The Dres­sage Seat

Tips on how to ob­tain cor­rect pos­ture and a sen­si­tive seat

Dressage Today - - Bookexcerpt - By Anja Beran Photos cour­tesy of Trafal­gar Square Books

In her book, The Dres­sage Seat; Achiev­ing a Beau­ti­ful, Ef­fec­tive Po­si­tion in Ev­ery Gait and Move­ment, Ger­man trainer and au­thor Anja Beran breaks down the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments of the rider’s seat on the horse. She of­fers a unique per­spec­tive on the use of breath when rid­ing and ex­plores the need for an im­proved in­ner at­ti­tude in or­der to truly re­fine the rider’s seat. In the fol­low­ing ex­cerpt, Beran works with phys­io­ther­a­pist, dance and gym­nas­tics in­struc­tor Veronika Brod to help rid­ers un­der­stand their own anatomy and how it af­fects their rid­ing. This ex­cerpt is used with per­mis­sion from Trafal­gar Square Books. The book and the DVD of Part I are avail­able through www.EquineNet­workS­

The horse loves a part­ner who gives dis­tinct and un­der­stand­able im­pulses and aids. This part­ner­ship comes from a rider who is re­laxed and al­lows the horse to move har­mo­niously. But why do many rid­ers have back pain after rid­ing a horse who was un­will­ing and ir­ri­tated? Why does the horse fre­quently not re­spond to the aids or misunderstand them? To an­swer these ques­tions, we need an in­di­vid­ual and ex­ten­sive eval­u­a­tion of the rider on the horse. But be­fore an­a­lyz­ing how the rider moves when rid­ing, we need to eval­u­ate the pos­ture at rest and cor­rect it as needed.

Ba­sic Anatomy

To un­der­stand the ef­fect the rider’s pos­ture has on the horse and how the horse in­flu­ences the rider, we must take a look at the anatomy of the hu­man body. The ba­sic anatomy of the up­per body and trunk is most im­por­tant and is pre­sented sim­ply to make it eas­ier to un­der­stand the com­plex pro­cesses in the body. It is as fol­lows:

The ver­te­bral col­umn is com­prised of seven neck, 12 chest and five lum­bar ver­te­brae as well as the sacrum and the coc­cyx. When seen from the side, the spine is shaped like a dou­ble “S.” This shape serves as shock ab­sorp­tion un­der a load.

The ver­te­bral bod­ies are con­nected to each other by mus­cles and ten­dons, are mo­bile at the ver­te­bral junc­tions and are sep­a­rated by discs. The discs are made of a gelati­nous core en­closed in an elastic fiber ring. They also have a shock­ab­sorp­tion func­tion. With the “S” form of the spine, there is good mo­bil­ity and an elastic spring ac­tion that pro­tects the in­di­vid­ual struc­tures and en­ables an ef­fec­tive range of mo­tion con­trolled by the mus­cles.

The rib cage pro­tects the in­ter­nal or­gans such as the heart, liver, spleen and lungs. It is also im­por­tant for breath­ing. It is com­posed of ribs that are at­tached to the tho­racic ver­te­brae and in front at the ster­num. This struc­ture sup­ports the tho­racic spine. The lower ribs are not di­rectly con­nected to the ster­num, but to car­ti­lage. Dur­ing in­hala­tion the distance be­tween the ribs in­creases and the ribs are “open.” Dur­ing ex­ha­la­tion the distance de­creases and the ribs are “closed.”

The shoul­der gir­dle con­sists of the

clav­i­cle, which runs from the ster­num to the shoul­der blade, and con­nects the arms through the shoul­der joints to the trunk, al­low­ing for a great deal of mo­bil­ity.

The pelvis is com­prised of two hip bones that are at­tached to the sacrum, two seat bones and the pu­bic bone. Both halves of the pelvis are con­nected in front by strong con­nec­tive tis­sue—the pu­bic sym­ph­ysis.

The mus­cles are re­spon­si­ble for all move­ment. Some are un­der our con­scious con­trol and di­rected by nerve sig­nals. Some work un­con­sciously in cir­cuits for pos­ture con­trol. Mus­cles can only con­tract and re­lax. Con­se­quently, they work in pairs so the pre­vi­ously con­tracted mus­cle can come back to its orig­i­nal length in or­der to con­tract again. For rid­ing, at the shoul­der, you need the chest mus­cles in front and the an­tag­o­nist mus­cles that at­tach to the shoul­der blade and pull back and down. On the up­per arm, you need the mus­cles that raise and lower the arm. At the el­bow and the wrist, you need the flex­ors and the ex­ten­ders. In the trunk are the length­wise oblique and di­ag­o­nal mus­cles of the back, side and stom­ach. At the hip, we use joint ex­ten­sors and flex­ors and mus­cles that turn the thigh in and out as well as ab­duc­tors and ad­duc­tors. The mus­cles of the knee, an­kle and foot act sim­i­larly to the arm mus­cles.

The whole sys­tem of com­po­nents that carry the body and those that move the body is highly com­plex and re­quires the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents to be per­fectly in sync to be able to move at all. How the move­ment goes is de­pen­dent on the qual­ity of the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents, such as mus­cle mass, joint qual­ity or ten­don and lig­a­ment sta­bil­ity, as well as the start­ing point of the move­ment.

So is there a spe­cific pos­ture where all ac­tions (mus­cle ten­sion, move­ment, re­lax­ation and re­turn) are healthy, ef­fec­tive and har­mo­nious? The an­swer is yes: It’s erect pos­ture.

Erect Pos­ture

A pos­ture where all the com­po­nents of your ver­te­bral col­umn and the struc­tures at­tached to it are in a re­laxed po­si­tion, from which move­ment in all di­rec­tions is pos­si­ble and to which it re­turns, is con­sid­ered erect pos­ture. First, we fo­cus on the pos­ture of the head, trunk and pelvis in or­der to have a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing about the pos­ture of the up­per body.

How should you think about erect pos­ture? Your ver­te­bral col­umn should show the so-called dou­ble “S” shape to pro­vide the ad­van­tages al­ready dis­cussed and to en­able move­ment from a re­laxed po­si­tion. This also op­ti­mizes the horse’s move­ments and leads to a har­mo­nious and healthy co­or­di­na­tion be­tween rider and horse.

To keep it sim­ple, the up­per body is di­vided into three build­ing blocks: head, chest and pelvis. These are at­tached one on top of the other to make the dou­ble “S” shape.

- The head build­ing block in­cludes the skull and the neck ver­te­brae.

- The chest in­cludes the ver­te­brae of the chest, the ribs, the ster­num, the shoul­der gir­dle and the shoul­der joints.

- The pelvis build­ing block in­cludes the lum­bar ver­te­brae, the pelvis and the

hip joints.

When seen from the front and be­hind, the line of the shoul­ders should be par­al­lel to the line of the pelvis. Both lines are par­al­lel to the ground. Any de­vi­a­tion of any of the three build­ing blocks, whether to the front, to the back, to the side or through ro­ta­tion, dis­turbs your erect pos­ture and leads to a bad start­ing po­si­tion for move­ment, which in turn up­sets your bal­ance and re­sults in an in­har­mo­nious in­ter­ac­tion be­tween rider and horse.

How to De­velop Erect Pos­ture

The fol­low­ing prac­ti­cal ex­er­cise de­scribes step by step how to de­velop erect pos­ture. Prac­tice stat­i­cally—not on the horse. Con­trol of this pos­ture on a horse or in dy­namic move­ment re­quires a longer pe­riod of prac­tice.

Standing Ex­er­cise

1. Stand side­ways in front of a large mir­ror so you can visu­ally check and ob­serve ev­ery step of this ex­er­cise.

2. Place your feet par­al­lel and a lit­tle wider apart than your shoul­ders with knees slightly bent. This cor­re­sponds to the sit­ting po­si­tion on a horse.

3. Place your hands on the sides of your pelvis and move it for­ward and back with­out mov­ing the rest of your body. For this se­lec­tive pelvis tilt, imag­ine that your pelvis is a bowl filled with wa­ter, and dump the wa­ter out for­ward and back­ward (see above Il­lus­tra­tions A and B).

4. Find the mid­dle po­si­tion, where the wa­ter in the bowl is level. That is the neu­tral po­si­tion of the pelvis, from which you can move for­ward or back­ward and to which the pelvis re­turns. This is the pri­mary move­ment in rid­ing. The pelvis con­nects you to the move­ment of the horse (see above Il­lus­tra­tion C).

5. Lift the ster­num di­ag­o­nally for­ward and up. Imag­ine that your ster­num is pulled di­ag­o­nally for­ward and up.

6. Put your hands on the sides of your rib cage and breathe deeply in and out to feel the move­ment of the ribs. With a deep ex­hale, the ribs close and the po­si­tion is held by the ten­sion of the up­per ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles with the ster­num pulled as much as pos­si­ble di­ag­o­nally for­ward and up. You are es­sen­tially breath­ing over the stom­ach (di­aphragm) into the sides of the chest and the back area of the ribs (the back). The mid­dle build­ing block is held plumb and re­mains ex­actly above the pelvis build­ing block.

7. Let your arms hang loosely be­side your body with the shoul­der joints in a re­laxed neu­tral po­si­tion and the shoul­der blades pulled down. Imag­ine that you want to stick your shoul­der blades in your back pock­ets. From the side, your shoul­der gir­dle should now be di­rectly above the pelvis with­out be­ing be­hind it. There should not be any ro­ta­tion in your body.

8. Straighten your head by tak­ing the chin back a lit­tle (a slight dou­ble chin). The head is now in a neu­tral po­si­tion be­tween tend­ing for­ward and back­ward. The neck ver­te­brae as well as the ver­te­brae of the chest are stretched up­ward while still main­tain­ing their phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture.

You are now in erect pos­ture—all

“Be­fore ap­proach­ing a horse, the stu­dent must un­der­stand her body po­si­tion and the use of her arms and legs. Her body pos­ture must put her in bal­ance and show her the right way to use her limbs for guid­ing and grip. When she un­der­stands this on foot, she can get on a horse.” — Die Reitkunst im Spiegel ihrer Meis­ter (The Art of Rid­ing as Seen Through Its Mas­ters) by Ber­told Schirg (Olms Ver­lag, 1987)

your move­ments come from this po­si­tion. The com­po­nent parts re­turn to this neu­tral po­si­tion after all move­ment. This pos­ture en­ables the greatest pos­si­ble mo­bil­ity in all di­rec­tions. An ad­di­tional ad­van­tage is that your mus­cles aren’t in a short­ened po­si­tion be­fore a move­ment. This en­ables the rider to move op­ti­mally and to tense or re­lax with in­ten­tion.

If you are in a bad po­si­tion to start with, you will reach the end­point of your mo­tion quickly. The move­ment won’t be smooth, and in­cor­rect load­ing cre­ates ten­sion with pos­si­ble dam­age to discs and joints. Since it is also un­pleas­ant for the horse when the rider is tense, he is re­sis­tant.

Rid­ing con­sists of a con­stant ex­change of im­pulses and sig­nals from both par­ties. Ha­bit­ual pos­ture er­rors and de­vi­a­tions from an erect pos­ture must be an­a­lyzed and can be cor­rected with ap­pro­pri­ate and usu­ally sim­ple mea­sures.

First we ob­serve move­ment for­ward and back­ward and ori­ent our­selves on a two-di­men­sional plane. Our body func­tions dur­ing move­ment with much more com­plex­ity. The con­cept of the three build­ing blocks can now be used for a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion.

In­cor­rect Pos­tures and How to Cor­rect Them

You now know how to think about cor­rect pos­ture the­o­ret­i­cally. Anal­y­sis of in­di­vid­ual prob­lems and in­cor­rect pos­tures is im­per­a­tive. Only when you know your weak­nesses and pos­ture er­rors can you avoid them and straighten up. The fol­low­ing ex­am­ples can help you to an­a­lyze your pos­ture your­self and cor­rect typ­i­cal pos­ture er­rors. For a full anal­y­sis, I rec­om­mend you get help from an ex­pert.

Vul­ture Neck

When the head build­ing block is po­si­tioned for­ward, we call this a “vul­ture neck.” Cor­rec­tion point is the chin: Bring the chin back a lit­tle (a slight dou­ble chin) to bring your­self into erect pos­ture. Make sure that you don’t take the chin back too far (“clamped neck”). Make sure the head build­ing block is di­rectly above the chest build­ing block, and main­tain the phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture of the spine. (See Photo A be­low.)

Clamped Neck

When the head build­ing block is too far back, we com­monly speak of a “clamped neck.” Cor­rec­tion point is the chin: Bring the chin slightly for­ward to get back into erect pos­ture. Avoid an over­cor­rec­tion. (See Photo B be­low).

Over­stretch­ing the Chest Ver­te­bral Col­umn

When the chest build­ing block is po­si­tioned too far for­ward, we speak of an

“over­stretched chest ver­te­bral col­umn.” Cor­rec­tion point is the ribs: Close the ribs by ex­hal­ing and hold this po­si­tion with mus­cle ten­sion. Lay your hands on the sides of your ribs and breathe deeply in and out to feel the move­ment of the ribs. When you ex­hale deeply, the ribs close and the po­si­tion is held by the ten­sion of the up­per ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles. The ster­num should be pulled as much as pos­si­ble di­ag­o­nally up and out. You are now breath­ing above the stom­ach (di­aphragm), into the sides of the chest and back. The mid­dle build­ing block is held plumb and is di­rectly above the pelvis build­ing block. Make sure you don’t close the ribs too much (“rounded back”). Make sure the chest build­ing block stays di­rectly above the pelvis build­ing block and main­tain the phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture of the spine. (See Photo C above.)

Rounded Back

When the chest build­ing block is thrust back­ward, this is what we mean when we speak of a “rounded back.” Cor­rec­tion point is the ster­num: Lift your ster­num di­ag­o­nally up and out. Be sure not to lift the ster­num too much (over­stretch­ing the chest ver­te­bral col­umn), but make sure the chest build­ing block stays in the di­rec­tion above the pelvis build­ing block and pre­serve the phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture of the spine. The shoul­der blades should be pulled back and down. (See Photo D above.)

When the pelvis build­ing block is thrust for­ward, the pelvis tips for­ward and we speak of a “hol­lowed back.” Two cor­rec­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties: You can cor­rect from the pu­bic bone by tak­ing the pu­bic bone up­ward to­ward the ster­num (bring­ing the ster­num and the pu­bic bone closer). Or you can cor­rect from the im­age of the wa­ter bowl, with the pelvis tipped back­ward so the wa­ter is run­ning out the back (see Il­lus­tra­tion B on p. 48). Both con­cepts lead to a neu­tral po­si­tion of the pelvis and erect pos­ture. Make sure the tipping move­ment is not over­done or you will round the back in the lum­bar spine. Just get to a neu­tral po­si­tion. Main­tain the phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture of the ver­te­bral col­umn. (See Photo E on p. 50.)

Rounded Back in Lum­bar Area

When the pelvis build­ing block is thrust back­ward, we speak of a “rounded back in the lum­bar spine.” Two cor­rec­tions: You can work ei­ther from the pu­bic bone cor­rec­tion point by mov­ing the pu­bic bone away from the ster­num, or you can imag­ine that the wa­ter bowl in the pelvis is dump­ing wa­ter out the front (see Il­lus­tra­tion A on p. 48). Both lead to a neu­tral po­si­tion of the pelvis and an erect pos­ture. Make sure the tipping move­ment is not done too much or you will end up with an overex­ten­sion in the lum­bar spine (hol­lowed back). Just come back to the neu­tral po­si­tion. Once again, the phys­i­o­log­i­cal cur­va­ture of the spine must be main­tained. (See Photo F above.)

Phys­i­cal Re­quire­ments

Now that you have learned what erect pos­ture is and how to get it through cor­rec­tion points, it is very im­por­tant to con­stantly strive and prac­tice to make erect pos­ture a habit. Nat­u­rally this is all con­nected with cer­tain phys­i­cal re­quire­ments, which are mo­bil­ity, sta­bil­ity, co­or­di­na­tion and body per­cep­tion.

Mo­bil­ity is re­quired to get into erect pos­ture and to get in sync with the move­ments of the horse. Mo­bil­ity of the whole ver­te­bral col­umn, the hip joints, the chest and the shoul­ders can be im­proved as nec­es­sary with tar­geted stretch­ing and mo­bil­ity ex­er­cises.

The mo­bil­ity of one re­gion is heav­ily in­flu­enced by the mo­bil­ity of the neigh­bor­ing re­gions. For ex­am­ple, move­ment of the pelvis au­to­mat­i­cally re­quires move­ment of the lum­bar spine and the hip joints. Re­stric­tion in the hip joints af­fects the tipping mech­a­nism of the pelvis and thereby the mo­bil­ity of the lum­bar spine. Re­stric­tion of the neck ver­te­brae in­flu­ences the en­tire shoul­der gir­dle.

With­out the mo­bil­ity nec­es­sary for rid­ing, move­ments are dis­torted and there is no har­mo­nious move­ment pat­tern. Ver­ify that you al­ready have the nec­es­sary mo­bil­ity or whether there is need for im­prove­ment. You can de­ter­mine this with videos or photos, for ex­am­ple.

Sta­bil­ity is nec­es­sary for main­tain­ing erect pos­ture. Pos­ture weak­nesses and er­rors can be cor­rected by tar­geted strength­en­ing of spe­cific mus­cle groups. For ex­am­ple, pow­er­ful ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles com­pen­sate for the ten­dency to hol­low the back. Pow­er­ful back mus­cles com­pen­sate for round­ing the back. The lat­eral trunk mus­cles cen­ter the back

D. Rounded back

C. Over­stretch­ing the chest ver­te­bral col­umn

E. Hol­low back

B: Clamped neck

A: Vul­ture neck

Erect pos­ture: neu­tral po­si­tion

B. Pelvis (wa­ter) tipped back C. Hor­i­zon­tal wa­ter level: neu­tral po­si­tion of the pelvis

A. Pelvis (wa­ter) tipped for­ward

The up­per body (head and spine) as seen from the side, di­vided into three build­ing blocks: head, chest and pelvis

The ver­te­bral col­umn from the side.

The hu­man skele­ton

F. Rounded back in the lum­bar area

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