Thursday, December 12, 2013

Out of the Saddle

You don’t have to be in the saddle to train your riding skills. Don’t get me wrong! Time in the saddle is the biggest part of improving your riding!

What do you do “the rest of the time” to help or hinder your riding?

I think this was November 2011... He was good at getting fuzzy!
I work at a desk in an office setting. I’ve learned that sitting in a traditional style chair that puts my hip angle at 90 degrees causes me constant sciatic pain, so I sit in a kneeling chair. This is great for keeping my hips at a little more open angle (and my hip flexors just a little longer), but I am sure it also shortens my hamstrings and calves as my legs fold under my seat. On the up side, it’s difficult to cross your legs in a kneeling chair! More bonus for my back!

I mouse with my right hand, and I work on 2 monitors. Sometimes, I find myself leaning on my left elbow as I study the screens and mouse around with my right hand… This produces a constant leaning to my left. You wouldn’t think this is such a big deal, but it manifests in my riding when I canter circles to the left. I can *feel* myself leaning into my circle, a constant pull of gravity to my left… But I find that I lack the musculature to straighten up and FIX it! The muscles on my left side slowly shorten at the office, and I must fight it every time I get in the saddle. I try to sit evenly on both seat bones while I work. I can feel them, anyway, which is more than a lot of people who don’t ride…

I read voraciously about riding. I read through an article or chapter to digest the theory. Then, I read through it again, and I visualize myself riding the movement as described. I don’t just visualize it with my eyes, though. I visualize how it feels. Which muscles are activated? Which muscles must be passive? What is my horse’s body doing as a result of each applied aid?
I go out to the barn and try to apply what I've read, then I go back and read again to see if what I felt lines up with what I expected, what was described, or pick up additional details.
A new perspective on Raynaud's...
This is why I will get less in-the-saddle time in the winter.  If I'm at the barn, I am too distracted focused to feel a Raynaud's episode before the toes are numb.  At that point, the damage has already been done.  The best way to manage Raynaud's?  Don't have an episode.  That's pretty helpful advice, huh?
Sometimes, I don't notice that I'm having an episode until I get home (a 20-minute drive from the barn) and get my boots and socks off as I get in the shower.

So, I do a lot more riding in my mind.
This year, my dressage position is coming right along with visualization.  My upper body is getting taller and more vertical.  My legs feel so much longer as they just drop straight down underneath me, and I feel like my feet should be dragging in the dirt!  My next planned improvement it to take the flexion out of my lumbar spine through abdominal muscle support and return my pelvis to a neutral position instead of it's typical anterior tilt...


  1. Great post, Visualization is a wonderful tool for riding :)

  2. I have Reynauds too, and it's definitely a challenge when the doctor just tells you not to ride to help manage it. Um, no! I've gotten pretty good at managing it, though, and I rarely have episodes anymore. You are spot on with the visualization too, it's all body awareness in the end no matter if you're in the saddle or at your desk!

    1. I do OK when the temperature is in the 40's, but the 20's and 30's are still getting me. I bought a pair of the Tuffriders fleece-lined boots. They look great! (as in, my next fashion boot!!), and they are warmer than a normal boot. But they just aren't warm enough for my coldest days. They are going to be a great mid-weight boot, but I definitely need something heavy duty warm for those colder days.
      I had my first episode yesterday where my toes got red and swollen when the circulation came back. They felt hot, and they looked like red sausages. I didn't even go to the barn! I just came home from work! As I laid in bed, all I could think about was how uncomfortable they were, knowing I couldn't do anything about it.
      Not riding is not an option! My husband is pushing for me to drop the $125 for a pair of remote-control, rechargeable, heated insoles...
      You'll have to let me in on your cold-weather management secrets! I never dreamed it would be this sneaky!! ;)

    2. I love the TuffRider boots, but you're right, they're not enough by themselves. I buy the whole foot insole footwarmers and use those with ski socks and those boots and haven't had a foot episode since!

      I have also found this year that getting my body uncomfortably hot reduces my episodes, so if I really layer up and don't take my coat off when I'm doing stalls, I don't lose my fingers and toes as much - this is while doing 6 hours of stalls in the cold. My usual top layering is Underarmour ColdGear top, fleece zip jacket, fleece vest, Horze winter coat, hat. Bottom is UA ColdGear bottoms, winter breeches, ski socks, boots, whole foot insoles. And for my hands, I have the Back on Track glove liners and SSG 10 Below gloves, and I find that the BoT really works as long as it has some heat to reflect, so I run my hands under hot water at the barn every hour or so and then stick them straight into the gloves.

      My husband also just bought a Zippo Handwarmer for me: and I really like it. It's easy to use and cheaper than all those disposable things - there's no replacing the disposable foot warmers though, those things are lifesavers.

      Sorry for the novel, I feel like I've spent the last five years perfecting my Reynauds attack methods! Also, a glass of red wine (a vasodilator) does seem to help me too. Not to sound like an alcoholic or anything, but I'll knock a half glass back before heading out for a lesson in the cold. Supposedly Viagra, also a vasodilator, does the same thing and is sometimes prescribed for Reynauds, but I'm not cheeky enough to ask for that ;)



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