Those might as well be pics of me last year. I felt the same way when I saw pics of me jumping. Muscle memory is an evil thing. You feel great after a jumping round and then see pics that show you a mile above the tack. Don't feel bad. You are not remotely alone. `
I've noticed with muscle memory problems, the easiest way to get back on the right track is to over-correct. To your muscles, the over-correction feels very weird, but is more close to how you should actually be positioned. Here's a few things that have gotten me started back in the right direction.
1. This one is a muscle memory exercise. At the halt, practice going between full seat and light seat. With one hand on your hip socket, (both if you horse will stand still) weight your heels as if someone was tugging on them pulling them down. That should create just enough shift in your upper body to pop you bum slightly out of the saddle. Your hands on your hip sockets are there to make sure they stay in the same spot. Your butt will move back and your shoulders will move forward proportionately, but your hips should stay centered right where they were when you were sitting. Make sure your back stays flat and your shoulders open. The only motion is what is created by folding at your hips to keep you centered when you anchor your heels. Once you have the correct position at the halt, take it out for a spin at all gaits.
2. To strengthen lower leg. Hike your stirrups up as high as they will go and ride around like that. Post, two point, canter, whatever floats your boat. Your legs will scream bloody murder, but it builds up muscle very quickly. Once you can do this without much pain, you will find it very easy to hold your half seat at all gaits with your lower leg dead still while you hug your horse with your new legs of steel.
3. Jumping exercise to put the above two things to work. Ground pole > 9' to cross rail > 18' to another cross rail or low vertical. Trot up to ground pole, when you get to it, assume the position you practiced in step one and hug your horse with your lower legs of steel from step 2. Your upper body will already be inclined forward, so there is no need for additional upper body movement. KEEP IT STILL. Do nothing except soften your elbows to offer your horse more rein as he jumps to two cross rails. Do this exercise over and over until your upper body is dead quiet and you are consistently anchoring your heels.
This stuff doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen. Muscle memory sucks, but you'll fix it.
In addition to Puck's great suggestions above, I have a couple of more -
First, a stretching exercise.
At the halt, grab a little mane immediately in front of the saddle and stand straight up. Toes down, heels up, knees and hip open. Stretch up until you feel it in your achilles tendon, calf and hip flexor. Then slowly, without sitting down, allow your weight to sink back into you heels and allow your knee to bend. The trick is not to FORCE your heel down, like we all started to do in our first riding lessons, but to allow it to stretch down - only go for as much stretch down as you got stretch up in the first part of the exercise. Forcing your heel immediately locks your ankle, which locks your knee, etc. Then, consciously take your knee OFF the saddle and put your lower leg on. Then, bend your hip, get close to your saddle and find your balance over your feet. Test yourself by letting go of the mane and see if you still feel balanced and secure. You should feel "tied on", like if the horse dissappeared out from under you you'd land balanced over your feet, absorbing the shock in your knee and hip.
Repeat 4 - 5X, really focusing on the stretch up, and releasing a little weight in your stirrup so you're not braced.
Next exercise - try to get the same fluid, dynamic position while moving. Find this same good secure balanced two point at the trot. See if you can *feel* your ankle, knee and hip open and close at the trot - a lot of riders just brace and stand up a little higher over their horse's back. You want to feel like your body is trotting, and that your legs are moving in sequence with the horse's front legs. When the horse steps down with his left front, step down into your stirrup and allow your joints to close; when he comes up, release the weight in your left stirrup and allow your joints to open. Imagine your legs are the horse's fore legs, and step/release in a left, right, left, right motion. When you get this right, you'll suddenly notice that it doesn't take much muscular effort to stay in two point, and your horse will probably stretch out a little and blow and let you know you've made yourself easier to carry.
Once you've got the feel of allowing your joints to open and close to absorb the trot, move back and forth between posting and two point and try to find the following motion in the joints of your legs sooner and sooner when you move back to two point.
Try those, and let me know how they go, and I've give you a couple of new exercises.
Being aware that there is a problem and knowing how to solve it and getting your brain to communicate the solution to your body in a way that your body can understand are each entirely separate problems! Grids make your body do the right thing without you even having to understand why. They rock.
A bonus is that they also help your horse to pace himself and remind HIM how to see the spot, so he won't keep getting himself in so deep. Good luck!
Okay, everyone, thank you for all the advice! I will start working on it tomorrow and report back! :) Hopefully you all will still be here to help me through this!
And, I agree. Maura, you should just move to Iowa so you can train me lol. Of course, you probably wouldn't get too many students in this neck of the woods where English riding is - how did my boss put it? - hoity-toity or uppity or something like that. She's a barrel racer. Lol imagine that. I've tried to tell her that English saddles are awesome :)
Allie, you and your new gorgeous horse totally need to come visit.
I think he needs to go hacking out in the Virginia country side as part of his foundation. Of course, my horse's stride is roughly 1/2 his (and the guest horse's is a 1/3!) , so it would make for an interesting hack.
I'm going to take advantage of insomnia and type the rest to you now while I won't be interrupted.
First some imagery: Imagine your leg is a board that your trying to secure to a wall/your horse's side. Now imagine putting one nail in the board, close to the top. That's like gripping with your knee. You apply ANY force or pressure to the board, and the bottom of it (your lower leg) swings. Now imagine putting another nail in the board, towards the bottom, by your ankle bone. Two nails in the board, it's not going to swing, right? So while you're riding, if you feel your leg come off, think to yourself - put another nail in the board.
I really like your saddle, and I understand you're not in a big English riding area, but I'd love if you could find one of the older, no knee roll, flat as a pancake, close contact saddles like a Prix de Nations or a Prix de Saute to ride in for a while. A deeper seated saddle with knee blocks allows you to get away with pinching with your knee in a way the old style close contacts just didn't.
Okay, more exercises -
Start with the first stretch I gave you above. When you find your good balanced two point, do a "rider's pushup" - slowly close your hip until your chest touches the horse's neck, keeping your back flat and eyes up. Really focus on the body mechanics - as your hip closes, you must push your buttocks to the back of the saddle so your crotch stays over the middle of your saddle. If your pubic bone bumps the pommel, that's an "Ah! Ah! Ah!" reminder - push to the back of your saddle. This is WAY harder to do correctly than it sounds. Come back up to your balanced two point without using your hands or pushing off against the neck. You will have to both relax your knee and put that other nail in the board and secure your lower leg to do this correctly - your leg moving or shifting is another "Ah! Ah! Ah!" Do 3 - 5 of these at a time, really focusing on the mechanics, and then work up to several sets of 5. You're trying to make a new muscle memory to replace the old bad one, so it's not a case of practice making perfect, it's perfect practice making perfect.
When you're pretty solid at the halt, try at the walk, trot and eventually the canter. If you feel yourself getting sloppy, losing your lower leg, rounding your back or tipping forward onto the neck, go back to a slower gait and fix it.
After you're pretty comfortable that your joints are working correctly at trot in two point, here's one more exercise to create the correct muscle memory - pick up a trot on the rail and count 5 strides sitting, 5 strides in two point and 5 posting for one lap of the arena. Pay attention to what happens to your hip, knee and ankle as you change positions - really pay attention to the correct fold in your hip as you move into two point, and opening your hip as you go to sitting. As this gets easier, add a lap of the ring at a lower count - 1 lap 5/5/5, 1 lap 4/4/4, 1 lap 3/3/3, etc.
Then it's time for the no stirrup work, and some grids and gymnastics, trying to carry this new muscle memory over from the flat work to the over fences. And I say no stirrups not just because it's a terrific way to build strength and fitness, but because it's much, much harder to brace or pinch with your knee with no stirrups, so it's easier to find the correct mechanics over fences without them at first.
Don't feel bad - for a long time in my dressage education, I could only sit a working trot correctly without stirrups; if I picked them up, I reverted to my hunter seat leg and pushed my seatbones off of the tack!
Actually, that is my trainer's saddle, not mine. My saddle she said supposedly wasn't a close contact, but I think it is. It has no knee rolls on it, just flaps. So I'll work in that (obviously, as you can tell, and in my other recent English riding thread, things with my trainer are not going well at all - maybe you could advise me on that too?).
I plan to go out today and ride after I run a few errands in the next hour. I'll let you know how it goes within tonight or tomorrow.
Tried the first exercise you gave me tonight where I am supposed to stand in the saddle and then slowly come back down. It felt really great, and I was pretty secure. I can see a world of difference between that and what I was doing for a two-point. Rusty was a trooper, too, as I just saddled him before supper and had him stand there while I did the exercise.
What do you think of this saddle? Is it close contact and sort of what you were talking about earlier?
Hopefully tomorrow I can go out and work on this muscle memory. :)