Getting a Grip, or Not

Saddle Seat Wednesday

Originally I had planned to hold off pontificating on this subject. I’ve had so many theories; I wanted to see if this had any bearing in reality first. Unfortunately, recent show schedules have sent Coach Courtney and us out of town on alternating weeks over the last month & a half. No lessons means no current saddle seat news. So, here we go.

I have no idea how to use my reins.

I’m clever. I can make it look good. Hands generally where they are supposed to be. No slack in the reins, most of the time. However, it is all facade. There is no true communication with the horse’s mouth.

My default rein mode is non-existent. Even with reins at the proper length, my fingers hang at the end of my hands like dead worms. I decide that I should pick up a contact, so I do. Then I don’t let go. Once you pick something up, you are supposed to hold onto it, right? It would be as if I picked up a telephone but either stood there doing nothing, or pushed one button continuously. Neither leads to a successful phone call.

I go a long way by compensating with my seat, legs, and weight. My legs are so reliable that I sold my previous saddle seat saddle because I couldn’t get my legs to behave. That never happens. I’ve had a judge compliment my leg position, while placing me last in the class. (BTW, current owner of saddle is doing fabulously with it. Go figure.)

I am not without good points. I don’t balance myself off the horse’s mouth. My hands are stiff rather than heavy, think cardboard instead of brick. Light but inflexible. When I’m doing anything with them at all.

It works most of the time. The horse goes where I want, when I want. The problem is that when it doesn’t work, I don’t know why. Therefore I can’t fix it. Nor can I predict problems. This allows for a certain amount of uncertainly to creep in.

Of course, no one cares what a rider does with the reins, per se. It’s all about organizing and influencing the horse. The legs of the rider motivate the legs of the horse. Got that. The horse pushes off from his hind legs delivering energy forward. Yeah, okay. The rider then gathers the energy so that the horse is ready to jump, half-pass, or do a flashy show trot down the long side. This is where it breaks down for me. What do with the front end of a horse remains a complete mystery.

How The Horses Feel About It
This is why I am able to hit myself over the head with the thought that

Turns out there are two horses* in the world I can ride, and one of them is dead. [Anatomy of a Snit]

To some extent this is true.

Horses who are islands unto themselves, such as Sam & Previous Horse, don’t care if they are suddenly bereft of rider support. ‘You saying anything I can use? Okay, I’m listening. You got nothing? Okay, fine. I’ll toodle along until you sort yourself out.’

Horses of a more sensitive disposition – Trump [Show Report] and Desi [Show Report] – stress when the rider does not offer sufficient guidance.

School horses who have to deal with heavy-handed beginners – Bingo [Snit] and Annie (But the kids ride her!) – get pissed when I hang on their face.

Pushy horses – Robert [Show Report] and Iggie [Lengthen Your Reins, Show Report] – use my stiff reins to pull me around, or my loose reins as an excuse to cavort – Robert [Show Report, Show Photo].

What It Explains
Why I get so nervous. Imagine you were driving a car. Most of the time, everything is fine. Then 1%, or even 0.1%, of the time, the steering goes wonky. Things are out of your control. You have no idea why. Most importantly, you have no tools to address the problem. Even if it doesn’t happen very often, the thought that it might would make you jittery whenever you go to sit behind the wheel.

Why I can’t drag my ass out of the basement. I can pick up lower-level anything: beginner hunter/jumper, beginner dressage, beginner eventing (back in the day I could kick just about any horse around baby novice), and beginner saddle seat. I suspect I would have done beginner western if I had ended up there [Checklist]. Yet, historically, I’ve had no luck getting past intro level: three-foot hunter/jumper, Training-level dressage, Novice eventing. At some point, one has to stop thundering around on the forehand.

Why it’s harder on Saddlebreds, One. I can’t compensate with my lower leg. The saddle seat position takes away the strongest weapon in my arsenal.

Why it’s harder on Saddlebreds, Two. I’m doing okay when my butt is in the saddle: at home at a walk, in dressage lessons at a sitting trot, and in saddle seat at a canter. My saddle seat canter is poetry. Alas, no one cares. Saddle seat is all about the posting trot. The movement of posting means your hands must have a mind of their own. They can’t simply be an extension of what you do with your upper body.

Why It’s a Good Thing
I’m excited. It explains so much. I’m more able to cope if I know WHY.

If I can get my hands to match my legs, watch out world.

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

3 thoughts on “Getting a Grip, or Not

  1. I don’t know if it’s helpful or not to you, but I think of using a full bridle like playing a harp – your finger pulls on this rein until it gets the response, then it releases the string, but you never take your hands off of the harp… Some horses it’s more like playing cat’s cradle with them, especially the gaited horses it seems like…

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