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Position Help Dressage Gurus!!

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  • #21
    Originally posted by Smthn_Like_Olivia View Post

    Sit back/up, sit tall, chin up, lift through your chest, legs long - I just threw that one out there because it's often the quickest thing to say in the moment when you're flying by on a horse. I live in a small town. Dressage instructors are not plentiful. We are both always on the look out for someone that can help us both improve. It's not a pick and choose situation unless you're willing to haul several hours away. Thanks for the books.
    Centered Riding, by Sally Swift, is another classic book with a lot of excellent visuals and imagery to help really explain how you should be physically moving and the sensations you should be aiming for. Swift had rather severe scoliosis and so developed a very keen sense of the how of things like feel and balance because she was sort of starting behind the 8-ball and didn't have the innate sense of balance that she saw in other more "able bodied" riders. I think a lot of what she says is very useful to those of us who have to spend many hours behind a desk, or who have weakness/stiffness etc because she acknowledges the how-to of physicality.

    Often, trainers - even if they are very good teachers! - can forget or simply not personally relate to the physical challenges of someone who isn't on a horse x-hours a day. Very good riders and trainers often do have their sense of feel and balance so internalized that expressing it in terms of what us mere mortals need to do with out bodies is a real challenge. I think this can apply to trainers who are very worthwhile good teachers and not necessarily a sign to head for the hills. If you find some of the imagery suggested in this thread or in books to be helpful, I'd encourage you to share that with your trainer. It should be easy for her to incorporate those specific images, and ideally it will help her to a) understand more generally the kinds of directions that are impactful to you and b) develop suggestions/imagery of her own to help you with other challenges as you progress.

    A very simple example of this, is that my coach often says "elbows" if I am getting locked up - because that is the joint that's connecting with the bit. When I think of correcting "elbows" things do improve, but only marginally. However, if I think of shoulders and thumbs (so a more whole-arm realignment) the improvement is significant - the actual change is really seen and felt in the elbow, but but physically I need to think about the adjustment differently. I explained this to my coach, and now she says "soft in the arm." it's very minor, but it's more effective for me.

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    • #22
      OP, the advice or images that work for you will be somewhat specific and personalized. But here is my two cents.

      1. Riding canted forward (as in HunterWorld where I came from) does not require lower core and less all-around core than does sitting on a dressage horse. There is no way around having to get stronger than you are at your office job or riding hunters. That said, aim to feel your lower belly and feel the whole front of your body getting tired when you ride. That will build muscle and tell you that you are building the right ones.

      2. If you are an old and competent hunter rider (like me) stiffening your hips (in the right position or not) will come naturally. And those muscles will be strong. And they are not what you want to use. Rather, I think we want to sit on the horse from that triangular bony base of our pelvis via balance and core with our hips relaxed. The weight and drape of our legs helps to keep us on the horse, but we aren't using our hip muscles to stabilize or resist movement. I think most of us know how to "relax and just follow" at the canter and the walk. But how to get your hips to "just do nothing" at the trot will take some intention and practice. Stiffening the hips postural habit and not something we think about... until we do. But it can be changed.

      3. I try to keep things really simple. I find that I can focus on two things in my equitation as I ride and do whatever else I have to shape the horse. In order to align my body so that I relax my hips and engage my core, I find that lots of leg problems are fixed by me trying to feel as if I am kneeling (as someone said above). I feel for that lower part of my knee that would be on the ground if I were kneeling, try to make it tingle and then think about putting it down, toward the ground rather than pointing forward. After that, I ask myself if I can feel my ankle and knee joint being loose. Lots of problems originate in a stiff knee (in both dressage and jumping seats). I find it very hard to feel whether or not my knee is stiff. But feeling for that kneeling position and my ankle is good enough to fix my leg. Kneeling will help you relax your hip, allow your thigh to come back, and force you to engage your core on the "down" part of the post. If you post and feel that you are sitting really deep or "into" your horse's back, that's the right spot. If you can stay there for a couple of strides, try it. That is the seat and level of connection to your horse's back you want.

      4. Lots of upper body alignment problems and slouching problems have been fixed for me by thinking about raising my sternum. You can also think about lengthening the distance from the wing of your pelvis to the bottom rib. But the sternum thing helps me put my rib cage over my hips; that forces me to use the front of my body to stabilize myself; and it allows my arms to drape down from shoulders that are at the back of my body. That sounds weird because of course your shoulder blades are on the back of your body. But the point is to orient your ribcage toward the vertical so that the shoulder joint (and your humerus) want to descend down from the side of your body, not the front. And I have short arms, so just thinking about my shoulder blades or pulling them back never helps. Raising my sternum really does!

      5. If you can go watch or ride with Susanne von Dietze, do it. She is the best dressage equitation clinician I have seen. She has exercises and ways of seeing how to fix problems that are amazing. Because the problem is to help you find whatever position, metaphor or exercise works for you and your body, I think there's no substitute for an actual custom lesson with a guru. It will be worth the price. But watching her instructions change someone else's body can help you along, too.
      The armchair saddler
      Politically Pro-Cat

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      • #23
        Mvp post #2 was my problem. You can't sit deeply and swing thru tight hips. My hips aren't naturally tight, but I was tightening them when I rode. I had to learn to really let go where my thighs and leg meet and balance with my core.

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        • #24
          When you are doing the rising trot, your shoulders should be back, and your chest raised. Then think of leading the rise with your hips first. Your thigh should be gently against the saddle-no gaps- from your knee to your 'jelly bun' soft gluteal muscles.

          It is great if you can open the muscle at the top of your leg so there is minimal angle but at this point in time it's probably among the impossibles. . Your lower leg drapes against the horses side unless you've got it in use for bending or turning. The knee stays relaxed as does the ankle so that the weight can drop down through your knees and through your ankles which must be able to give. This latter is of even more importance at the sitting trot.
          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.

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          • #25
            Lots of wonderful gems here, but I'll add my "envision" trick. Envision that your belt buckle is the forward most part of your body (aside from your hands). I like this one because it is extremely simple to envision and I always notice a difference in the horse when I apply it.

            (My own variation of this trick is to imagine that my belt buckle is the thing attached to horse's bit rather than the reins. This helps me ride more effectively from my seat on my hot horse who I tend to brace in my heels and hands on.)

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            • #26
              Thinking of shoulder blades rolled back and down, combined with positve tension in the latisumus dorsi and around the rib cage is what has helped me gain control of my upper body. Then the lower parts just seem to hang off it in a more natural fashion.

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              • Original Poster

                #27
                Wow...this is a gold mine! Such great stuff here! Thank you all SO MUCH! I have currently been reading "Way to Perfect Horsemanship" by Udo Burger that was suggested on another thread, but will definitely look into those mentioned here as well!

                But these are the kinds of things I need to help me work through my shortcomings. Different ideas and perspectives to communicate the end goal are always beneficial and I appreciate the many contributions!
                "Horses are too spency!" - Mom

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                • #28
                  Well it's difficult to give advice without pictures or video There could be so many things going on.

                  I can speak to my experience. I used to just ride and did nothing else for fitness - because I would rather ride than do just about anything else and my free time is limited. I wasn't overweight and most people would have thought me pretty fit but I actually wasn't. My riding reached a plateau that I couldn't seem to get past. In August 2016 I decided to get stronger and fitter and found workouts specifically for dressage riders. I rode in a clinic in November and had many people commenting on how much my riding had improved. The difference was actually way more than I had expected. I feel like I found the holy grail of dressage that so many people never find.

                  For me, specifically, I think it was core strength, especially my upper core (ribcage area, mid-back) that was the biggest difference. Also, weight training for my chest and upper back really helped with my posture. Also I spent about 15 minutes every day just stretching my hips.

                  You don't say if you have a fitness regimen off the horse? It's a lot of work and hard to find time (I get up at 5:00AM and go to the gym 5x a week) but now that I'm at a point where I basically just maintaining, I really enjoy it. There is a reason why the most successful dressage riders also work out regularly. All the position advice in the world won't help if you physically cannot do it.

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                  • #29
                    Something that helps me is to visualize coming down from your post close to the front/pommel of the saddle. You can't do this if your shoulders are in front of your hips.

                    To do this your thighs/knees have to drop and your heels have to be more under your seat bones

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                    • #30
                      You should read Sally Swift's book "Centered Riding" as another poster has mentioned. It is full of excellent visuals.

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                      • #31
                        Sorry if this is a duplication, but an exercise that really helped me to get everything aligned is the "up-up" post. Meaning, you hold the "up" portion of your post for two beats instead of just one. Then, you can post normally a few strides and then back to "up-up". Repeat as much as possible. You can't do this exercise if you aren't aligned properly - you'll either fall forward or backwards (ask me how I know ). It's a great test of your balance.

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                        • #32
                          Two people have beat me to it but Sally Swift's book was a great break through for my riding back in the day. It was also very helpful when I was teaching. I used to say instead of thinking up and down in the rising trot think of forward and back, push you hips towards your hands.

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                          • #33
                            Mary Wanless Ride With Your Mind system.
                            "Friend" me !

                            http://www.facebook.com/isabeau.solace

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                            • #34
                              I've seen the Sally Swift book recommended countless times and have finally ordered one (had to buy textbooks anyways, what's one more book). Can't wait for it to get here and see what all the hype is about!

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                              • Original Poster

                                #35
                                I have ordered the Sally Swift book as well! Hoping to get it this week! Also continuing work on strengthening my core as well as loosening my hips. I've found that I am very tight in my hips!
                                "Horses are too spency!" - Mom

                                Comment


                                • #36
                                  A lot of responses here are backwards. Tipping forward is 90% of the time due to gripping with your legs (usually your knees or lower legs) which pushes your seat out of the saddle and raises your center of gravity, and generally tips you forward. You can fight with your core, your elbows, your chin and your shoulders forever but you will never be able to sit back if you are gripping with your legs.

                                  Pushing your heels down (usually done the wrong way) generally makes people push their calf forward and sit in a chair seat.

                                  What you need to do is to take your heels *away* from your horse. When you are on the up part of your post, you need to relax your hips and flow your weight into your heel pointed away from your horse (which incidentally will also eventually put your heel in a relaxed down position if you can master it). Then on your down post you need to relax into this.

                                  Now.... Th first time you attempt this, I can 100% promise you will A) feel extremely destabilized and ready to fall off (because your leg has been holding you on your horse this entire time instead of your seat) and/or B) get the worst charlie horses in your hip flexors that you could have possible imagined, which will force you to stop your horse and completely push your butt out of your saddle until the charlie horse relaxes.

                                  BUT.... This means you are doing it right. I swear. You have a ton of muscle memory right now that is telling your hip flexors and your thighs to grip the heck out of your horse, and when you make a conscious effort to use opposing muscles to push your leg off your horse's side and out into the great beyond, your hip flexors are going to throw a tantrum. So you could also try this at the walk first and feel your seat sink back into your saddle before trying it at the trot. Or do it on a longe line with a friend who has a good sense of humor.

                                  It will take practice, but I promise if you can point your heel away from your horse, it will enlighten you to a whole new world with your seat, an independent leg, and your posture. Also, if you do this in a chair, you'll notice that if you are slouching when you do it, it pulls much harder on your hip flexor, so that can be your hint to help you sit up a bit as you stretch your leg down.

                                  Good luck!

                                  Comment

                                  • Original Poster

                                    #37
                                    Spectrum you are absolutely correct in your assessment. Part of the problem is that I am riding a young horse and I use not only my lower leg, but my thigh and hip to guide him. So in the process of posting and trying to bend or straighten him, I end up gripping with my thighs and almost hovering slightly over the saddle pitching me forward. This is only something I've recently discovered since starting this thread, reading through all the responses, and studying my riding videos.

                                    My last ride, I really focused on trying to sit deep, but it was a struggle. It's much easier at the walk and even the canter, but once I start posting, it's like everything goes out the window! These tips are very helpful and I will try it this evening when I ride! Thank you! The heels out tip is genious and can't wait to try it!
                                    "Horses are too spency!" - Mom

                                    Comment


                                    • #38
                                      Replacing your desk chair with a fitness ball (or one of those fitness ball/chair hybrid things) really does help. if you are anything like me, you won’t be able to do more than an hour at a time until your core and back muscles get used to it.

                                      Yoga can also be super helpful for tight hips. Ask an instructor to show you good hip opening poses, and do them on a regular basis.

                                      Comment


                                      • #39
                                        Originally posted by Spectrum View Post
                                        A lot of responses here are backwards. Tipping forward is 90% of the time due to gripping with your legs (usually your knees or lower legs) which pushes your seat out of the saddle and raises your center of gravity, and generally tips you forward. You can fight with your core, your elbows, your chin and your shoulders forever but you will never be able to sit back if you are gripping with your legs.

                                        Pushing your heels down (usually done the wrong way) generally makes people push their calf forward and sit in a chair seat.

                                        What you need to do is to take your heels *away* from your horse. When you are on the up part of your post, you need to relax your hips and flow your weight into your heel pointed away from your horse (which incidentally will also eventually put your heel in a relaxed down position if you can master it). Then on your down post you need to relax into this.

                                        Now.... Th first time you attempt this, I can 100% promise you will A) feel extremely destabilized and ready to fall off (because your leg has been holding you on your horse this entire time instead of your seat) and/or B) get the worst charlie horses in your hip flexors that you could have possible imagined, which will force you to stop your horse and completely push your butt out of your saddle until the charlie horse relaxes.

                                        BUT.... This means you are doing it right. I swear. You have a ton of muscle memory right now that is telling your hip flexors and your thighs to grip the heck out of your horse, and when you make a conscious effort to use opposing muscles to push your leg off your horse's side and out into the great beyond, your hip flexors are going to throw a tantrum. So you could also try this at the walk first and feel your seat sink back into your saddle before trying it at the trot. Or do it on a longe line with a friend who has a good sense of humor.

                                        It will take practice, but I promise if you can point your heel away from your horse, it will enlighten you to a whole new world with your seat, an independent leg, and your posture. Also, if you do this in a chair, you'll notice that if you are slouching when you do it, it pulls much harder on your hip flexor, so that can be your hint to help you sit up a bit as you stretch your leg down.

                                        Good luck!
                                        I can't quite picture what you mean. (But I'm game and I'll try anything!). You mean try to turn my whole leg out from my hip so that my toes are pointed toward one another through the horse and my heels stick out (ideally) 90 degree from the horse's side?
                                        The armchair saddler
                                        Politically Pro-Cat

                                        Comment

                                        • Original Poster

                                          #40
                                          ^^Have ridden twice trying this. First time was definitely harder than it sounds, but last night was a little easier and definitely helped a lot! My seat was much more connected and not hovering. Problem I had though is it confused my horse! Lol. I guess he's gotten used to my hover seat. Only in the walk and canter does my seat feel really connected, so last night, when I found my stride with this, he got confused and kept thinking I was asking him to canter, because even though I was posting, my seat was still there. It was kind of neat. Lol.

                                          Also received my Sally Swift book yesterday! Have only had a chance to flip through, but saw some really great stuff and can't wait to start digging in! Best part is, I ordered the book off Amazon used for around $5 in excellent condition. When I opened the cover, it was SIGNED To Olivia - Sally Swift August 2nd 1994! My name is not really Olivia, but I thought that was pretty cool! Signed ALMOST to the day 25 years ago to someone named Olivia and ended up with me in mint condition. :-)
                                          "Horses are too spency!" - Mom

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