Clinic Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques rider pho­tos.

Biome­chan­ics ex­pert Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques a Fourth Level com­bi­na­tion.

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This pic­ture shows Jes­sica Smyth on her 10-year-old Swedish Warm­blood mare, Star. They are cur­rently com­pet­ing at Fourth Level. Star is mov­ing with nice en­gage­ment from be­hind, and from the pic­ture I would guess that they are work­ing on trot ex­ten­sions on a cir­cle. Star shows en­ergy and elas­tic­ity in the move­ment and an ap­pro­pri­ate amount of col­lec­tion for this level. It is a good pic­ture to show that the ex­tended move­ments are closely re­lated to col­lec­tion. The same amount of en­ergy that is nec­es­sary for the col­lected move­ment can be used to pro­pel the move­ment more for­ward into the ex­ten­sion. This is re­ally vis­i­ble in the pic­ture. The an­gle of the pho­to­graph makes it a lit­tle hard to judge the neck position. I as­sume that Star has a very nice frame in the col­lec­tion (be­fore start­ing to ex­tend) with the poll as the high­est point and the nose slightly in front of the ver­ti­cal and a nice soft­ness to the in­side flex­ion. Her mouth is closed and shows foam, which is al­ways a sign of a relaxed poll and true sup­ple­ness, as only then can the glands pro­vide the saliva to show the foam on the mouth.

Prac­tic­ing ex­ten­sions on a bent line not only works on the horse’s abil­ity to lengthen the strides, but also im­proves the lat­eral bend­ing work. If you con­cen­trate on rid­ing the ex­act same cir­cle line on what­ever size cir­cle you choose, the horse should be able to keep the same num­ber of strides for each quar­ter of the cir­cle. Riders who are blind ac­tu­ally use this tech­nique to make sure the cir­cles are per­fectly round. When de­lib­er­ately putting in more or less steps per quar­ter of the cir­cle, one can be sure that the horse cor­rectly length­ens or short­ens the strides and does not merely be­come slower or faster. If, on the same cir­cle line, the horse needs fewer strides, she nat­u­rally needs to bend in her body a bit more than when us­ing more strides. That is why horses of­ten tend to en­large the cir­cle dur­ing ex­ten­sions to avoid bend­ing more in the body. Us­ing this knowl­edge can be a very good tool to im­prove the horse’s bend while rid­ing for­ward. Too of­ten, riders slow down their horses too much when aim­ing to bend more (start­ing from the hands), and this photo is a very good pic­ture to ex­plain the con­nec­tion of the for­ward move­ment and the lat­eral bend­ing of a horse. It re­minds me of the clas­si­cal sen­tence from Gus­tav Stein­brecht: “Ride your horse for­ward and straighten him.”

When I look very crit­i­cally at this pic­ture, I no­tice that the horse’s neck is still in the frame for the col­lected trot, but her body and legs are al­ready open in the ex­ten­sion. You can see that the front leg reaches far­ther out than her nose.

To per­fect this al­ready pretty good mo­ment, Jes­sica should en­cour­age Star to reach out with her neck and to­pline to carry her head far­ther for­ward. That would give the ex­tended move­ment more bal­ance and longer air time.

When school­ing the elas­tic­ity of the tran­si­tions be­tween col­lec­tion and ex­ten­sion, it is im­por­tant that it starts in the horse’s body (as seen in the pic­ture)—only then can the neck be­come free and reach out more, too. If the neck gets too long too early, the horse can­not find the bal­ance in her body and will not be able to ex­tend well. This pic­ture shows enough bal­ance in the horse’s body for Jes­sica to start ask­ing for a bit more open frame in the neck now, too.

Look­ing at Jes­sica’s seat, I can see that she is aware of this and car­ries her hands with the in­ten­tion to sup­port the up­hill and for­ward ten­dency in this move­ment. Her in­side leg is right in place and she is look­ing for­ward and very con­cen­trated. Her seat shows a con­sid­er­able amount of feel and ex­pe­ri­ence. She is us­ing her pelvis and seat to en­cour­age Star’s hind legs and to start the ex­ten­sion cor­rectly from the hindquar­ters through the body to the front. Now she has to be care­ful not to be left be­hind the mo­tion.

In the mo­ment of the pho­to­graph, it ap­pears as though Star got the mes­sage and re­acted to Jes­sica’s weight aid very promptly. Jes­sica does push her hands for­ward to al­low the for­ward move­ment, but her up­per body stayed slightly be­hind, still ask­ing for the for­ward move­ment. This is not se­vere, but it can be enough to cause Star to brace in her neck as a bal­ance re­ac­tion.

Con­sider this sce­nario: Imag­ine stand­ing on a skate­board and quickly lean­ing a lit­tle bit back to give your legs and the board a for­ward im­pulse. If you are not fast enough to bring your body back over your legs, the skate­board will take off

alone and you will end up sit­ting on the ground as the board rolls off. Jes­sica, of course, does not look like she is in danger of this, as her bal­ance is not at risk. But be­com­ing aware of this mo­ment can help her im­prove the qual­ity of her ex­ten­sion.

Qual­ity move­ment in trot re­quires some elas­tic­ity and springi­ness in­side the move­ment. I of­ten com­pare it to jump­ing on a tram­po­line: If you want to land safely on your feet, your head should be po­si­tioned well over your feet. It is eas­ier to main­tain this position when you are tak­ing small jumps for­ward, but be­comes harder when jump­ing a far­ther dis­tance for­ward. Now, think of this in terms of the rider’s up­per­body bal­ance for rid­ing shorter strides and then length­ened strides.

For Jes­sica, this tram­po­line ex­am­ple should help her un­der­stand that merely push­ing with her pelvis can re­sult in her legs com­ing in front of the align­ment line. Then, she gives the horse a for­ward im­pulse, but her body bal­ance stays be­hind the move­ment. A bet­ter for­ward align­ment of her up­per body will help her to ride the ex­ten­sion with more har­mony, flu­ency and qual­ity.

I would ad­vise Jes­sica to con­cen­trate on her up­per body and chest bal­ance dur­ing these ex­ten­sions and al­ways think fu­tur­is­ti­cally. She needs to bring her up­per body for­ward to­ward the place where the horse will land on the next stride. Then her pelvis will be sup­ported by her up­per-body bal­ance and it will be eas­ier for Star to stretch this lit­tle bit more in her to­pline and score even higher in her al­ready very nice ex­ten­sion.

I hope that this im­age will deepen Jes­sica’s un­der­stand­ing of her horse’s needs and bal­ance. I wish this har­mo­nious and tal­ented pair many happy hours of ex­plor­ing higher level se­crets in dres­sage.

Jes­sica Smyth rides and com­petes her 10-year-old Swedish Warm­blood mare, Star, at Fourth Level.

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