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.EquineNet­workS­

En­gage Your Core to Ride with More For­ward Hands

In this pic­ture Erica Lon­gen­bach is rid­ing Ju­lia Dear­born’s 18-year-old Hol­steiner geld­ing, Fred. They are cur­rently work­ing at Train­ing Level, aim­ing to im­prove light­ness, self-car­riage and up­hill bal­ance dur­ing down­ward tran­si­tions. Erica’s fo­cus is on de­vel­op­ing a cor­rect seat and work­ing to lower her cen­ter of bal­ance.

Fred looks ac­tive be­hind and works in a nice ba­sic frame. He ap­pears to be con­cen­trated and con­nected to his rider. His nose is slightly be­hind the ver­ti­cal. Es­pe­cially in down­ward tran­si­tions, I would hope for a lit­tle more reach through his topline to en­sure the self-car­riage. Erica ap­pears bal­anced and up­right with a nice long leg po­si­tion dur­ing this phase of her ris­ing trot. Many riders con­tract the leg when they sit down, but she man­ages to reach down into a long leg po­si­tion, keep­ing some weight in the stir­rup. Only her left hand shows an in­ward ro­ta­tion and some ten­sion around her lower arm and el­bow, hint­ing that her bal­ance is chal­lenged in this mo­ment.

This pic­ture is taken in ris­ing trot and Erica is just in the phase of mo­tion that oc­curs be­fore she sits down again—when the horse’s in­side hind leg will land. This is a crit­i­cal mo­ment in the ris­ing trot and of­ten riders are not aware of the dif­fi­culty of bal­anc­ing here.

Do not make the mis­take of think­ing that sit­ting down in the ris­ing trot can be com­pared to sit­ting down on a stool or chair. It is dif­fer­ent in a few ways. First of all, the horse is mov­ing for­ward, so the ac­tion of sit­ting down is a for­ward and down­ward move­ment, not a back and down­ward move­ment. If you for­get this, it can be easy to drop just a tiny bit be­hind the move­ment. That alone can cause this ten­sion I can see in Erica’s lower arm. I would ad­vise her to keep her up­per arms and el­bows push­ing slightly for­ward in front of her body to avoid this very small but in­flu­en­tial back­ward move­ment in her hands. Work­ing on this may al­ready im­prove the reach of Fred’s neck and nose slightly in front of (not be­hind) the ver­ti­cal. When rid­ing for­ward, all body parts must move for­ward. Re­mem­ber, if you don’t bring your hand up to speed with the horse, it au­to­mat­i­cally be­comes a back­ward, hold­ing hand, even if the rider is not pulling on or tak­ing the rein.

To im­prove this feel­ing, Erica should try the fol­low­ing ex­er­cise off the horse: Stand in front of a wall in rid­ing po­si­tion, with your legs slightly apart and bent a bit in the knees. Then make a fist and push your knuck­les into the wall. Now press your up­per arms to your sides and pre­tend you are per­form­ing a ris­ing trot, low­er­ing your seat bones back and down. No­tice that your hands will au­to­mat­i­cally move back and away from the wall.

The mo­ment you re­lease your up­per arm and from your el­bow push for­ward against the wall, you should feel an im­proved bal­ance in your body. As you push to­ward the wall and feel this im­proved bal­ance, you can imag­ine that you are push­ing for­ward to­ward the horse’s mouth. The low­er­ing of the seat in ris­ing trot can be com­pared more to a squat­ting move­ment than to sit­ting down on a chair.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Erica ex­plains that she

would like to deepen her seat in order to bet­ter help Fred, es­pe­cially in the down­ward tran­si­tions. To help her do this, I would like her to fo­cus more on bal­ance and elas­tic­ity as she deep­ens her seat. A com­mon mis­take that riders make when try­ing to sit deeper in the sad­dle is that they com­press their back and their horse’s back.

When we are con­nected to a for­ward­mov­ing ob­ject (car, bi­cy­cle, skate­board, skis, etc.) and all of a sud­den there is a stop, our body will want to con­tinue the for­ward move­ment as a re­sult of grav­ity. There­fore, we wear seat­belts in the car. In rid­ing, I of­ten com­pare the lower ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles to in­ter­nal seat­belts. If we only pas­sively bal­ance on the horse, our weight will travel on and push the horse’s bal­ance more on the fore­hand dur­ing the down­ward tran­si­tion. A seat­belt does not shorten. In­stead, it ac­tu­ally tight­ens as it ex­pands. Erica should feel how her ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles lengthen when she at­tempts to sit deeper, then her tran­si­tions can be rid­den with more self-car­riage and up­hill bal­ance.

From this one pic­ture, I get the im­pres­sion that Erica is al­ready very aware of her seat and is work­ing on the cor­rect path. This is why I de­cided to give her these lit­tle tips that she can in­cor­po­rate into her rid­ing and hope­fully gain more feel­ing and un­der­stand­ing of how her aids help (as the word “aid” sug­gests) her and her horse to find har­mony in a com­mon bal­ance.

Erica Lon­gen­bach rides Ju­lia Dear­born's 18-yearold Hol­steiner geld­ing, Fred, at Train­ing Level.

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