Tips from Train­ers Who Teach

Dressage Today - - Content - By David Thind with An­nie Mor­ris

David Thind tells you how to im­prove body aware­ness for a bet­ter seat.

There are many pieces that come to­gether in the rider’s seat that al­low her to ride har­mo­niously and ef­fec­tively. When I teach, I of­ten fo­cus on two re­lated con­cepts that the rider can work on for im­prove­ment in the sad­dle. Self-im­age and body aware­ness help any rider un­der­stand how her body works as she rides and give her tools to con­trol her body in a re­laxed way.


Your self-im­age is how you imag­ine your­self. It is your own map of your body and its in­vol­un­tary func­tion. What body move­ments are pos­si­ble or im­pos­si­ble, dif­fi­cult or easy? What do you see when you close your eyes and imag­ine a pro­file of your­self sit­ting on your fa­vorite horse? What do you not see? To im­prove your own self-im­age, be spe­cific. Fill in the parts of the map that are blurry or miss­ing one piece at a time. For ex­am­ple, do you know what your pelvis looks like? How does the fe­mur at­tach to the hip’s ball-and-socket joint? Where is that at­tach­ment? To get a more de­tailed pic­ture, you can feel your own body, ask an ex­pert or even look at a skele­ton. This will help you un­der­stand how your body moves with the horse in a way you can recre­ate when you are in the sad­dle. The more cu­ri­ous you are, the bet­ter you can cre­ate your own self-im­age. You can also learn about your horse and his move­ment for a more com­plete pic­ture of how you move to­gether.

Self-im­age and self-es­teem go to­gether. Many of us have ex­pe­ri­enced be­ing praised in a les­son, and the boost in self-es­teem im­proved how we thought of our­selves and there­fore en­hanced how we rode. You can do this for your­self. Re­al­ize that your body has the po­ten­tial to move like any­one else’s body. Look at your fa­vorite Olympic rider, for ex­am­ple. Al­low your­self the free­dom to think that your body and brain are as ca­pa­ble as his. Tell your­self that you can do it. There may be dif­fer­ences in your goals, how of­ten you ride or how sym­met­ri­cal you are, but you have the same body parts. Learn­ing to truly be­lieve in your­self can im­prove your self-es­teem and then your self-im­age has the chance to per­form at higher lev­els.

Now watch your fa­vorite Olympian ride. Be par­tic­u­lar as you watch how she uses her seat and body so you can ap­ply the con­cepts to your own rid­ing. How does the rider move? How does she ab­sorb the horse’s move­ment at all gaits? Do you see the mo­tion of a bounce, spi­ral or pen­du­lum in her move­ment that you can recre­ate? How do each of her joints move with the horse? There is no end to how you can dis­sect these move­ments. The more you know about how rid­ers work, the more spe­cific you can be as you fill in the map of your self­im­age. This al­lows for new pos­si­bil­i­ties to per­form at a higher level with fewer self-im­posed lim­i­ta­tions. Then you will be aware of those parts of your body and can ride more ef­fec­tively.

Body Aware­ness

Body aware­ness is when you can in­flu­ence the parts of your body that you mapped in your self-im­age and de­velop pos­i­tive pat­terns that help you ride bet­ter. This will en­hance com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the horse and lead to bet­ter per­for­mance while avoid­ing neg­a­tive ten­sion in the body.

Peo­ple are some­times un­aware of pat­terns of ten­sion that show up in their bod­ies. All the pat­terns that ex­ist in your body were de­vel­oped by your brain be­cause those pat­terns were use­ful at some point in your life. One ex­am­ple is a small amount of jaw ten­sion. This is use­ful so we don’t drool. How­ever, an ex­am­ple of ten­sion that is not use­ful is a tight lower back that causes the pelvis to tilt for­ward, also known as the fork seat. This pat­tern will pre­vent the rider from

fol­low­ing and in­flu­enc­ing the horse ef­fec­tively with the seat.

When I teach, I try to show the rider a new pat­tern rather than crit­i­cize her old pat­tern of move­ment. For ex­am­ple, I won’t tell this rider with lower-back ten­sion to “sit down” be­cause she will add new force to fix her­self in this po­si­tion and will quickly re­vert to the old pos­ture. In­stead, I help her by find­ing a new pat­tern to teach her body to use it­self in a new way. For ex­am­ple, I ask her to imag­ine her pelvis as a bowl filled with soup. She must keep the soup from spilling out of the bowl. To do this, I en­cour­age the rider to find her two seat bones and her pu­bic arch and sup­port her weight evenly to re­lease the ten­sion and sit re­laxed. There is no stan­dard for­mula that works for all sit­u­a­tions, but to­gether we find the eas­ier and bet­ter solution, which will be ab­sorbed by the brain as a new pat­tern. I never sug­gest some­thing harder, like forc­ing the body into a fixed po­si­tion.

An­other rea­son I al­ways pro­mote soft­ness, as op­posed to force, is be­cause soft­ness is re­quired for the rider to ride with feel. Imag­ine some­body hold­ing a bag of grain. A friend qui­etly lays a feather on the bag, but the holder of the bag won’t feel its weight. If that same per­son is hold­ing a piece of pa­per and the same feather is put on top, the pa­per holder will feel the weight of the feather. In other words, if your start­ing point is based on force and ten­sion, you will be far­ther away from feel­ing. Re­duc­ing the ini­tial ef­fort helps the rider be ef­fec­tive in a sen­si­tive way. When you know the feel­ing of a light, neu­tral seat, you can bet­ter mea­sure the amount of each aid be­cause you are aware of how much force you add. Find your start­ing po­si­tion for all oc­ca­sions. At a square halt:

If you ever feel you are ap­ply­ing too much ef­fort while you are rid­ing, take a moment to breathe. Breath of­ten re­duces the mus­cu­lar ten­sion you are un­aware of. Ex­hal­ing can help you find a way to come back to a start­ing point where there is re­lax­ation.

Rid­ing with a clear self-im­age and height­ened body aware­ness is not only help­ful for im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion and bet­ter per­for­mance, but a re­quire­ment in up­hold­ing the clas­si­cal tra­di­tion of achiev­ing har­mony between horse and rider. Fill in your own self-im­age us­ing your knowl­edge of your­self and in­spi­ra­tion from oth­ers. You can then use body aware­ness to con­trol your body parts and build use­ful pat­terns to im­prove your rid­ing. Re­mem­ber to breathe and en­joy re­lax­ation in your body and avoid push­ing any joint to a fixed po­si­tion. When these pieces come to­gether, you will en­joy im­proved feel and sen­si­tiv­ity.

The late Dr. Reiner Klimke has been my role model for many years. Look at your fa­vorite Olympic rider and al­low your­self the free­dom to think that your body and brain are as ca­pa­ble as his.

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