We are all crooked in some way, shape or form. Your left side is more dominant or maybe it’s your right side. Maybe you have an old or even a new injury that causes one leg to be weaker than the other. Maybe you had a Big Wheel accident as a child and chipped a bone in your wrist. Or, perhaps, like me, you have some minor scoliosis that for the most part is a non-issue…until you are trying to train a horse. And let us not forget we also ride half ton animals that have their own crookedness and stiffness to manage.
Add the two together and you have a recipe for a challenging, crooked path up the levels…a path that looks like it was cleared with a plastic butter knife. The talented riders know how to compensate for their body’s issues and can easily address the issues of their horses…but where does that leave the rest of us?
There have been a multitude of books and articles written about straightening the crooked horse. I particularly like the image that Lilo Fore paints in her article for Practical Horsemen of the horse moving in a “crooked, crab-like position.” I have ridden that crab and left many points in the sandbox due to that crookedness. Reading about how to straighten your horse is one thing. Actually putting those words into practice can be much more challenging. How can you effectively straighten your horse’s shoulders when you are collapsed to the left/right due to your body issues?
My scoliosis is not a new issue for me. It has been a lifelong conformation fault. But it is only recently in my riding that I noticed my imbalance and it’s effect on my riding. Guess it took developing an independent seat to realize that the range of motion of my left hip is different than that of the right hip. It comes across most in my struggle to help Ike with the left lead countercanter. Try as I might, I cannot move my left hip as easily as the right. While we can earn 7’s for our right lead countercanter serpentine; the left is a hot mess with me flailing about and praying that Ike can interpret what I want. Even when I consciously try and make my movement more pronounced, it is still barely enough. I often wonder how this will affect our progress to the other levels. Our goal in dressage is to show straightness and equivalent movement on the right and left sides. Hmm, when you don’t have the same range of motion with the left hip that you have with the right, how do you compensate when your seat is such an important piece of the puzzle? Ugh, the struggle is real.
There is no quick fix for this issue and there will be no cumbersome back braces to correct the alignment. I practice yoga which helps me focus on my body alignment and balance. Yoga quickly exposes your “weaker side” when you are balancing on one leg. The wall has saved me more than once. But if you fall down, just get right back up and try again. Eventually the balance poses get easier (only took me 7 years to master scorpion pose…) Yoga helps me to maintain my flexibility, and I focus on deepening the hip stretches to increase the range of motion. The warrior poses are all in my repertoire; and pigeon pose and I have a love/hate relationship. Pigeon pose is the ultimate hip opener especially as you move towards the bound king pigeon pose. Lotus pose is for those days when you just don’t feel as flexible.
I will continue to try Ms. C’s patience as she repeatedly screams, “move that left hip!” For that, I must apologize. Thank goodness she is a patient trainer!! Acknowledging the problem is a start, and making an effort to minimize its damage on our progress up the levels is the goal.
Time to go practice that countercanter!