My third lesson at Wofford's was nicely uneventful. Willy has settled into the routine there and jumped much better. I am interfering less, but still reverting to my bad habits when things get a little rough in front of the jump. We got some good tips and as always I have plenty of work to do at home.
The best part of the lesson for me, however, was when a rider in the previous group talked about "sitting down" at the canter to settle her horse. Wofford then went into a descrption of what the rider's hips do as the horse canters. He said that the horse takes your hips forward with every stride, and that a lot of people get that part and even push, but then don't make a point of bringing their hips back again.
To me this was a timely point. It was a new way of describing what I've been focussing on lately with my seat both in dressage and at the canter when jumping. It's something that I've also been teaching lately with great effect, especially for one student who is a very strong rider and squeezes herself up out of the saddle.
My way of talking about this has been that the rider needs to allow the pelvis to tilt a little forward, both in the half halt and at each stride of the trot and the canter. For the pelvis to tilt forward without the upper body going forward and without the leg going back there needs to be a little movement in the hip joint and there needs to be a nice curve in the lower back. This allows our seat to find the true three points of contact, the seat bones and the pubic bone. There are a lot of ways to describe this, and almost all of the corrections that trainers make in their students' positions are ultimately an attempt to get at this correct and balanced seat.
I know all this stuff about the seat quite well, and I do all sorts of physical manipulations of my students' legs, backs, hands, shoulders, and heads to help them find it. But despite all of this I don't always use it, and I forget just how many problems it can fix. Clearly one of the problems that this correct seat can fix is tension in the canter that can lead to bad jumping. When Wofford says to bring the hips back, in my mind he's saying that the horse has pulled them forward and put you a little on your tail bone. He's put you in a position where you don't have that nice 3 point balanced seat. He does that as he thrusts forward. Then comes the moment of suspension in the canter, and that's your opportunity to find your seat again. You have to bring your hips back to then tilt your pelvis and feel your pubic bone (there should be a better word, but crotch and all the others are bound to offend someone) reconnect to the saddle. If your thighs are clutching you can't do this, so part of the movement is to soften a little with the thighs, which also allows gravity to work and help you "sit down." That probably has a lot to do with the horse's relaxation, and increasing the moment of suspension in the canter. Even in the galloping position where your seat never touches the saddle a similar "coming back" into balance and allowing your weight to sink down into the stirrups has the same effect.
I find that the medium or extended trot has the same effect of pulling your hips forward, tilting you onto your tail bone, and making your thighs clutch. That's when the horse starts to rush and lose rhythm. By consciously reconnecting to the original correct seat with every stride, the horse maintains balance and rhythm. The half halt is merely refusing to allow the horse to bring your hips forward and holding the correct three point seat, with help from your legs. A half halt or downward trainsition without the correct pelvic tilt is a mixed signal to the horse, and you see it a lot. It's the people who look like they're water skiing. Their hips are locked, they are tilting back toward their tail bone, their lower back is rounded, their shoulders are locked. I know it well, because it's a tendancy I've had in my riding all my life.
So in a roundabout way I've been reminded that all the "over-riding" that I'm guilty of in the approach to jumps is an effort to compensate for my failure to maintain the correct seat. When I do it right with my seat and position, there is nothing left for my hands to do, and my horse stays happy. The next step is to teach this to my body, so my mind can focus on other stuff, like where the next jump is.