I wound up riding M twice this week, and it's amazing how much just a little more saddle time can make a difference.
My back was finally feeling mostly better by Monday, though it still really wanted to crack if I stretched it out in certain ways (though it wouldn't actually crack, which is either a good or bad thing?). I had scheduled a lesson but my coach wound up having to be out of town last minute, so I went out and rode anyway. I put in a good 45 minutes.
I felt a lot better than I had the previous few rides, that was for sure. I had some problems, but they were more the result of rustiness than back stiffness. All my bad habits came out to play! My left arm and shoulder were popping forward, my hands weren't as low or steady as they could have been, and my stirrups were bouncing home on my feet, especially at canter. My right leg was inching up at canter, as well, so that my stirrups that side was rattling around all over the place. I couldn't see myself, but I suspect I was collapsing my right oblique at the same time, since that's my MO as well.
Still. Still. My transitions felt pretty good, and my accuracy was still showing improvement. I was able to mostly sit the canter instead of just weirdly perching like I had been. I had some definite bounce, but it wasn't awful. I played with my rein lengths a little, letting them be out a bit longer in warm-up to give her the option to stretch down. Once we got moving I shortened them up, and caught myself in the mirror a couple of times with her very nicely framed up, nose on the vertical, stepping under. I played a bit with taking more and pushing more. The stronger my legs get, the better this is starting to work for me!
Despite being a bit wobbly, I decided to do a little bit of no-stirrups sitting trot. My with-stirrups sitting trot was NOT good, so I decided to drop them and suck it up and make myself bounce around a lap and a couple of circles each direction. It was a bit dicey, haha, but I did it anyhow.
Yesterday (two days after that ride) I had a lesson. Everything felt MUCH better! Although I was still popping my left shoulder forward. There was no mention of me collapsing to the right, so I think that is getting a lot better. I tried riding in a shoulders-back harness, but it didn't do much for me. I think maybe it needed to be tighter to do the job. If I try it again, I'll give that a go.
There were two things that went unusually well for me in a neat way! For one, my canter seat felt pretty effortlessly stable. I had no bounce at all for the first ten minutes or so of the lesson. I think this was actually helped a lot by being back in my good leather half chaps, as it was warm enough not to need any extra insulation on my legs. A stable grippy lower leg meant my seat wasn't budging at all. Neat when you experience how interrelated all these things are. It's one thing to know it intellectually, but so cool to actually have it just *happen*. Not that I never bounce while I wear them, haha, but they definitely helped this time. I did notice myself bouncing a little more later in the lesson when I got a bit tired or if something was distracting me. It was easy to catch myself, though, and pull myself deeper into the saddle by thinking about keeping those legs in place. I also managed to avoid the bouncing stirrup effect, largely by thinking of pushing down into my right heel slightly on the 1 beat of each canter stride. They definitely weren't bouncing home this time, and my right leg wasn't riding up.
The other cool thing was M really collecting down into her downwards transitions. It was a very cool feeling, like she was coiling up like a spring. She was REALLY stepping under herself for these! It felt so neat! The upwards transitions were great too; she was very ready and precise. At one point, she did something I found really funny: we were doing a walk to canter transition, and I was getting ready to ask but wasn't *quite* there yet. She started a canter stride, then kind of halted in the middle of it, like "Er, is that what you wanted?" and then walked a step or two, then we actually cantered off. Roxanne said she was so under herself in that moment that she sort of caught herself by surprise. So neat having a horse be THAT on the ball!
I also had a chance to go over some of the leg position stuff that I've been puzzling about a bit lately. Apparently I'm not in a chair seat, which is good to hear! The stirrup bars being set further forward on a jumping saddle mean that having my legs hang straight down from them, they're still going to be slightly ahead of my hip, and that's fine. I'm riding correctly in the type of saddle I'm in. The other thing is, I was wondering if I was correct to weight the outside of my stirrup bar on the flat, but then even out the weight for two point and jumping to avoid rolling my ankle. And that was correct, so that's cool! I don't need to go so far as to weight the INSIDE of the stirrup bar over fences, but it is okay for my toes to angle outward more than on the flat in order to have the security of the ball of my calf in place.
My left turns need work but I'm feeling generally pretty good about my riding right now, from that lesson. On a left turn, trying to simultaneously push my left shoulder back and down, rotate my upper body to the left, lift my left hand slightly but keep my elbow in and my rein aligned instead of popping it over to a leading rein position.... Aaaaughgghghhhh I feel like a pretzel. I'll just have to keep stretching it and working it. So many things that started out feeling like I would NEVER get them have just come with time and good instruction. So, I have faith.