I’ve been working on a new component to my seat that has been shockingly, alarmingly, and slightly embarrassingly helpful and I’m seriously surprised I didn’t figure it out before. Thanks to my RBF, I call it hips of a harlot.
So let’s back up a little bit. You know when you’re first learning to canter and you kinda bounce around in the saddle even though it’s supposed to feel like a “rocking horse” all it really feels like is bouncing up and down? Yeah, I’m not sure why the canter was ever described as “rocking horse” since it’s a circular motion, and even the most advanced rocking horses only move back and forth, typically with your pelvis at the fulcrum of the motion, thus giving you nothing like the feeling of a true canter. But whatever, that’s not really the point of this.
One of the strategies riders are taught to make cantering easier is to two-point, which helps you follow the motion by absorbing the movement through the knees and ankles. And, of course, it helps preserve poor lesson horses’ backs. But at some point, everyone has to learn how to sit the canter, even if only because canter departs usually require a little sitting, and most novice riders’ legs can’t actually stand up to all the two-pointing (they haven’t heard of 2pointober, you see.)
Despite having ridden a fairly solid 3-6 days a week for the last four years (minus that one I was in Africa), my seated canter has never been the stuff of legends. Sure, I’m way better at sitting the canter than the trot, but I still see a lot of “bounce” and air my canter in both jump and dressage saddles. Space that you simply don’t see between the seat-and-saddle of competent dressage riders.
Watch me cantering Solo in this video, and note the little gap of air between my seat and the saddle (my old jump saddle, so it’s not a horrendous fit) with every stride. This is not my best work, but it’s certainly not the worst I’ve ever looked.
This is not uncommon with riders of my experience level-ish that I’ve watched. It’s not universal, but even when people are told to really sit the canter, this little air gap still exists.
Anyway, when RBF and I were riding together I was lamenting my inability to sit the trot and listing all the physical limitations I had that meant I should be exempted from sitting the trot ever in any dressage test even when going for my gold medal. I was all “my hip flexors don’t stretch like that!” and “my lower back is really short it’s too short to move properly” and “my back is stiff” etc. etc. And bestie was like “hips of a harlot, yo.”
At first I was like WTF ARE SLUTTY HIPS GONNA HELP ME WITH. I’m not LOOKING for a man.
But she insisted that letting your hips move with wanton abandon but keeping your head and chin straight and shoulders open (removing the gangsta lean, another part of my problem) would allow my hips to follow the motion of the gait more.
Because I’m a big pansy about sitting the trot (and it makes Murray aggro), I decided to give it a go at the canter. First in my jump saddle (took me a little longer to translate this to my dressage saddle) I made a conscious effort to “scoop” the bottom of the saddle with my butt while keeping my shoulders back. Doing so, without leaning forward, really engages the lower abs. At first I had to consciously tilt my pelvis front-to-back, squeeze my abs, and flex my lower back. It wasn’t easy. And I couldn’t do it in my dressage saddle, which has a shorter and deeper seat than my jump saddle. But I persevered (because duh, that’s essentially the subheading of this blog). And in the course of one ride, I found that I could control Murray’s canter right to the base much more effectively.
Check the video of Murray and I at the schooling show Sunday (more on that later this week), and note the much better following seat (and hands!).
Hips of a harlot has completely changed my seat. It’s pretty much just how I canter now. Sometimes if I’m pinching or dealing with other issues I start to bounce again, but for the most part, my booty is solidly sweeping the saddle. I can then adjust my seat to be lighter or deeper as needed, but I’m still following the motion. This is, I hope, a useful component in developing a truly independent seat. It’s a work in progress, but it’s proven extremely helpful at the canter, and hopefully with this tool I will, some day in the not-too-distant-future, have a sitting trot. Hopefully.
Hips of a harlot
hips of a harlot
yep, definitely hips of a harlot