December 1, 2009
Direct your body’s segments to become a better conscious and subconscious rider.
By Jody Reynolds in The American Quarter Horse Journal
Before David Avery became the director of international affairs for AQHA, he was an AQHA Professional Horseman in Roswell, New Mexico. He also had a unique way of training his students. He developed a “checklist,” or preparation process, for getting on your horse, through years of studying techniques of successful trainers in varied disciplines.
David’s checklist covered each body segment and position and encouraged riders to become subconsciously aware of their body positions and how they communicated to their horses. With a deep level of body position knowledge, riders are able to act and react to their horses more appropriately for a winning run, regardless of the event.
“It’s like loading your computer,” he says. “It takes a while, but once you have everything in your memory bank, then you’re closer to your subconscious and conscious mind. All you have to do is react to the actions and not have to think about them.”
Here are two important lessons David taught his students:
There are three segments to your seat:
The “on” position – The pelvic area is against the seat of the saddle.
In front – The pubic bone is against the seat of the saddle.
Behind – The gluteus is against the seat of the saddle.
Practice all three positions to establish the range of motion possible from your seat to the horse’s back.
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“When you’re behind, that retards forward impulsion on your horse because you’re sitting heavy on the horse’s back,” David explains. “When you’re in front, you can rise out of the seat or settle. That’s your ideal position when you approach a calf if you’re roping. Always be in front of the motion, never behind.”
There are seven segments to your legs:
- Upper-third thigh – Where the gluteus ties into the groin area around the leg – where your hip and femur attach. You can squeeze and release these areas.
- Middle-third thigh – The large, fleshy portion of the thigh. Squeeze and release together or independently to direct your horse and retard or encourage impulsion.
- Lower-third thigh – Where the knee connects to the lower part of the leg. Squeeze and release to feel yourself rise out of the saddle. Many people will first grip with the lower thigh to stay on and wonder why their horse is going fast. Once they have an understanding of this segment, they realize how to control their horse’s impulsion.
- Upper-third calf – Just below the knee. Creates lateral and diagonal control. The amount of pressure you use in the lower part of your leg determines the reaction to an action.
- Middle-third calf – The large, fleshy portion of the lower leg. Lateral and diagonal direction as well as forward impulsion comes from this area. Squeeze and release together or independently.
- Lower-third calf – Where the ankle attaches to the foot. It acts as a pendulum, depending on how far you take your foot away and how much you bring it back. Your horse will tell you how much pressure you need to apply to get a desired reaction. Some horses take less pressure, and some take more.
- Spur – An extension of your heel. Keep in mind that spurs are tools that are only as good as the person using them. Use spurs correctly or leave them off.
“A lot of times, it’s difficult to isolate these areas in the beginning,” David says. “It can take a long time – two or three lessons – to teach all the information. But it makes you more aware that you use these different segments of your body, although you might not be conscious of it. The checklist gets your subconscious working so you can trust your mind’s eye. I can prepare anybody to ride and be more aware no matter how skilled or what the discipline.”
For instance, with the knowledge from Lesson 1, David was able to help a rider control a speedy horse.
“If a horse is too fast, I’d say, ‘Middle-third calf, right leg and behind.’ ”
These cues, ingrained into the rider through repetition and exercise, instruct to release pressure from parts of the right leg and sit back on the gluteus to slow the horse.
A. Your eyes are the windows to the world.
It’s important for any rider to develop scope – sending your eye to the point you want to be so the horse will meet it. Ropers must be trained to send their eye to their roping target.
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Without scope, you’ll get behind the motion just as you would if you weren’t sitting “in front” of your saddle.
In addition to physically seeing your target, focusing on your eyes will help you develop your mind’s eye. Your mind’s eye – subliminal or oblique vision – can make you more aware of actions and reactions.
“When a horse is getting ready to buck or do something that’s undesirable, lots of people get bucked off because they’re not aware,” David explains. “Let your mind’s eye actually see. It’s like subliminal messages in movie theaters. Your mind’s eye can see it, but your conscious doesn’t.”
David assessed a rider’s confidence by gauging the eyes.
“The eyes do not lie,” he says. “If a rider doesn’t trust his eye, I’ll see it and know. He’ll look down, he might drop his chin. His eyes will go down to double check to see if he has the right lead. You have to trust your mind’s eye.”
B. Your chin needs to be parallel to the ground.
“Present yourself with an air of confidence without being cocky; be aggressive without being arrogant,” he says.
C. Keep your shoulders up and back.
“When people get nervous, afraid or unsure, their shoulders will close in together.
As an exercise, touch the scapulas of your shoulders together behind your back. This lifts your diaphragm, allowing an open passageway of clean air to the blood supply.
“This refreshes our system and helps us control our adrenaline,” he says.
D. Raise and lower your diaphragm.
Use the shoulder exercise to help strengthen and position your diaphragm for strong, controlled breathing.
E. Strengthen your lower back.
Use concave and convex exercises to keep your lower back aligned and strong.
With knowledge of Lesson 2’s body segments, David was able to suggest a simple posture change that would drastically change a rider’s performance.
“If I put three words together, ‘eyes, shoulders and behind,’ you’d be amazed at how the alignment of a person’s body will become ear-hip-heel. The rider has a complete understanding of every segment of his body.”
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