In this first photo, I'm doing a 'cast'. It's pretty much the most basic thing you can do on bars! I thought my feet were together but, well, they just aren't are they?! Maybe my hips aren't level, maybe my shoulders aren't level, maybe my back is twisting, maybe I'm weak down that side, probably all of the above... Another strong possibility is that it's hard to keep your legs in the right place when you can't feel them!
Now let's have a look at my needle on the horse. When I do this move, I have no idea how high I'm getting that right foot. Generally, I just keep pushing as hard as I can. The problem with this is that there comes a point where you overbalance, because the foot starts to go too far over and because, if you let your hips twist (which you shouldn't but I'm not perfect!) it starts to go over to the other side. I've toppled over a few times with this one, which isn't great for the marks or the horse. I don't have an answer for this problem yet - at the moment I just try to keep shoving my foot up until that break point where it starts to feel wobbly...
This one makes me laugh because it's such a good example of having no concept of what my legs are doing! The first time I did this move it looked like the picture on the left. My friend, who'd just taught it to me, said, 'Straighten that leg, Lizzie!' I was astonished that it wasn't already straight and didn't actually believe her until looking at the photos later...
In the photo below, you see The Most Inelegant Gymnast This Side of The Moon. You could also detect, etched into my face, the word, "WHY???????" I can't feel my right foot on the bar, but I know it's there because I'm not plungeing downwards. I can't really feel my left hand on the bar either, but I can feel that it's gripping and that I can't lift it, so that must mean it's on the bar. I haven't the foggiest how much higher I need to lift my left leg for me to put my foot on the bar, because I can't see it. I can't see it because I know that the only way I can survive this ridiculous activity is to keep my eyes fixed on the top bar. As soon as my left foot hits the bar (and I will know this only because it's stopped moving, and I will only know that if the rest of me doesn't fall) I'm gonna jump! I have no balance for hanging around up there and making the skill look a bit less like Tough Mudder unless it's a really good day, and as it's simply a regular day it's mere survival that counts! Did I ever mention that I hate bars?
Here's one I remember very well. It was the English Vaulting Championships, 2017, and this was the first move of my freestyle. Unfortunately, I'd popped a bit of my right ankle out on the mount, so you could say that it already wasn't going great (I don't feel pain when this happens, but I do notice my right hip dropping and usually hear some funky, unhealthy sounds). I tried doing the move with my left leg up but didn't have the co-ordination to change quickly like that. I tried to give my foot a wiggle with my hand to try and slide the bit of ligament back across, but as it was my left hand I couldn't really do that properly either. In the end I just had to keep going and hope that I'd either slide my ankle in the right way naturally or I'd just survive. I remember nothing else of the routine except for putting it back in once I'd dismounted so I think it was the survival option I went for in the end!
The photo below shows one of my all-time favourite things to do. I share it mostly because I am always astonished when I land the right way up - I really have no idea how it happens as I have zero sense of where I am in the air, and what shape my body is in. I know this is a skill that has to be developed but it doesn't seem to show any sign of developing in me yet! Every single time I fling myself into the pit, for whatever skill (or should that be 'skill'?), I have no idea what's going to happen. It's fun - a little journey of discovery each time!
Ah, beam. I actually really love beam. I particularly enjoy doing cartwheels on beam, even though it is probably one of the daftest things I do. I love how pure it is, though: either you land both feet on the beam and stay up, or you don't. I never know how it's going to work out and I never know if my feet are really there or not until I'm coming upright - which I think is another reason why I find it hard to balance (on top of my innate inability not to fall over). The thing I always have in my head is that if I can cartwheel on a line, I can cartwheel on a beam. It's no different. I can't feel the line, and I can't feel the beam. It should be simple. It ain't!
The next one is one that makes me wince to look at it now... 🙈 but the issues are ones that I still struggle with because, although I'm a better rider now, I still have barely a clue of what my legs are doing. This is from one of my earliest dressage competitions and the three things that scream out at me are: rising too high, lower leg too far forward, and what on earth am I doing with those reins. This was just a particular moment in a video which looked dreadful - most of the rest of it looked far better - but I hope I'm better about these things now! I'm really conscious of them and try hard to be in the right position, so I hope that's (at least) half the battle...
Joking apart, though, it is a bit of a miracle that my weird old brain and knackered old body can pull these things off. If any medics end up reading this, do you fancy doing some research and figuring out what is - and isn't - going on?!
These are just a few examples of things I find hard or mistakes I make that are due, in part, to my terrible proprioception and touch sensation. I find it interesting but also frustrating that I can improve tiny aspects of my proprioception but that these improvements are specific to one movement or activity - e.g. one particular move on one particular horse. They aren't global; I can't apply them in all situations and that seems a bit unfair! It makes it hard to progress a skill because each progression means starting again - but I suppose I'm starting from a stronger point than otherwise.