Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Semi-Floppy




No, I don’t have a new bunny. And no, Mr. Prescott is not in urgent need of little blue pills! Semi-floppy is an expression I coined Sunday morning describing the way I need to be when I ride Qrac.
I can see your puzzled expression. Trust me; I’ve been puzzled, too. In fact, for the past two weeks I’ve been beyond puzzled; I’ve been positively flummoxed. Of course, I knew from day one that my new horse is very forward going, that he has a big engine, and that half-halts are my friend. Sessions with my trainer went well, and my daughter rode him without any problem. I felt as though we were on the right track.

So I wasn’t particularly concerned when my trainer told me she would be unavailable for close to two weeks, traipsing around Europe coaching a couple of her higher-level students at FEI competitions. Qrac and I were doing ok, and I figured we’d just work quietly on our own, trying to stabilize the tempo. Over the past month one of my main concerns has been - and still is - his back. Initially I’d thought my Childeric saddle fit him fine, but after a couple of sessions it became clear this wasn’t the case. Not only was it pinching his shoulders, it was also slipping backwards. My other Passier saddle wasn’t any better, and pretty soon Qrac started hollowing while I groomed him. His back was bothering him. So I called an osteopath, switched to lungeing and managed to speak to my trainer about having Qrac fitted for a new saddle. Since the saddler she recommended can only come to measure Qrac next week, and seeing as I’ll have to wait two months for him to make the new one, one of my friends whose horse is off work following surgery has lent me her saddle, and although it fits him a little better, it still slips backwards so isn’t ideal. A sheepskin pad doesn’t help, nor does a gel pad. Qrac has an extremely short, somewhat flat back, and very high withers. I’m guessing he has narrow shoulders too, at least compared to Warmbloods. Saddle-wise, I’m in a bit of a mess.

Seeing as I’m a compulsive worrier, in the two weeks my trainer has been away I’ve worked myself into a total state over this, and I suppose Qrac picked up on my stress, because a few days after the osteopath intervened and I could ride him again, he and I became out of sync. All of a sudden he seemed to be ignoring my half-halts, chucking his head about, leaning on my hands, falling onto the forehand, going faster and faster. I’d transition into trot, and within seconds have to transition back into walk to as he’d just tumbleweed into a horrible rushed and clickety trot (when he “runs”, he tends to click his hind feet against his front feet). I tried shoulder in, shoulder out, small circles, bigger circles, serpentines, shorter reins, longer reins, soothing talk, all kinds of things, but to no avail. It was more than disconcerting, it was horrible. The more he ran, the more freaked out I became, and the more freaked out I became, the more he ran.
Finally, Sunday morning, my trainer came back. She met me at the stables, I saddled up Qrac and, having explained that he and I were experiencing problems, up she hopped.

Did he “tumbleweed”? Did he “run”?

No. He was perfect. Well, maybe not initially, but within fifteen minutes, he was trotting around, all prancy, round and reaching, as light as a feather while maintaining an almost constant contact.

I almost cried. I suck. I’m hopeless. He doesn’t like me. I should stick to knitting. Drama-queen? Yeah, but it was that time of the month.

“Your turn,” said Marie-Valentine, vaulting off cheerily.

Heavy-hearted, heavy-limbed, I lumbered up. As soon as we transitioned into trot, we began to tumbleweed.

“Stop,” called my trainer. We jostled back to walk, and ambled towards her.

I sighed, crestfallen. “It’s me. I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong?”

Marie-Valentine thought about it for a second or two. “You’re too…floppy,” she said, finally. “He’s super supple, you’re super supple, your seat is super supple, and it’s freaking him out. You follow his movement too closely, offering no resistance with your seat at all, so he thinks you’re asking him to go faster and faster.”

“But I keep half-halting,” I moaned.

“You need to think beyond half-halts,” she replied. “You need to stabilize your core, ride him more…well…more stiffly. Not like you’re in a constant half-halt, of course, as the half-halt involves a split second rein action too. You need to ride him with more engaged stomach muscles.”

I circled around her, mulling it over, hauling up my pelvic floor, sucking my belly button to my spine, and generally feeling self-conscious, not to mention constipated. I transitioned into trot and tested various abdominal scenarios, feeling my way.

And Qrac stopped tumbleweeding. Amazing!

“Mais, ouais!!!” cried Marie-Valentine, beaming. I beamed right back at her.

Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t get the same result from him as she did, but hey, she’s a pro. She’s a Grand Prix rider. I can aspire, I can admire, but I can’t emulate. For now!

I transitioned smoothly into walk, delighted by the absence of jostling, thrilled that she’d pinpointed the root of my problem.“Basically, I need to ride him…semi-floppy,” I said, screwing up my nose, trying to describe the sensation.

She smiled. “Semi-floppy,” she giggled in her lovely French accent. “J’adore!”

I rode Qrac semi-floppy for her again yesterday morning, with encouraging results. However, having to use my body in such a different way for such a long stretch of time called for massive amounts of concentration, and by the end of the session I was knackered. Because, of course, it’s not just about working my core semi-floppy, it’s about working my core semi-floppy while doing everything else at the same time. And it’s hard, especially when coming off a horse like Kwintus who, with all his wisdom, patience and experience, always adapted to his rider, forgiving all the little cheaty things I do and the bad habits I have. If Kwintus didn’t understand what I wanted, he interpreted to the best of his ability, and generally got it right. My floppiness didn’t bother him; on the contrary, it helped me follow his giant bouncy trot. But there’s a new man in my life, and if he likes me semi-floppy, then semi-floppy I’ll become.

How about you? Have you found yourself having to drastically alter aspects of your riding to suit a new horse? Did it take you long to adapt? Boost my spirits by telling me about your experiences!

11 comments:

Riversong said...

I laughed when I read your post. I remember many times when my riding instructor had to jump on my horse and he was a perfect gem, and the frustration I experienced trying the same maneuvers only to have it end in defeat. I really can identify!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I love him! Don't worry, you'll both figure it out.

I have to ride my Arabian mare very lightly because her go pedal is always on.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Yes! I have two Appendix Quarter Horses...movement polar opposites.

My mare, who I've had for years, and has adapted to me, has classic glass-smooth Quarter Horse gaits...you can literally let drink water on her while trotting. Over the years, we've matched ourselves to each other.

My new green, green gelding has big bouncy trot and powerful canter from his Throughbred side...and I found out how crooked I was riding on him..he'd just track the way I was leaning!

The good part is that I am riding my mare much more actively now, and she's opening up and giving me more because of him,

You are not alone!

FD said...

H'mmm. You know it's a little spooky sometimes how just when you're working on something, a blogger is posting about it. I know it's just a function of 10x>readers vs limited number of subjects under the sun but it still feels suspiciously like someone's reading your mind!

I have the same problem right now except from a different angle. I'm a naturally tight, muscular sort of rider who has worked hard on fluidity. I'm riding a huge WB with (at liberty) huge movement. However he's been trained into a tight restricted frame - he still looks good but isn't really using himself or anywhere near the limits of his scope. We've been working on opening him out but because he's so long and leggy and hasn't really built up his muscles properly, if I use my hard won flexibility and looseness and lightness of seat to completely allow all movement with no restriction, he can't actually control his own movements and we have exactly the problems you describe. We've worked so hard on getting him to reach out into the rein that I am reluctant to shorten the frame, and while he's getting better with the half halts, he still struggles to fully allow it through his body in the longer frame, and so too many and he gets tense and again, problems as above.

So I've been experimenting with using what I call a 'half rise' seat - easiest to describe in the trot - where I am very light over his back in the sit portion of the rise (no downward pressure / seat aids because that causes tensing) but in the rise portion of the stride it feels as though I am using an internal limiter and resisting before I hit the full range of motion.
It's incredibly difficult for me, as learning to be loose and still was something I struggled with (and continue to struggle with if you read the story sent I to Mugs about my adventures with an ex GP horse!) and it's so contrary to my natural frame - You MUST BE loose! But not THAT loose! I have to find a happy medium with him and it is so hard.
It does work though, the slight restraint my body movement gives him acts as reassurance without restriction and he is getting more confident in his balance, slowly.

Francesca Prescott said...

Riversong: I figured people would identify, but it's nice to actually read that other people have the same problems! Horses are so humbling, don't you think?! Thanks for reading and commenting:)

Francesca Prescott said...

Fantastyk Voyager! I know I'll figure it out eventually. Or more like, we'll always be figuring it out, because that's the way riding goes! I had another really good session with my trainer this morning, and we had very limited tumbleweeding, so I was pretty proud. I'd love to hear more about your Arabian mare as I once had an Arabian stallion.

Francesca Prescott said...

Horses and Turbos: I think I will be able to drink water while trotting on Qrac at some point, he's got a lovely smooth trot when he's not tumbleweeding!

I know what you mean about riding crooked. Someone once filmed me when I was wearing a striped tee-shirt while riding Kwintus. Those horizontal lines don't lie! But Kwint just seemed to compensate.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I'm thankful for the crooked/wonky/tumbleweeding company!

Francesca Prescott said...

FD: Yes, I know that trot with the "internal limiter" (I like that description, more elegant than "constipated"!!!) you're describing. It's what I'm working on at the moment. Makes me feel like I'm leaning forward too much, but I'm not. So weird! But it works, as during my lesson this morning I managed to have a nice slow tempo with good stretching down and reaching. He comes up a little at times, but if I insist with my inside leg he'll come down and reach again.

I even had a few nice reaching canter strides this morning, if only on the left (right side is more problematic), but it was enough for me so we left him on that.

Thanks SO much for your input! I'll have to find your story about the GP horse, as I'd love to read it.

Good luck with your internal limiter, and keep me posted on your progress!!

Dreaming said...

Don't you love and hate how an instructor figures things out so quickly?!

Francesca Prescott said...

Dreaming: I LOVE how she figures it out!!! It just stings a bit when I can't get the same effect!!!

sumire7 said...

I totally know where you're coming from! Except that my issue has been at the canter. My seat is too following and it encourages the TB to canter faster and longer. So I have to re-learn to ride with a stiller seat too! When I don't let my seat get so loose, the horse comes right back, amaizing! The best visual my trainer gave me was to think about looking like a rider in the Spanish Riding School, perfectly still in the correct position. This has really helped me. Don't worry, you are not the only one.