Dressage Today - - Content - by Su­sanne von Di­etze

Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques rider pho­tos.

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.

Im­prove Use of Weight Aids to In­flu­ence the Horse

In this photo, Sabine Anne Irbe is rid­ing her horse Dina, a 14-year-old Bel­gian Warm­blood. They are com­pet­ing at the Young Rider level to­gether, and from my un­der­stand­ing, they are from Latvia.

This pic­ture ra­di­ates a lot of pos­i­tive en­ergy. You can see how Dina is work­ing with the mus­cles in her hindquar­ters and she ap­pears fully con­cen­trated on her job. Swish­ing the tail, of course, can sug­gest some ten­sion in the back, and this of­ten hap­pens when per­form­ing some higher-level move­ments, such as work­ing on changes and more col­lec­tion. It’s al­most as if the horse needs to use the tail to in­crease the power from be­hind. If tail-swish­ing hap­pens con­tin­u­ously dur­ing the work, it needs to be checked out by a pro­fes­sional, but only once may just be caused by a fly.

Dina shows nice self­car­riage and an up­hill ten­dency in her shoul­ders and can­ter. Her mouth shows some white foam, and the con­tact and an­gle of the curb bit look like a light and nice con­nec­tion to her rider’s hands.

Sabine sits nicely fo­cused, straight for­ward, with a slight for­ward ten­dency in her up­per body and a very cor­rect hand and arm po­si­tion. I pre­fer a slightly for­ward up­per body in can­ter to an up­per body that gets left be­hind the move­ment, which dis­turbs the horse much more.

When I ask my­self what I would now teach to fur­ther im­prove this well­matched team, Sabine’s pelvis po­si­tion and con­nec­tion come to mind. I would like her to con­nect her pelvis bet­ter to the move­ment of her horse’s can­ter so that Dina can bet­ter con­nect be­tween her hindquar­ters and shoul­ders to de­velop bet­ter col­lec­tion in the body.

When look­ing at Dina’s can­ter stride, I see there is a sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance be­tween the land­ing of the in­side (left) hind leg and the out­side (right) front leg. This di­ag­o­nal pair of legs is land­ing to­gether in the foot­fall of the can­ter. The higher the qual­ity of the can­ter stride, the bet­ter the horse can bal­ance on this di­ag­o­nal.

Try to feel how the horse needs to bal­ance in the can­ter by stand­ing up and plac­ing one foot slightly di­ag­o­nally in front of the other one. When your legs are fur­ther apart, your cen­ter of grav­ity is lower and it is eas­ier to bal­ance. The closer the legs come to­gether, the higher your cen­ter of grav­ity be­comes and the bal­ance be­comes more frag­ile. Bal­ance on a higher level (think of a bal­let dancer) is more frag­ile. Bal­ance can­not be fixed or static— it will be lost and needs to be reestab­lished con­tin­u­ously. It is a mo­bile game!

For the horse this means that the closer she keeps her hind leg and front leg to­gether in the can­ter, the more ca­dence the can­ter will have with a higher-qual­ity bal­ance. The rider needs to help the horse find the bal­ance with ev­ery new stride.

Try this: Imag­ine that you are can­ter­ing/skip­ping on the ground like a horse. With ev­ery stride, your feet will land farther apart and your strides will be long and more for­ward. When you change the length of your strides and you skip with your sec­ond foot land­ing only a short dis­tance in front of the first one, you can feel how “col­lect­ing” the can­ter stride will feel for the horse. Your weight will shift from a more for­ward di­rec­tion (long strides) to

more lat­eral strides (short strides).

Your aids in can­ter are very sim­i­lar to this sit­u­a­tion. Imag­ine that your seat bones are your feet skip­ping on the ground. To fol­low the can­ter move­ment of the horse, the rider needs to shift her weight to­gether with the horse. The horse lands on the out­side hind leg and takes off on the in­side front leg. The rider’s pelvis fol­lows this move­ment and dur­ing each can­ter stride, the out­side seat bone lands first and then the weight is shifted di­ag­o­nally for­ward to the in­side seat bone. To in­flu­ence the can­ter stride, the rider can change the di­rec­tion of this shift of weight from more for­ward to more lat­eral just like when you are chang­ing the length of skip­ping strides on the ground. It is of­ten sur­pris­ing how well horses can un­der­stand this tiny change in the seat and then the rider does not need more leg or rein aids to keep the can­ter ac­tive and more col­lected.

Dina’s topline ap­pears shorter and a lit­tle hol­low in the area where the rider is sit­ting. The bot­tom line (stom­ach) ap­pears to be much longer. Un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of that di­ag­o­nal phase in the can­ter, one can then eas­ily make the con­nec­tion that the open, spread-out di­ag­o­nal mo­ment that Dina shows does not help to lift the back and ac­ti­vate the horse’s ab­dom­i­nal mus­cle chain. Here, too, the com­par­i­son to the skip­ping mo­tion can be help­ful. When skip­ping on the ground, put one hand on your lower back and one on your tummy. When you skip with big strides, the lower back will be more hol­low and the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles less en­gaged. When you skip with the feet closer to­gether (more col­lected skip­ping) the lower back will fill up more and the tummy mus­cles be­come au­to­mat­i­cally more ac­tive. The core mus­cles ac­ti­vate.

So the par­al­lel of the rider’s shift of weight and the horse’s stride in can­ter can in­flu­ence bal­ance, ac­tiv­ity and self­car­riage of the horse.

sabine Anne grbe of Latvia rides bina, a 1R-yearold Bel­gian Warm­blood, at the Young Rider level.

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