An English Riding Lesson on Posture
I turned my head toward my daughter and raised my eyebrows slightly, the corner of my mouth tilting upward. "I know, I know momma." She was preparing to take her first English riding lesson, and the point the instructor stressed above all else was a familiar one in our house. 'Keep your bottom tucked, and your navel pulled in toward the spine.'
Millie's turn to ride came at the end of long line of girls. Once in the saddle, it was easy to see that while a healthy posture isn't automatic yet for her at home, flattening her shoulders and curving the spine inward at the bottom came easily when prompted to do so. Many of the children couldn't quite grasp what the trainer was asking them to do, but Millie had heard it all before.
For most of us, achieving correct posture will take concentrated effort. An effort we may have to remind ourselves and our accountability partners to make until it comes naturally. (I put up little pink post-it notes when I was getting started.) But a proper stance will come more effortlessly in time. I find that I'm carrying myself well almost as much as I catch myself not these days, a marked improvement.
During a demonstration in the arena I looked down to see Millie sitting with her legs together, ankles crossed and tucked a little underneath her chair. She had pulled herself up to her full sitting height so she could see over the arena wall. She was beautiful. The other girls sat more casually, some of them sitting with one leg tucked under their bottoms for a boost, and others slouching over the rail-- all of them with legs splayed about. I'll be honest and say I loved that too. What's more lovely than children behaving like children? It was a picture of relaxed and comfortable innocence; a scene I was happy to witness.
Even so, I cannot help but think the longer we walk around with rounded shoulders, drooping necks, and bellies pulling at our spines, the more challenging it will be to correct when we wake up to the fact that we need to. It's not as if posture is just about appearance and therefore easily written off. Posture is like other areas concerning our health, often what looks the best on us, is, in fact, the best for us. Sunburns and age spots are not as attractive OR as healthy as the skin of one who diligently where's a sunhat.
Riding wasn't the first time we joined a new activity where the posture we were instructed to use was the exact posture we are supposed to be using throughout the day anyway. My first light bulb moment on carriage was in a Pilates class when the trainer told us to tilt our behinds toward the ceiling, letting our spines drop to the floor. There really is a universal, correct way to stand, sit, and recline for our health-- and yes, it also has a visual appeal.
We are not horse people. My daughter, however, missed the memo. For years a desire to ride has consumed her. We hoped it would pass. We offered distractions. We talked about four-wheel pride. And just as she seemed to give up, we gave in. My husband and I discussed a compromise. Rather than the western style tradition that prevades our area, I would seek out English lessons. English lessons came with the benefit of not relying heavily on experts in the family as western does. In fact, Millie's instructor underscored this point for us, "In Europe, parents would never dream of teaching their own children to ride. You find a trainer; you learn the proper technique in the proper way. In western riding, your first experiences are with mom and dad in the backyard. You figure it out as you go and end up with a mix of what worked for them, and what works for you."
Surprising her with lessons...
Since I am among friends, let me speak frankly and say that it wasn't just the formality of the lessons that drew me to English-- the formality of the clothes-- the jodhpurs and paddock boots clinched the deal. And I think the clothes won over my daughter too. When we announced to Millie that she was getting riding lessons, she first thrilled to the idea, and then immediately buried her face into her dad's chest and sobbed. A dream realized. She was so overcome with emotion, I must admit, for a moment I was afraid she might be crying because we told her she would be starting with English (rather than Western). I worried she might have been disappointed she wasn't going to be the windblown, rough and tumble cowgirl she imagined after all. Not for a while anyway.
But then we took one step into the tack shop and her eyes fixated on a black velvet helmet. It was beautiful. She was sold.
The helmet, however, was not. And a more modestly priced one found its way home with us.
We'll have to earn the velvet.
As a clerk was helping my daughter get into her new boots, I leaned toward the shop owner tallying my bill and asked in a whisper which was her preference, English or Western? She stood opposite me across the counter, and with her tattooed sleeves and stretched earlobes and my starched blouse and modest pearls-- she stood opposite me in style too. I imagine it's not easy on children to have a mother always pulling them against the flow of current culture and I wanted the opinion of a riding expert with a modern vibe. Her answer gratified me, "Oh, English, definitely English! I ride both ways, but always go back to English; it cannot be beaten as a foundation for any style of riding she may want to do in the future. Starting with the best foundation is just so important, we always urge new riders to start with English."
And so it is with posture. No matter the 'style' of living we may do in the future, starting with the best foundation possible, is just so important.