CLINIC

Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques rider pho­tos.

Dressage Today - - Content - by Su­sanne von Di­etze

Su­sanne von Di­etze is a leader in eques­trian biome­chan­ics. A phys­io­ther­a­pist, li­censed Trainer A in­struc­tor and judge for dres­sage and show jump­ing, she gives lec­tures and sem­i­nars through­out the world, in­clud­ing at the pres­ti­gious Ger­man Rid­ing Academy in Waren­dorf. She is a na­tive of Ger­many and now lives with her hus­band and three chil­dren in Is­rael, where she com­petes at the in­ter­na­tional level. She is the au­thor of two books on the biome­chan­ics of rid­ing: Bal­ance in Move­ment and Horse and Rider, Back to Back. Find her books at www.EquineNet­workS­tore.com.

T his pic­ture (p. 22) shows Amanda Peer of Canada rid­ing her 14-year-old Olden­burg geld­ing, Caliente. They have com­peted through First Level and are now train­ing and work­ing to­ward Se­cond Level for the up­com­ing sea­son. Amanda writes that she has some back is­sues and is work­ing with dif­fer­ent treat­ments and ther­a­pies to im­prove her core. She also says that learn­ing and un­der­stand­ing more about rider biome­chan­ics has been very help­ful for her.

As far as I can tell from the pic­ture, Caliente ap­pears to be an el­e­gant horse with nice long legs. He seems to be very will­ing and it looks like he and Amanda trust each other and en­joy work­ing to­gether.

In this mo­ment of the pic­ture, Caliente is trotting down the di­ag­o­nal of the arena. From this an­gle, it is a bit dif­fi­cult to judge his true ac­tiv­ity from be­hind, as of­ten this per­spec­tive can change the vis­ual pro­por­tions.

Caliente’s frame looks ap­pro­pri­ate for a First Level test and it does look as if he could carry him­self a bit more for Se­cond Level, too. His nose is a bit be­hind the ver­ti­cal line and my im­pres­sion is that with a lit­tle more ac­tiv­ity from be­hind, the move­ment can come more through his back and then he will be able to bet­ter reach for­ward into the con­tact with his neck. My im­pres­sion is also con­firmed by the amount of dust that his hind legs cre­ate, as if he is drag­ging them and not us­ing them ac­tively enough.

Amanda’s seat looks cor­rect in the ba­sic out­line. It ap­pears that she is at­tempt­ing to sit as re­laxed as pos­si­ble, but by this is ac­tu­ally a bit too pas­sive, which does not help im­prove her horse’s gaits or his frame. I get this im­pres­sion be­cause her leg po­si­tion shows a slight out­ward ro­ta­tion in her hips: her legs just hang down. Her pelvis ap­pears to be bal­anced on top of the horse but is not deeply con­nected into his move­ment. I can also see that she is glanc­ing down at his neck, which al­ways weak­ens the ba­sic tonus and re­ac­tion time of the ab­dom­i­nal muscle chain.

If I were to plan a les­son for Amanda based on this photo, my list of goals for her would in­clude: build­ing core sta­bil­ity with­out be­com­ing stiff, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ten­sion in her body and then us­ing this to in­flu­ence the horse.

First, I would ask her to find a for­ward seat (jump­ing po­si­tion) while trotting. As she bal­ances her seat like this, she should con­cen­trate on feel­ing the ex­act mo­ment the horse’s hooves land on the ground. If she is pas­sively bal­anced, she will feel that the horse lands very shortly be­fore she can feel her own weight land­ing in her knees and stir­rups. In an ac­tively bal­anced seat, she and the horse should land with ex­actly the same tim­ing.

Why is this so im­por­tant? If you have ever jumped on a big tram­po­line at the same time as a friend and you do not land in a syn­chro­nized way, you will prob­a­bly start to an­noy each other. But, on the other hand, if your land­ing is timed to­gether, you can eas­ily jump much higher.

There­fore, you can see how sim­ply tim­ing your own body weight to feel and re­act to the rhythm of the horse is an aid for the horse to lift off the ground with more ac­tiv­ity.

Feel­ing this ac­tive bal­ance needs to con­tinue when per­form­ing ris­ing and sit­ting trot. This does not mean land­ing hard on the horse’s back. It means con­trol­ling your bal­ance and syn­chro­niz­ing it with his move­ment.

We have sev­eral dif­fer­ent phrases that we use in rid­ing to de­scribe this con­cept. Some say “con­nect­ing deeper with your horse,” “be­com­ing one with the horse’s move­ment” or “melt­ing

to­gether with the horse.” They all de­scribe this same idea.

To work to­ward the col­lec­tion that Caliente will need as he pro­gresses up the lev­els, he must stretch more through his back and topline.

No­tice how the horse’s topline is mir­rored in the rider’s back line. De­mand­ing more elas­tic­ity in both horse and rider means there is a need for more sta­bil­ity and more stretch. If you think of the way a rub­ber band works, you know you can in­crease the elas­tic­ity by stretch­ing it apart. Sta­bil­ity needs length and stretch­ing up needs ground­ing, which starts from the seat­bones and is se­cured by the long dres­sage leg. This is called cre­at­ing sta­bil­ity through con­trast.

In phys­io­ther­apy, you hear and read more and more about body fas­cia, which is a tis­sue that con­nects all mus­cles and or­gans through the whole body.

For Amanda, I would like to point out the im­por­tance of the long dor­sal fas­cia. This fas­cia starts at her eye­brows, runs over her head, down her neck and spine, along the back of her legs around the an­kles, un­der­neath her feet and to the big toe.

This fas­cia gets stretched and sta­bi­lized by stretch­ing the back of her neck up and reach­ing long in her legs while lift­ing her toes a bit up. Once her back line is sta­ble, it al­lows Amanda’s hands to move for­ward while she main­tains her core sta­bil­ity. At the same time, Caliente can feel more sta­bil­ity for his back and topline and dare to reach out longer with his neck with­out los­ing the bal­ance in his hind end.

The im­age that more sta­bil­ity and more col­lec­tion re­quire ex­pan­sion of the seat and topline (never short­en­ing!) is an im­por­tant tool for Amanda and Caliente to re­mem­ber on their way up the lev­els.

The eas­i­est way to dis­tin­guish

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