CLINIC

Dressage Today - - Content - by Su­sanne von Di­etze

Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques rider photos.

Fo­cus on the Spine to Cor­rect Shoul­der Po­si­tion

This pic­ture shows Alexandria Bel­ton com­pet­ing her 17-year-old Amer­i­can Paint geld­ing, Daffy’s Son Shine (“Co­qui”). Alexandria writes that she is suc­cess­fully com­pet­ing at Sec­ond Level and is school­ing Third Level at home with the goal of earn­ing her scores for her USDF bronze medal. Ac­cord­ing to Alexandria, Co­qui had only been rid­den in rein­ing, cat­tle work, jump­ing and Western plea­sure un­til he was 10 years old. Then she in­tro­duced him to dres­sage and now they’re work­ing their way up through the lev­els. This is a good ex­am­ple how the clas­si­cal, cor­rect rid­ing sys­tem al­lows horses of all types and ages to be worked cor­rectly and stay healthy and ath­letic in their move­ment.

In her note, Alexandria very ac­cu­rately de­scribes that it is now dif­fi­cult to work on fur­ther col­lec­tion and more light­ness of the shoul­ders as her horse is, by na­ture, bred and built more down­hill. She also re­ports that for her, too, it is hard to keep her shoul­ders back and that she has the habit of look­ing down.

I of­ten no­tice that there are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween horse and rider. So it does not sur­prise me that Co­qui and Alexandria are both show­ing this weak spot around their shoul­ders. Alexandria cor­rectly de­scribes this chal­lenge and asks for help in ad­dress­ing it.

Help­ing a horse to be­come lighter in the fore­hand needs a lot of sup­port and sta­bil­ity of the rider’s up­per body.

When look­ing at the pic­ture, I no­tice that Alexandria is rid­ing with a nice long leg po­si­tion and it seems to be only up be­tween her shoul­ders that she rounds. She looks down a bit and, as a re­sult, her arms are not car­ried enough for­ward.

Some­times one can build up sup­port and strength in the back by slightly round­ing the shoul­ders and keep­ing the up­per arms and el­bows a bit to the out­side. This cre­ates some stretch over the back and shoul­der area and that can help for a bet­ter con­nec­tion with the horse. How­ever, this round­ing cre­ates fake sta­bil­ity and will only work in the short term. When such a rider tries to cor­rect the round shoul­der po­si­tion and pulls her shoul­ders back and down, she of­ten be­comes un­sta­ble in the core and lacks feel for her horse’s needs and then the pic­ture be­comes more stiff than sta­ble.

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on bring­ing her shoul­ders back, I would ad­vise Alexandria to con­cen­trate more on the move­ment of her spine. Try this: Sit on a chair and

feel your col­lar­bones all the way from your ster­num to the sides of your shoul­ders. Then you should feel down the ver­te­brae of your neck and feel the one bone sticking out of the back of the neck the far­thest. This is the low­est cer­vi­cal seg­ment, called C7. To mo­bi­lize your up­per tho­racic spine, you should imag­ine a move­ment of round­ing your spine by let­ting the col­lar­bones move down while the C7 ver­te­bra pushes up. Then arch your up­per spine by lift­ing your col­lar­bones up as C7 moves down. This can be a very tiny move­ment, but it has great in­flu­ence on your head and shoul­der po­si­tion and your in­flu­ence of the horse.

Of­ten when we at­tempt to sit up straight, we only lift our chins and, by that, we shorten the back of our necks, which is not healthy. Then we be­come stiff in the shoul­ders by hold­ing them back, which means we are un­able to keep a soft, giv­ing and elas­tic con­tact with the horse’s mouth. In­stead of straight­en­ing in the up­per part of the spine, we move the lower ribs for­ward and we lean back. This stiff­ens the lower back and pre­vents us from fol­low­ing the horse’s move­ment smoothly.

The ex­er­cise I de­scribed teaches a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to straight­en­ing up in the body and con­nects the rider more with the seat, leav­ing her shoul­ders free and in­de­pen­dent. In­stead of forc­ing the shoul­ders back, the chest moves for­ward up be­tween the shoul­ders and this al­lows more sup­ple­ness com­bined with a more sta­ble core.

I de­scribe this in de­tail be­cause this will be­come the key for Alexandria to bring Co­qui into a higher level of col­lec­tion. Play­ing be­tween a tiny curl and arch move­ment will open new re­fined lev­els of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween her and her mount. Once she gets this feel­ing, her habit of look­ing down will fade out of her rid­ing au­to­mat­i­cally. I wish Alexandria and Co­qui luck and suc­cess on their way up to Third Level!

Alexandria Bel­ton rides her 17-years-old Amer­i­can Paint geld­ing, Daffy's Son Shine (“Co­qui”).

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.

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