Today, as usual, I’m pondering my most recent ride and my most recent AEC (Alexander Equestrian Center) lesson, and am forever reminding myself to correct my posture. Joanna reminded me in my lesson that to correct a fault and make that correct action a habit requires 20,000 repetitions.
My very first lesson with Joanna was November of last year and my riding and jumping form was dangerously flawed, consequently making even the thought of jumping very frightening for me. I’ve taken many lessons in my life with instructors ranging the gamut from grassroots level to Olympic coach, however nobody had ever taken one look at me and seen past the symptoms to the root cause as Joanna did. I don’t believe I’ve ever made improvements as vastly and quickly as I have over this past year, despite the fact that I had only less than a handful of lessons and have gotten in very little riding at all!
So, what made the difference? Well, for starters, rather than going for the obvious correction (leaning too far forward), she began with the root of the problem: my base – my feet and legs. If I’d start to fixate on that, she’d move to another area. And when I started fixating on that, she made me go bareback and then put me in a sidesaddle where I COULDN’T fixate on my legs because they were no longer any use to me! Not only has it been the excellent instruction that has made the difference, but also the fact that I THINK over these lessons throughout my daily life… now, I’ll park downhill from the grocery store so that as I push my heavily laden cart to the truck I can physically get the sensation of how I should feel contact in the reins when riding Shaggy… or I’ll be reminded of how to position my hands & wrists when seeing someone shaking hands and think, “HANDSHAKE HANDS!” Several times throughout each day I find myself with my shoulders rolled forward (one of my worst riding faults) and I have to give myself a mental shake, take a deep breath, and correct myself by thinking how it feels to lift heavy free weights. ….
As an aside right here, I just want to say how thankful I am to Josh and Holly of J Club Athletics (www.jclubathletics.com) for teaching me this year how to lift correctly and taking me aside and showing me which of my muscle groups are overworked and tight, which muscles are weak and loose, and how fixing THAT will correct my posture. They even recommended certain stretches for my tight muscles and exercises for my weak muscles. I must say, when I adhere to the plan I feel much stronger, much more flexible and it’s much less of a mental chore to hold myself upright. Unfortunately, I haven’t been faithful to the plan over the last month or so, and, boy can I tell the difference! My body is already diverting to it’s old ways! I guess I better hurry up and get back in the swing of things to salvage what progress I’ve left over.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand – visualization and such… I think it’s funny that I have all these little images and feelings I can call on, whether I’m mounted or not, for instant correction, except one. One particular little image makes perfect sense as I’m riding along, in the moment, but the instant I think of it with my feet on the ground I start overthinking it and fall into paralysis by analysis. It’s at such times that I have to say to myself, “just shut up and quit thinking about it!” The image is that of my body as a sail to slow my horse down. As I said, when I’m mounted it makes perfect sense. I think of it and my shoulders instantly open up and my horse slows. However, when thinking of it with my feet on the ground I think about how a sail looks and the direction of it’s arc as it catches wind and how that arc would actually having me slumping my shoulders if I replicated it, but if I slumped my shoulders I’d still be stuck in the same old boat and my horse would continue in his merry bolting way, and it’s just not adding up, and blah blah blah, and finally, “oh shut up and just quit thinking about it!” And then another day, another ride, and I’m thinking “sail” and my shoulders open up, I feel great and my horse slows down!