dressage isn't the only place to have break throughs--anyone else struggling througn riding issues? Haha, or should I say, "Any one not struggling with riding issues?"

*Oh, AND AND AND we jumped the scary brick wall fence all by our onsies and it was awesome. Old man didn't even blink. <3 him.


  1. This is a cardinal sin of mine as well, and it's fascinating to hear it stated like that. That gives me something to think about at my next ride. That's what my instructor has been doing when she has me point my thumb (what feels to me like) out. It's exaggerating it for the purpose of retraining my muscle memory. He's looking so good!

  2. That's very interesting. I too have issues with long reins and flat hands. My instructor calls them my motorcycle hands

  3. Love the anatomical explanation behind this. I end up saying "thumbs up, elbows in" more times than I can count every week. I know how it affects the horse, but knowing about the human aspect of it makes even MORE sense. Awesome entry :)

    1. As a side note, I tell my students to ride with the 'backs of their elbows', using that muscle to release, to give and take, rather than using their hands or forearms or biceps. It sounds like it's the same thing your friend/instructor is getting at :)

  4. That's awesome! Anyone who's ever taken a lesson from me knows that I'm all about hands and elbows. My dressage instructor still has to remind me to relax my elbows without relaxing my whole body. When it's right, it really feels like the key to everything.

  5. Seems so simple when you put it that way! But we all know dressage is all about remembering a thousand different things we should be doing(or not doing)as riders - all at once.

    Love that first trot pic - you and Cuna made a lovely pair!

  6. Yay for biomechanics! I work/live at a barn in Ohio, Exalt & Salute. Monet Phelps is the ownser/ trainer. She teaches biomechanics for horse and rider. I always get excited to hear about other people's biomechanic experiences!

  7. Your instructor sounds great!

    Riding a sensitive, responsive horse makes this kind of lesson even more enjoyable. I love it when you make a change to your position and the horse just melts into a wonderful balance and softness almost immediately. It lets you know that you are definitely getting good advice!

  8. It's amazing how certain instructions just make a bigger impression. I swear I can hear the same thing fifty times but one person says it just slightly different or gives a more detailed reason and all the sudden it's like the light bulb goes on and I got it. I love those moments! I wish I had more of them!

  9. Interesting to here is explained that way... I also struggle with this so I'll have to attempt that thought process!

  10. Isn't it fascinating how minute changes in your body affect your horse so significantly? I just wish there were more biomechanically-based instructors out there - too many of them just focus on how the horse is going, rather than on how the rider is making the horse go. You're lucky to have found someone good!

  11. I agree with *jenj* - It's so hard finding a trainer that doesn't just stare at the horse and tell you what you're doing is wrong. I really like how she explained to you what was going on and why it was making Cuna ride the way he was and how to fix it. Best part? IT WORKED! Keep it up girly!

  12. Riding with my reins too long is the bane of my existence. That's actually really interesting about having the thumbs up loosens the elbows. Hmm. Definitely gives me something to think about.

  13. Awesome! My trainer taught me to ride with my thumbs up, but didn't explain it in a biomechanical way. I would love to work with a trainer who uses biomechanics. That would be awesome. My trainer also taught me to use my triceps to hold the contact instead of my biceps. Keep up the awesome work!

  14. Great concept well explained and easy to follow. You have found a really good instructor.

    Love that trot of Cuna's in the first pick. He really uses himself well!


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