While the horses may be my only valentines this year, we made the best of it during a revelation loaded lesson.
My revelation was along the lines of the three points of contact of the leg. If you look at this picture of Sydney Hutchins at the GM 2015 Horsemastership program you can see how wonderfully her leg is draped around her horse.
I have a tendency to almost stand in my stirrups and turn my toes out drastically which removes my knee from contacting the saddle and puts the back on my calf in contact with the horse instead of the inside.
This in a way is constantly pressing the 'go' button on the horse. The back of my calf presses into the horse rather then the inside resting on them. This explains so much in terms of the reactions I get on the back side of fences when I usually have a strong horse. I had always inferred it was the habit of the horse when in reality it was me accidentally making them tense by not releasing the 'go' button. I tend to do this a few strides out and over the fence. By turning my toe in, relaxing my leg, and focusing on connecting through my entire leg I had a more effective way of communicating softly. While my muscle memory of standing in my stirrups is difficult to ignore, the difference was immediate and along the lines of miraculous. My horse came back softly after the fences and quietly trotted in to fences where a few minutes before I had been playing tug of war with a heavy horse. I've been told before to 'relax my knee' and even had my stirrups tied to my girth but never really understood the purpose. While it will be tough to retrain my muscle memory that I've had for so long, this is such an imperative basic that needs to be corrected.
Lillie Keenan and her perfectly draped leg at the Devon Horse Show 2014:
Comparison of my braced leg (yes all my photos feature this lovely habit):
I was a little ashamed when I realized my basic riding has such a huge flaw. I felt like banging my head against the wall once I realized what habit I had fallen into and the subtle but negative reactions it was eliciting from the horses I ride. What I want more then anything at this point is to be a better, more effective rider, and it can be frustrating to realize that in a sense I've been 'practicing' the wrong thing for so many years. In the short term it will be frustrating to go back to basics and jumping small fences to correct my issue gradually. In the long term its in the best interest of my riding to fix this now so I can rebuild the base of the house again so I eventually can have a sturdy structure.
Horses and riding have this amazing talent of reminding you that riding is a constant learning process and that sometimes we might have to take a few steps back before going forward again.