Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Suffer for Perfection!

Since my dressage show on Sunday, I've been trying to be more concious how I sit, stand, lay down, ride, ride my bike- anything really, to try and retrain my body to be as straight and even as possible. Due to the conformation of my back, I will never be 100% straight but if I can try and be a little less wonky in the saddle, then that is better for Hattie and me!

Hattie falling asleep after our short (but killer for me!) schooling session...


I've looked on various scoliosis websites at stretching exercises and was surprised (and pleased) to see that some of them I have already been doing as they are the ones my physiotherapist gave me a few years back. I guess if I hadn't been doing those already, I would have been even more crooked! I found some good side stretch ones on the Live Strong website so have been doing those since Monday and it's TOUGH! I think I over did it a bit yesterday as although I only schooled for about 30 minutes, I was making a real effort to stretch out my right side on my off-side side saddle and could feel the pull on my right side waist muscles. My right hip was not happy yesterday with all these new stretches and riding position at all but it's a lot better today so I think little and often is the key to straightening out 37 years of wonkiness!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Anyone Have A Steam Roller To Lend Me?

Hattie and I FINALLY made our first competing debut in our off-side side saddle today and it was brilliant!

I decided to enter in the Intro A class (walk/trot) as we are still working on our canters and cantering 20 meter circles in this saddle and just wanted something non-stressful to try this saddle in a competitive situation in.

There were 10 riders in this class, some were riders new to dressage and others were Prelim riders using it as a warm up for their horses so a good competitive mix really and we ended up coming 5th with 61.74%!

Our comments have improved from the last time we did this test and my figures were more accurate, we also got more 6's and 7's than 5's so that was good too! Hattie still got her "trademark" lacking in purpose comment too, lol, this time when we were trotting the 20 meter circle at E.

Murphy's Law, however, dictated that not all would go smoothly today as as soon as the judge rang the bell for us to start, my safety iron decided to unhinge itself and did not have time to make it right so decided to just do it stirrupless. Don't think we did too badly??

All in all I am VERY please how Hattie went today in this saddle and think we will go back up to doing the Prelim tests at the next show.

HOWEVER, I did notice something today with myself that my off-side side saddle has brought to my attention that I hasn't always been immediately obvious when riding astride or in my nearside side saddle, but that has always been lurking in the shadows since I was a crooked spine aka scoliosis.

I've always had problems with my back and hip ever since I was a teenager and although I had been to doctor's about it, none of them actually did anything about it preferring to blame it on riding and that my back aches were caused by my weight and that I would "grow out of it". Even my gym teacher noticed my wonky back and showed the class it so why on earth the doctor's did nothing is beyond me.

You probably noticed it in the video, right hip higher than the other, the right shoulder lower than the other even though I was sitting perfectly square, my left shoulder back and my back was straight.This has always caused me grief in an astride saddle as I always collapse down to the right and then lose my right stirrup and have to hoik it up a hole or two higher than my left one. Riding bareback and stirrupless helps me overcome this astride. Riding in my nearside Whippy, the same thing sort of happens but it's not that noticeable except for the dropped right shoulder since a nearside saddle kind of covers up and compensates for this fault.

When hacking out yesterday, Julia shouted to me that I was "wonky" but I had no idea that I was because I felt comfortable and central. You can see in the photo that she took of me yesterday, that even though I'm square in the saddle and my left shoulder is back, I'm wonky on the right side like a "C" shape! How strange that someone can be straight and wonky at the same time!!

When analysing my video today, it got me wondering why my "spinal imperfection" is so blatant in my off-sider and then I looked down at my lap and saw this...

This is how I sit and have always sat for as long as I can remember, my left leg hooked under my right thigh so that my right hip is propped up so that it has no pressure on it and all the weight is on my left hip (the non hurty side). Even when I get into the bath, this is what my legs do. Because of the slight curve in my spine, this is a natural comfortable position for me to assume. I can't do it the other way round, it's too uncomfortable. I guess this is why I find off-siding so comfortable as it's basically how I sit at home and have sat for most of my 37 years!! In fact, I'm sitting like it now as I type this!!!

When I sleep, I prefer laying on my left side as my right side feels like it's being pulled apart too much and is uncomfortable. 

Then it got me to thinking, what is these comfy sitting and sleeping positions doing to my back and side muscles so I did some stretches (side to side, etc) and I'm definitely looser on my left side than on my right which would correspond to how lay down and how I sit on chairs and on my off-side saddle. The muscles on my right side, because of the curve of my spine, are shorter and more tenser which pulls me down on the right side, hence the lower right shoulder and the higher right hip- they being pulled  towards each other!!!

It explains why my heavily boned Victorian corsets that I used to wear for Victorian re-enactments, always wore out first on the right side and why the bones ended up being bent severely inwards on that side as well, LOL!

So now with this "light bulb moment" and barring being run over with a steam roller to straighten me out, I'm going to have to take drastic action to "uncrooked" me as best as I can for riding on the off-side as Hattie and my poorly hip enjoy riding on that side the best. I already do the back exercises the physiotherapist gave me for my hip and lower back but am going to have to look into which exercises are best for stretching out the side muscles on your back and do these everyday before riding to even myself up!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Stirrup Length and the Sweet Spot

I've been riding in my off-side Beck side saddle for about 2 weeks now alternating between hacking out and schooling in it and it's been wonderful for my hip! I can actually school for an hour and then be able to go on a hack afterwards without my hip screaming in pain and then the dreaded "unclicking" of my hip when I get off.

The thing I have been noticing about my Victorian saddle, is that they were not meant for all the technical schooling that we do these days. With it's symmetrical "common" seat, my saddle was built for riding straight in the park and perhaps some hunting with cantering and galloping straight on. I've been having brilliant, fast hacks out in my off-sider and feel very secure in it for fast hacks but schooling dressage, especially 20 meter circles and bending exercises, in the common seat is taking a bit of getting used to as I can't adopt the same seat position in my 1898 Beck that I can in my 1930's Whippy with it's built out flat seat.

I love the slight dip to my Beck as it fits my ample thigh great but have been finding holding my position on the seat while cantering 20 meter circles and doing spiralling exercises difficult. My seat bones are ending up diagonal with each other with my left hip being slightly forward to my right which then makes me need to twist at the waist to force my left shoulder back so that I don't corkscrew off of the saddle on the off-side. Hattie has been sensing my position problems and hasn't been wanting to canter in the school as she can feel that I'm not balanced on the bends (there has been no problem cantering and a bit of galloping out on hacks though!!).

SO this morning, I had to have a think of how to ride in this antique saddle which has a totally different seat shape to my Whippy built 40 odd years later. If I had a mirror image of my 1930's Whippy, there would be no problem but going by the photographs in Mrs. Haye's The Horsewoman, Victorian women adopted a different position to what 20th century ladies did and the saddles were built to reflect the riding styles of the day.

I like a short stirrup and ride short in my Whippy with the leaping head set on the top hole and have been riding with a short stirrup in my Beck Morrow.

You can see that this stirrup length isn't doing me any favors as my heel has come right back which forces me to sit right at the back of the saddle which in turn, keeps me from getting my lower left leg back and around the fixed head for a good purchase on the saddle.

Sitting too far back on the saddle. You can see that I'm twisting at the waist to keep my left shoulder back. My seat bones are on the saddle but my ample butt spills over...

What I did after I got on, was twist my leaping head so that it faced the front and scooted myself as far forward as I could comfortably. When I did this, I felt my seat bones even up and I could feel them resting into the seat spot of the saddle where the seat swelled out at it's maximum. Then I turned the leaping head back into position (I think I may need to open it up a bit more for my leg) and let my leg hang down loose and bring it back up into a comfortable position without moving my seat bones. Checking the new length of my leg against the old stirrup length, I could see that I would need to length my leather by two holes. 

With the stirrup set two holes lower (it was on number 10 so moved it down to 8), we started our warm up with walking and trotting on a loose rein. I immediately felt the difference in my new position. It was more stable and comfortable and Hattie felt it too. It was also easier to bring my left shoulder back as well without twisting so much. I did find during trotting, that my leather felt a bit long and that I was starting to reach for it so came to a halt, reset my position and brought the leather up one hole to 9 and continued our schooling. That felt MUCH better and although Hattie was a still a bit unsure of me, she went into canter easier than before and I did not have to twist. I still need to work on my new off-siding position before we attempt a Prelim test or showing but I think I may have figured our how to ride in this Old Lady of a saddle.

This is me at the end of our schooling session with our new position and stirrup length and I've managed to keep my seat bones level. There is no overhang off the back of the saddle and my seat bones are in the sweet spot. The sip of the seat, also fits the widest part of my thigh better too. I'm also sitting central with no twisting at the waist to get my left shoulder back.

With our new stirrup length, my right leg is in a normal riding position, not as far back as it was and I am able to bring my lower left leg right back and bring my toe down which I was unable to do so with the old riding position, so that I have good purchase on the saddle.

We're entered in the Intro A test at the dressage show on Sunday as I still need to work on our aids cantering in this saddle (Hattie will be ambidextrous at the end of it all!!) and making our new position solid, but I'm going to take her out for a hack tomorrow in our off-sider and ride in my new riding position so fingers crossed we hold it together for the show on Sunday!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Next Generation

Not only were Barbara and I side saddle at the South Kilworth Riding Club shows but two young ladies also  made their side saddle debut at the show as well.

You remember Maria who tried out my little pilch side saddle in August? Well, I did promise her that she could show her pony Misty, in my pilch and show she did! That girl did not want to get out of that side saddle and rode around the show grounds in it all day after her two fun showing classes were finished. The only reason why I got it back, was because she had to pack up to go home! LOL!

Misty is very round so brought my gel grip pad to stabilize the saddle (which it did!) and Maria and Misty came 5th in the "Pony Judge Would Most Like to Take Home" and got a special placing in "Cheekiest Face".

Maria and Misty just tacked up in the side saddle before her classes...

Walking around while the judge chose the pony that they Would Most Like to Take Home...

The Fun Showing classes don't usually call for cantering but they do usually have the young riders (mostly novice riders), trot around and was worried that Maria would have problems at the trot as she had only even done a few strides on the lead rein at home but I can see that my worries were unfounded as she just did it without any hesitation. Ah, to be young and fearless again!

Maria and Misty with their 5th place rosette...

Maria, Misty and Chloe showing her friend's horse, Bailey, in Cheekiest Face (note Barbara riding side saddle in the background as well!)...

Chloe also got her chance to ride aside that day as since she doesn't have her own horse and was desperate to show, I allowed her to ride Hattie but on one condition, that she rode her side saddle as I didn't feel like bringing her astride saddle (*evil grin*).

Now Chloe has never ridden side saddle, ridden in a double bridle or even ridden Hattie for that matter, so threw her on the saddle with my apron buttoned under her Pony Club jumper and off we went to the warm up field for a mini 10 minute side saddle lesson before her fun showing class, Prettiest Mare. Note Hattie's priceless expression!

Within the 10 minutes Chloe was trotting Hattie like a pro on BOTH reins (not bouncing either!) on a 20 metre circle and managing to hold the double reins as well (I said she could keep the curb rein very loose so she wouldn't have to worry about it). Seeing this, I had no worry about Chloe riding Hattie by herself with no lead rein so off we went as Prettiest Mare was about to start.

Chloe and Hattie walking around in Prettiest Mare...

and coming in 3rd place!

It looks like we have the next generation of side saddle riders folks and they are all naturals!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Good End to the 2012 Showing Season

Sorry for the lack of posts, it's been a busy past month with work and showing! We managed to get to the last two South Kilworth Riding Club shows on September 16 and September 30, but unfortunately missed the Burbage Riding Club Championship show on September 23 due to my trailer "going lame" that morning. It turns out, it was just some loose wires in the electrical connection that was easily sorted out later that day by the guy at the car parts shop for free. D'oh!!!! It was VERY annoying as Hattie was all ready to go that morning and I had prepaid the show in March so lost my £40 in fees. At least my electrical connection was sorted out though as it had always been a bit iffy.

I'm pleased to say that Hattie and I did brilliantly at both South Kilworth shows coming 4th, 1st and 3rd in the Turnout, Style & Appearance (like the Turnout but your riding and horse's way of going is also judged) and Ridden Veteran (horses aged 15+) classes on September 16 and 2nd, 1st and 4th in the same classes during the September 30 show.

Those results combined with the placings we received in the August show meant we ended up getting the Reserve Championship in Turnout and winning the Championship in Style & Appearance AND Ridden Veteran!!!

The awards presentation evening where we get our trophies and champion rosettes, is next month in November so am really looking forward to that. I'm so pleased with Hattie as she always knows what to do at shows and always tries her best. I think I have the Best Horse Ever.

Thanks also to my friend Gill, who hauled my trailer and our butts to both South Kilworth shows and waited for us all day (and taking photos!) despite being riddled with the flu and a bad cough. I need to convince her to bring her Connemara along to the show next year!! This is Gill's trusty car, a Vauxhall Frontera...

There are loads of photos of both shows on the show photographer's website, NJB Photography, and I still need to order some proofs as there is some good action shots on there. Here are some highlights of both shows taken by Gill and by my ever obliging husband!

Walking before inspection in Best Turned Out...

and then being inspected!

Trotting and cantering around at both shows in Style & Appearance. I really like this class as EVERYTHING is judged and you have to really make your equitation flawless.

And us winning the Style & Appearance class and showing off our hard earned trophy during the lap of honour!

The start of our individual show in the Ridden Veteran (15+ years) class. In this class, your horse's conformation, fitness, condition and way of going is judged. Hattie is 16 and there were horses older than her in this class.

In Ridden Veteran, you enter as a group on the right rein and all walk, trot and canter together before the judge lines you up to do your individual show. In out show, the judge wanted us to so walk, trot and canter as well as an extension in canter down the long side. I love doing that side saddle. Hattie getting a well deserved long rein and pat after we had finished. Note the other side saddle rider in the class!

Barbara (the other side saddle rider) and I with our rosettes after the September 30 Ridden Veteran class. Her horse is 18 and is a handsome boy. I did put it forward to one of the committee members if they could possibly hold a side saddle class next year so we shall have to wait and see.