If I didn’t know better, I would suggest that perhaps my right arm had been possessed by a body snatching elbow pirate. It goes rogue — always has, and always wants to. In the early days of my riding, I would be trotting along, elbow to my hip, when suddenly I would look out and there it was, floating along beside me, marching to the beat of its own drum. I’d immediately push my elbow back in, only to notice it there again in a few minutes. I used to joke with my instructor that I needed to invent a shirt with a little piece of velcro on the elbow that would hold my arm to my side for me, or at least alert me when it had floated away.
To be honest, it’s not just my right arm. Despite being right-everythinged (right handed, right legged, right eyed), damn if I can’t get my right side to just line up and relax the way biomechanics says it should. When I kind of got my right elbow under control, I realized that my right shoulder, wrist, and hand also do all kinds of absurd things when I’m not paying attention to them. Somehow, my right seems to think that a little bit of rein pressure meant that I should move my right hand over my horse’s neck to the left side. My right wrist breaks over when my left wrist is perfectly straight, and my right shoulder slumps in a Quasimodo-like fashion. My right knee tends to pinch, my right hip always wants to lead, and to top it all off I collapse through my ribcage on the right too. My right side is a hot mess in desperate need of an intervention.
No bone in the human body exists in a vacuum, and it turns out that all of these problems are directly related to one another (though why they happen to my dominant side I cannot tell you). My knee pinching and hip imbalance are the simpler of the two problems. If you are sitting straight in your saddle, with your hips pointed forward and your legs hanging down loosely, your thighs, knees, and feet should be relatively symmetrically placed on either side of the saddle. When you turn from the waist in one direction or the other — go ahead and try it, I’ll wait — your outside hip comes forward and your inside hip moves back a little. When that outside hip moves forward it rolls your thigh over, just slightly, and your lower leg naturally comes back a little.
You know what we call that on a circle? Correct bend. The old masters had it right this whole time*, and it’s not even something you need to consciously do with your body except to move your hips in the direction of your travel. This isn’t something you do with your muscles, it’s merely the biomechanics of your bones and joints, supported by your musculature.
So in order to straighten out the right half of my lower body, I simply need to straighten my hips and make them follow my direction of travel. Easier said than done, but something that I can always double-check with a quick glance.
The chicken wing mystery was a bit more of a stumper. It starts with biomechanics, and comes back to my right side being weird.
Start with your shoulders down and back and your hands in front of you like you’re holding the reins. Roll or collapse one shoulder forward, and you’ll notice the corresponding elbow pop out a little. Push your hands forward like you’re giving a release, and you’ve got it: instant chicken wing! If you want to take it one step further, try pulling that elbow back in to your rib cage without moving your hand or shoulder, and if you’re me, that wrist will break over as well. Try this with a cocked hip and see how much worse it is!
Wing haters – both food and equestrian – rejoice! I now know how to stop the demonic intrusion of wings into my jump courses! Apparently all it requires is a little careful thought on my part about the position of my shoulder and hips, yet another thing I’ve always heard the masters saying. Now, just to break all my other bad habits: right hand passing over the mane, I’m looking at you!
* I should note that I always thought the old masters were correct, I’m just a dummy about following their directions.