Last night we focussed on the muscles required to maintain a still leg whilst in the trot. This is by far the most common question I get asked, and is probably the biggest problem riders see in themselves. It may be because its a very obvious issue if your leg moves when you don't mean it too, and it's also becoming more and more talked about which is great.
Why is it a problem?
A leg that swings and moves whilst we ride without conscious thought will constantly be apply an aid that we don't wish to use, this does a few things, and to understand what we need to understand the way aids work. When you use the traditional aid of pressure the horse learns what that aid means by the timing of the release of the pressure, not the pressure itself. If the pressure is constantly applied and then release with no correlation to anything actually happening the horse learns that the pressure means to not do anything creating a "deadening to that pressure", it's not the fact the horse can't feel it, you don't need to use more of it "to get them to listen". It's the fact that every time your leg swings on and then off nothing has changed. The release when nothing changes just means the horse thinks the leg means do nothing different.
So a swinging leg even with a sharper spur will just become an annoying at best or painful at worst thing that's happening every time the horse trots. This then creates a second issue, if this happens every time the horse trots or canters, they associate this annoyance, confusion and maybe even pain with that movement, this then means they become reluctant and rightly so to go into that pace and stay in that pace, taking every opportunity to fall into the walk, or resist the upwards transition all together, because that pace isn't fun its horrid to them.
This is a hard pill to swallow for most riders, and a lot of riders don't like to face this issue at all, choosing to go with the traditional thought process of more more more, more aid, more pressure, more doing. But hopefully what you can see here is that if we aren't able to be clear and precise with these aids whatever level of pressure you use will quickly become a pressure that means do nothing.
So what to do?
The answer is, do less, and to do less we need to have complete control of our leg movements, no unconscious swinging or gripping. Any of you that are working with me on this will know how hard this is, a body pattern that's been built over probably billions of steps of trot needs to be unpicked and changed, we have to learn a totally new way to rise/post, to carry our own balance and support ourselves from different muscles.
The first thing to be really aware of is what we've discussed above, and make a conscious decision to change, the next thing is to drop all long trot or canter work and go with the adage of quality not quantity. This is key as you need to do all your work from the correct place, if you go for long periods of time you will very quickly drop back into old movement patterns as your new muscles tire and you won't be improving. Short bursts of really focussed work with a break and then go again is the best and most quick way to learn this new way.
Doing unmounted exercises like the class last night are also key, re-building near pathways to muscles that have been forgotten will help you feel what is happening more when you ride and make those changes.
Doing the daily short sessions on rising trot from the academy will help keep those near pathways fresh so each day you are building on the last.
And then watching the video below to help you find some mounted exercises too will also help speed up your learning process.
Become obsessive about this, do less, be more in control of your body parts, and be super aware of when you apply an aid you on release when the correct response is given. If you work on all of this you will use less leg, less strong aids, have a more responsive horse, and feel like you have finally helped your horse to start to enjoy their work again.