The Clinic

Dressage Today - - The Clinic - 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.

Un­der­stand Your Cen­ter of Dy­nam­ics in the Sad­dle

This pic­ture is of Kather­ine Shel­ton and her se­nior draft-cross geld­ing that she res­cued. Kather­ine is an am­a­teur rider and is pho­tographed here at her first school­ing show at In­tro­duc­tory Level.

The an­gle of this pic­ture shows the size of both horse and rider and it shows some har­mony be­tween them, too. They look fo­cused on their test and are clearly demon­strat­ing what they have achieved to­gether. Rid­ing is one of the few sports where you can see a va­ri­ety of body types per­form­ing well. I can imag­ine how much it meant for Kather­ine to res­cue this horse, train to­gether and head out to show! For this I give her a lot of credit.

While the sad­dle looks like it fits the horse well, it does look small on Kather­ine. Her com­pro­mise is to make it best for the horse first. The horse looks in good con­di­tion and seems to work happy and con­tent in a nice frame and con­tact.

Kather­ine is sit­ting bal­anced and quiet and ap­pears to ride with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion. Her leg po­si­tion shows some out­side ro­ta­tion, which might be due to the shape of her leg. Rid­ers with short and round thighs might have a very hard time stay­ing sup­ple in their hips when ro­tat­ing the leg fur­ther in. I no­tice that she is slightly look­ing down and sit­ting a tiny bit for­ward as if to sit lighter on her horse. This might also be be­cause she is per­haps in the sit­ting mo­ment of the ris­ing trot.

When an­a­lyz­ing rid­ers’ bal­ance, I of­ten com­pare two dif­fer­ent shapes of up­per body. When I look at a rider from be­hind, some look like a “V” with a nar­row pelvis and broad shoul­der, oth­ers look more like an “A” with nar­row shoul­ders and a broad pelvis. Kather­ine be­longs to the sec­ond group.

In terms of bal­ance, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what that means. It is a chal­lenge to bal­ance a V shape. In con­trast, the A-shaped body has a much more se­cure bal­ance, and that of­ten makes horses feel more se­cure. When the bal­ance is steady, even the weight of a plus-size rider is less dis­turb­ing than the weight of a rider who is un­bal­anced and in­se­cure.

Now imag­ine how the horse will feel a shift of weight. A V-shaped rider will have to move only a tiny bit to the side and the horse will feel the change. But an A-shaped rider will have to move much more to have the same ef­fect and in­flu­ence on the horse.

In my stud­ies of phys­io­ther­apy, I learned to pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the body’s di­ag­o­nals. If you draw a di­ag­o­nal line be­tween shoul­ders and hips, these di­ag­o­nals re­sem­ble our di­ag­o­nally struc­tured mus­cles, and all our move­ments are or­ga­nized in sync with these body di­ago-

nals. If you look at pho­to­graphs from all dif­fer­ent sports you can see many of those di­ag­o­nal move­ments.

When drawing these di­ag­o­nals into a body, they cross at a very im­por­tant point. I call it the dy­namic cen­ter of the body. This cen­ter is not equiv­a­lent to the grav­i­ta­tional cen­ter of the body.

Ap­ply­ing this to the A- and V-shape rid­ers shows:

What does that mean for rid­ing? To be able to use cor­rect seat and weight aids and in­flu­ence the horse, the two cen­ters need to con­nect and work to­gether.

For Kather­ine it means that if she moves only her up­per body, she moves her dy­namic area but there will be no shift of weight that the horse can feel. Only when she ac­tively con­nects the mus­cles from her up­per body with her pelvis can she in­flu­ence the horse.

A V-shaped rider may move much more in the pelvis and mid­sec­tion of the body and be un­able to give pre­cise aids (be­cause of in­sta­bil­ity in the mid­sec­tion) un­til she learns to con­nect the higher grav­ity cen­ter with the move­ment be­low.

The im­age that Kather­ine needs to keep in mind is to ride think­ing that she wants to stretch up from her pelvis, con­nect her grav­ity cen­ter with the dy­namic cen­ter and broaden her shoul­ders as much as pos­si­ble. Then she can get her mes­sages across to the horse with more light­ness and sup­ple­ness. This may al­low her to open her hip joints eas­ier and im­prove her leg po­si­tion. I wish Kather­ine and her horse en­joy­ment in fu­ture rides to­gether. Un­der­stand­ing the pros and cons of func­tional anatomy will help. Then the rid­ing can be­come a healthy sport for both of them!

Kather­ine Shel­ton rides her res­cued older draft-cross geld­ing at In­tro­duc­tory Level.

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