Balance (sorry it’s a long one!)

So, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is-warning, this is a long one.

So the first picture is roughly five years ago, so summer of 2011?  We were at a stock show, and I did show western, but had been riding in the hunt saddle because it fit me better than the stock saddle did.  The second image is from a dressage show in October of 2015 (she took first place!).  Like I said before, still not “skinny”, but we are work in progress.

I have had one of those eclectic horse experiences.  My family moved all over the US and what is popular in one corner of the country is bunk in another.  I have ridden western pleasure, western performance (team penning, barrel racing), HUS, hunters, dressage, and even a little bit of saddleseat. I bought the dressage saddle because the stock saddle fit so badly (very small seat) and I felt unbalanced in the hunt saddle–ie, not enough seat to suck all of me in. Also, upon our first foray in NoVA, dressage was the thing at the barn where I boarded and my WP got dirty looks. This was also not a first, and because the horse is amazing, switching to lower level dressage was not going to harm any of our WP training.  Despite the screaming naysayers, lots of this riding thing we do is the same.

I was at my heaviest in 2011.  My whole body balance was terrible, not just in the saddle.  It is a very frustrating and depressing feeling to be trapped in your own body.  It’s not the same as just disliking how you look. Girls are taught to competitively hate their bodies from a young age(1).  The girls in my family were taught that our whole self worth was directly correlated to the look of our bodies.  My gram once told me that it was good that I was smart, because I would never be pretty enough to be married.  (Yeah, thanks Gram.) This is not a pity party, this is to create some comprehension.  I was over my body not being perfect.  After a while you hit a certain point where it all becomes static, and you realize that you have to love you before you can truly love anyone else.  (Does this mean I am never insecure in my body?  Hell, no.  It drives my husband crazy when I complain about my appearance.  It just means that sometimes I have to recognize my priorities again.) The time leading up to that picture was stressful.  In the two years prior somewhere I broke, and my body paid the price for it (hello, disordered stress eating!). I was trapped and stuck in a cycle of continuous dieting and medication circus that went nowhere. I was tired.  I was depressed. And my stupid body couldn’t do the things it did before, and I was wrong. I felt wrong in my own skin.  I kept telling my trainers that my balance was off.  That I felt like I was sitting incorrectly.  I couldn’t get myself right in the saddle, even in the new saddle. My barnmates just thought I was a crappy rider, and I certainly felt like one. The blessing and the curse happened spring of 2013, Tricia contracted Lyme Disease.  Now we were both trapped in our bodies.

At one point stepping forward was impossible for her, nevermind trotting or cantering.  I thought I had lost her, that she was off to be retired at home far away from me.  I railed myself for keeping her-should have sold her-she would have been better off with someone else, someone more capable-maybe she wouldn’t have gotten sick.  The two years between 2013 and 2015 were big ones for both of us.  We were both learning new balance and new ways to move forward.  I was recapturing some of the rider I used to be, and she was getting stronger.  Even with all of the trials over those two years, horse-wise they were a win.

Balance is essential for your health(2). There are 300 muscles that hold you up every day, and tending to those muscles can drastically improve brain function, heart function, and GI function.  Cognitive decline is less in people that have good balance.  As riders we seem to know this.  How can you feel your horse’s balance if you cannot get a handle on your own?  This is what I meant by feeling off or wrong or incorrect.  My balance was off, so my feel was off.  Can a saddle help with this?  Sure.  But will it fix you?  Nope. That muscle strength is something you have to do for yourself.  So go take a walk or a jog if you’re feeling ambitious.  Walking a minimum of 30 minutes each day can drastically improve health and wellbeing(3).

The purpose of all this information?  We are on to the third saddle.  This weekend I had to purchase a Wintec WIDE.  The saddle snob in me is still reeling.  I am trading my Stubben for a Wintec.  Lesigh! The Stubbens (the hunt and the dressage) were too wide when I started this journey.  Both have the largest tree width offered in Stubbens “normal” range of saddles.  Tricia has built up enough topline to fill them out.  I bought the dressage saddle because I needed a 19.5 seat to accommodate me.  This time, the saddle truly is for the horse.

Our past two lessons have been really amazing for me in building confidence in my riding or my ability to get in touch with the rider I used to be.  My trainer has commented on how I can keep my dressage leg, despite being in an AP.  And that I have a feel for the horse and her balance.  These moments help me remember that I can and that I am no longer trapped.  When things are frustrating, those moments help me to remember that I can get where I want to go.  I have the experience, and more importantly, the ability.

So do you.

  1. Ross CC. Why do Women Hate Their Bodies. World of Psychology. via psychcentral. Accessed Nov. 1, 2016
  2. Sousa, Raquel Ferreira de, Gazzola, Juliana Maria, Ganança, Maurício Malavasi, & Paulino, Célia Aparecida. (2011). Correlation between the body balance and functional capacity from elderly with chronic vestibular disorders. Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology, 77(6), 791-798.
  3. Walking your Steps. Harvard Men’s Healthwatch. via Accessed Nov 1, 2016

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