exploring my (cereal) box

I’m going to dive right into how the Mary Wanless Workshop last week changed my biomechanics. I rode as a demo rider, not a student, so the “lessons” I got weren’t necessarily focused on major problem solving or making me and the horse improve a great deal. They were focused on demonstrating to the other instructors and riders there how biomechanics can influence the horse and rider both generally (everyone should have a good cereal box) and specifically (Nicole has a funny wobble to the right that isn’t present to the left). But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a lot of great information about my riding and how to improve myself.

(You can see more on the general structure of the workshop in Megan’s posts, and L’s posts, and a bit more about what it’s like to be a demo rider in Kate’s posts.)


it’s very exciting being a demo rider, that’s what Floundy thinks

After asking the first two big questions (“Is it safe?” and “Who is taking whom?”), the instructors pretty quickly turned their attention to our cereal boxes, known in common parlance as “the torso”. Instantly, my cereal box was identified as lacking. To which I cheerfully responded, “yes, I’ve often lamented that I don’t really have a cereal box, I have one of those big bulk bags of cereal you buy at the hippie store”. (It got a laugh, which you know I live for, and a compliment on my good attitude from Mary.) Alexis said that my torso is a classic “soap in the bathtub problem”, and has been very challenging to organize. Don’t I know it.

When we later discussed what each of our bodies would be stuffed with if our skin were just a bag (as if it isn’t), the teenaged demo rider was given “an excellent tonal quality”, the young adult demo rider was considered a little overstuffed/rigid, and I was deemed bimodal. Someone said it was like my legs were stuffed with putty — an excellent, excellent quality, putty is firm but yielding — but my torso was… squashy. One instructor said “it’s like she has a shifting layer of sand above her pelvis. Mary suggested my torso was full of polystyrene beads: amorphous, shifting against one another, not inclined to hold any one shape.


I appear to be stretching up somewhat here, but alltogether not too terrible

All of this is completely true and a problem I’ve been working on ever since my first biomechanics lesson. I’m not sure what my torso felt like before I started thinking about biomechanics (this is an important point — I’ll circle back to this in a later post), but I know that as soon as I started to think about my torso, I’ve felt its weaknesses. It doesn’t want to be a box. It wants to flap back and forth and side to side. Once, Timer pulled on me in a down transition and I felt my seat stay in the saddle and my shoulders go forward and I literally folded in half right above my hip bones. And part of the strategy I was given to combat that is to make my torso shorter and wider; to make it a less-tall rectangle so that it can be a stronger rectangle. And it made perfect sense. I can see in old pictures that I used to stretch up like crazy, so we needed to bring it all back down a bit.


holy stretch up batman

Somewhere along the line I did what everyone does: I made the solution into the problem. Someone told me to bring my ribcage down closer to my pelvis, so I brought it down to my pelvis so good, so good, that I didn’t have any torso left. But it still wasn’t a strong, stable core.

At the end of the first day’s ride, Mary and two other experienced instructors realigned each of the demo riders. Mary worked on me, and focused in on three things right away. 1) I sit too far back on my seat bones, 2) I put those seatbones too far forward in the saddle, and 3) that darn cereal box. The changes for 1 and 2 were pretty simple, but 3 was the real project. Mary first told me to stretch up, “I don’t tell many riders to stretch up,” she said. “You’re one of them. Congratulations.”

I took it as a compliment, obviously.


holy shit look how good i am at squashing my ribs into my pelvis – and this was before i’d even been told to do it!!!!

But simply stretching up wasn’t really satisfactory to Mary. She was standing on a step stool next to me and put her hands on either side of my ribs firmly, with just her thumb and a couple of fingers held together like a little point. She said she wanted to “pull” me up by the ribcage. After wiggling my ribcage up with her hands, Mary said “can you feel like your pelvis is hung in a harness?” I have heard and read that image from Mary several times before, but have never really managed to wrap my head around it. Hung in a harness? From where? With what? I said as much to Mary, “but,” I added, “I do feel like my pelvis is hanging down from my ribs right now.” “That’s good,” she responded. “Keep that.”

Atlas kindly let me volunteer my old position on him on Monday, complete with my inability to carry my own forearms.
note: seatbones pushed forward, no curve to spine (lower back too far back),
sitting too far back on seatbones

Mary pulled my low spine back a little bit — stretching up and moving my seat back had rocked me too far forward on my seatbones — and added a little bit of curve to the top of my spine. She put her fingers on my low back above my pelvis and encouraged me to lengthen my back, between my ribs and my pelvis, without tipping forward — just pulling my front line down a bit, and pushing up my back line. (Almost like how TC wants to go – with his chest plate shoved forward and down.) Mary also had me bear down, on the sides, and in my low down bear down, which was a pretty different feeling after having bear-down-ed through such a crushed torso for so long. She prodded me in the 2-pack and asked me to bear down into those abs specifically, but not to let them fall out beyond my ribs. With a little more poking and prodding and resisting her push, it felt like I had two boards of wood running down my spine, like the two long muscles in my back were finally turned on. (Only about two hundred more to go!)

I practiced “hanging myself” throughout the weekend, poking my fingers into my own ribs and “pulling” up to let my pelvis “hang down” from my abdominal muscles. On day two I walked in with my new seat and torso alignment. One of the participants commented that it looked like I was about 3″ taller. I got to spend the next two days’ rides practicing this feeling, and of all the changes Mary put on me, it’s probably the one with the strongest “memory”. It’s also got a great physical cue and verbal cue, which makes it easier to get back to. By day three I didn’t have to think about hanging myself constantly, I was starting to automate it (probably prematurely, but oh well).

new position. much lighter, much more “meringue”.
could probably use a little less length in the front line and a little more length in the back line.d

I’m not “fixed” by any means, but I now have some much better muscle patterns to build on and improve from.

It’s like I started out with a somewhat crumpled cereal box, and in an attempt to make it stronger and give it some proper edges I was cramming it down as hard as I possibly could. As if pressure would turn my crumpled cereal box into a diamond, since it was clearly never going to be a box. And then Mary came along and was like, well why don’t we stretch this crumpled cardboard out a little bit so its edges can do their jobs and make it like — you know — a box.

9 thoughts on “exploring my (cereal) box

  1. It seems like Mary encourages this type of learning – taking new positional cues to the extreme in order to unlearn the bad habit. Which is NOT a bad thing, but it does make me more uncertain when I get out there on my own in the wild after her clinics, I find myself second guessing how much is too much. Sooooo jealous you got to be a demo rider, that sounds like a much different experience than being a participant in a regular clinic.

    Like

  2. I think at some point I also squashed my torso into a crumple and am now learning to stretch out more (of course unsupervised by professionals so I can’t wait to find out what new problems I come up with next lol)

    Like

  3. Those final photos. WHAT A HUGE CHANGE! But also, like, not. It is absolutely fascinating to me that the tiniest movements/adjustments result in such a massive change overall. So cool!

    Like

    • Agreed! I look at the photos and I see (and feel) a fundamental difference in the way I sit on the horse (and I’m trying to sit more correctly in life as well). But I also can see that the fundamental difference isn’t as wildly different as it might seem….

      Like

  4. I love that Mary strives to meld the ideas of correct posture with the feelings of correct posture. It almost seemed to me (I rode with a student of hers) that the object was to get beyond, or deeper than the conscious mind, so the changes / adjustments have a better chance of “sticking”. Super envious that you got to be a demo rider. Great breakdown of the clinic – thanks!!

    Like

    • You’re absolutely correct about going past the conscious mind. A big part of Mary’s philosophy (and I think part that is not well understood by people who dip into her work for a weekend at a time) is consciousness of one’s body and what it is doing, and understanding the process of learning how to a) stick those changes in your own mind using your own words (“hang yourself” for example), b) replicate those changes using your words, and c) eventually automate that feeling so it becomes something you are unconsciously competent at. I have a bit more to say on this exact thing this week, but I completely agree with you.

      Like

  5. You’re absolutely correct about going past the conscious mind. A big part of Mary’s philosophy (and I think part that is not well understood by people who dip into her work for a weekend at a time) is consciousness of one’s body and what it is doing, and understanding the process of learning how to a) stick those changes in your own mind using your own words (“hang yourself” for example), b) replicate those changes using your words, and c) eventually automate that feeling so it becomes something you are unconsciously competent at. I have a bit more to say on this exact thing this week, but I completely agree with you.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s