Re­solve Bal­ance and Straight­ness Is­sues

Rider biome­chan­ics ex­pert Su­sanne von Di­etze cri­tiques Hay­ley Baker on Oliver.

Dressage Today - - Clinic - By Su­sanne von Di­etze

In the pic­ture be­low Hay­ley Baker is rid­ing Oliver, owned by Heather Howard. I have no in­for­ma­tion on the horse’s age or what level they are work­ing, but my first thought on this pic­ture was: Wow, what a cute Haflinger! He looks for­ward and will­ing with a very good hind leg mov­ing well un­der the rider’s weight. He looks like a fun horse to ride. When I look closer, I no­tice some bal­ance is­sues that are hid­den (and com­pen­sated for) by Oliver’s for­ward at­ti­tude. Bal­ance is al­ways eas­ier when mov­ing faster. This is best ex­plained when com­par­ing it to learn­ing to ride a bi­cy­cle. It is more dif­fi­cult to bal­ance when you are mov­ing slowly.

In this phase of the can­ter, Oliver has just landed on his out­side hind leg. The next legs to touch down will be the di­ag­o­nal pair of the inside hind leg and out­side front leg. While his inside hind leg is lift­ing in a nice an­gle, his out­side front leg is al­ready stretch­ing straight down to­ward the ground. This de­tail tells me that Oliver is speed­ing up his shoul­ders in this mo­ment, and that can make him a lit­tle heav­ier in the front. More self-car­riage and longer “air time” for his shoul­ders would be on my wish list for him.

If you look at Oliver’s back­line, you will no­tice that his croup is lower on the left side and, at the same time, his left shoul­der ap­pears a bit higher than his right shoul­der. Hay­ley can ad­dress this lit­tle twist inside his body by rid­ing more shoul­der-fore and many changes be­tween straight and bend­ing lines.

Look­ing at Hay­ley, I no­tice that her left shoul­der is car­ried a bit more for­ward, too, and this twist in her seat makes her shoul­der ap­pear some­what tense. If I imag­ine her shoul­der a lit­tle far­ther back and more re­laxed, I can see a more har­mo­nious and sup­ple pic­ture.

Hay­ley’s seat looks up­right and she is very con­cen­trated on rid­ing cor­rectly. She coun­ter­bal­ances her for­ward left shoul­der by mov­ing her left leg slightly too far back. Her inside leg should be on the girth, which means you should not see the horse’s hair be­tween the girth and the rider’s leg.

Be­cause of this, I prob­a­bly would list straight­en­ing as one of my goals for Ha­ley and Oliver’s les­son plan. To start, I would ask Ha­ley to ride in walk with a long rein on a straight line and

take her feet out of the stir­rups. I might even ask her to close her eyes to en­hance the feel within her body. A lit­tle aware­ness check can be very help­ful to un­der­stand the com­plex in­ter­play of move­ment.

Hay­ley’s task is now to try this: Turn your whole body to the left and to the right and feel what this ro­ta­tion trig­gers in your body. Con­cen­trate on what hap­pens to the weight on your seat bones when you turn. Ide­ally, there is a lit­tle shift of weight to­ward the side you turn. If your weight shifts to the op­po­site side, it cre­ates in­sta­bil­ity in your seat dur­ing turns and lat­eral move­ments.

No­tice: What hap­pens to your legs? Can they stay sup­ple in the same place or do they in­vol­un­tar­ily move? Do your shoul­ders stay level or does one shoul­der want to drop down lower? Does your head (eyes) want to turn more than your body to one side? Do your ears stay at the same height when turn­ing? The an­swers to those ques­tions would be­come a guide­line for re­fin­ing the les­son plan.

The key tool to ad­dress straight­ness is work­ing in rhythm. Rhyth­mic move­ment of the shoul­ders can help you find a bet­ter shoul­der po­si­tion with­out ten­sion.

A nice ex­er­cise here can be per­formed in ris­ing trot. Try this: Start to shrug one shoul­der up and down, then switch and move the other shoul­der. Then move both shoul­ders to­gether up to your ears, re­lease to a mid­dle po­si­tion and then push them far­ther down to­ward your hips. Keep each po­si­tion for the same num­ber of strides and get into a rhythm. Think: up–re­lease–down–re­lease. This will help you move your shoul­ders in­de­pen­dently of your seat.

Now, take the same idea and ap-

ply it to the next ex­er­cise. The only dif­fer­ence here is that the di­rec­tion that your shoul­ders are mov­ing will change. First, bring your shoul­ders for­ward, in front of your chest, and feel them be­come more nar­row in front, stretch­ing over your back, and then re­lease. Next, open your chest and widen your shoul­ders while mov­ing them back. Here, it is very im­por­tant that you do not move your el­bows back. Move be­tween th­ese po­si­tions in rhythm as you did in the first ex­er­cise. Think: nar­row–re­lease– widen–re­lease.

After you free your body in all th­ese direc­tions, you can change the ex­er­cise and do only re­lease–down, or re­lease– widen. This will help you softly cor­rect your shoul­der po­si­tion with­out al­low­ing ten­sion to creep in.

To help Oliver’s shoul­ders in the can­ter, I rec­om­mend work­ing him on a di­a­mond. Change the round 20-me­ter cir­cle into a di­a­mond shape with cor­ners and straight lines. It is best placed in the cen­ter of the arena with cor­ners then hap­pen­ing at E, B and when com­ing across the cen­ter­line. Of course, this can be rid­den first in trot be­fore ad­vanc­ing to can­ter.

Hay­ley should re­mem­ber that once the horse is in the air, it is al­ready de­ter­mined where he will land. Any in­ter­fer­ence from the rider dur­ing the land­ing phase only dis­turbs the bal­ance. The rider‘s task is to give the di­rec­tion for fu­ture strides. Think­ing and rid­ing for­ward is, again, of prime im­por­tance. By chang­ing the cir­cle into a di­a­mond shape, Hay­ley should pic­ture where both of Oliver’s front legs will be land­ing on the next and next and next strides.

Some­times the di­a­mond can also be­come a rhyth­mic game: ride three strides turn­ing through a cor­ner to three strides straight. This in­ter­play of turn­ing and straight­en­ing will help Oliver to achieve a bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion be­tween his pelvis and shoul­ders and im­prove the self-car­riage of each can­ter stride.

Once this is es­tab­lished Hay­ley may feel that she can in­flu­ence the di­rec­tion of Oliver’s shoul­ders merely by start­ing to turn her own shoul­ders. Then it be­comes a rhyth­mic bal­anc­ing-and-straight­en­ing task for both of them.

I hope th­ese ideas will en­cour­age Hay­ley and help her and Oliver to dis­cover more se­crets of bal­ance and straight­ness in move­ment.

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