I think it was in my second lesson, this winter season here in Florida, that my coach Lou Denizard said something about my “cantilever point”. Cantilever?What? Images of bridges and concepts of mechanical engineering flew through my head!. To be honest I did not have so much as a gnat’s whisker of an idea of what he was talking about. But I was not going to stop in mid lesson and get into a discussion about it. I find that intellectualizing things does not help my riding. I either get it by feel and know that a concept is working for me or not. If not then I will ask at a later lesson about why I’m not getting it or let my coach know I can’t make the idea work for me. Both of my coaches, Lou here in Florida or Belinda Trussell at home in Ontario, are always willing to discuss anything and also ready and willing to move on to a different approach.
“Keep your shoulders over your cantilever point”. I heard that a lot. That did locate where this cantilever thing was anyway. Then there was reference to the imaginary whip that is across my thighs above my knees. That has to be evenly balanced . If not the cantilever would not function properly. Then my shoulders had to match up with the whip and also be evenly balanced.
I started to get a feel for the ‘cantilever’ idea. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when Lou told me I had to allow my arms to move independently with the movement of the horse but my shoulders had to stay over my cantilever. I started to feel how my cantilever kept my seat in the saddle and my torso upright. Everything works better like that.
So how can I explain this cantilever idea. Here is a basic cantilever image. Doesn’t look much like a rider? Well….. rotate it so the fixed end is at the top and the free end is at the bottom. The fixed end is my shoulders and the free end is my bottom that sits in the saddle and moves with the horse. If you have seen the mounting block exercises it may make this more clear.
Here is another photo of a cantilever chair that may give you more of an idea of a “rider”.
As time went on I got a better feel for the cantilever idea. It worked all sorts of magic for me. My arms and legs could move independently. My hips could move better with the horse. My left shoulder did not end up hitched up to my left ear. And so on .I don’t know if Irish rider Judy Reynolds has been told about the cantilever but here it is at work. Body upright, arms relaxed and giving, legs working independently.
Here is another example. British rider Charlotte Dujardin in a powerful extended trot, arms going with the horse out from her shoulders.
So there you have it. The mechanical engineering part of the cantilever that builds bridges may not be something I will ever be undertaking but this idea my seat and my shoulders as a cantilever is something that has helped me a lot in my riding.