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!

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