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In her new book RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW, Ulrike Thiel explains why it is important that the horse be able to use his neck as a “balancing rod.” She says the horse’s ability to use his “balancing rod” neck defines his balance and instills confidence in his movement.

“The comfort of the connection between horse and rider depends directly on the availability of the ‘balancing rod’ neck,” says Thiel. “And remember, contact should come from the horse—he should stretch elastically into the reins rather than yielding to the rider’s hands. In several modern schools of riding, correct contact is replaced with the horse yielding at the poll and going behind the vertical in response to pressure from the rider’s hands.”

Try this easy exercise to see how important it is for the horse to be able to use his “balancing rod” when being ridden:

First, walk the length of a narrow piece of wood with your arms free and out to the sides.

First, walk the length of a narrow piece of wood with your arms free and out to the sides.

1  With your arms free and held out to your sides, tread the length of a narrow surface, such as a balance beam or even a long strip of wood flat on the ground, such as that shown in the image above. Most will find that this neither causes insecurity nor is difficult to accomplish—you can rely on your “balancing rod” arms as necessary.

Next, repeat the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but not fastened together.

Next, repeat the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but not fastened together.

2  Now try the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but unfastened so you can use them if you need to. While you may fall out of balance and your muscles may cramp momentarily, you know you can put your hands out to the sides to catch yourself and relieve your muscles if you need to. Therefore, again, the exercise is neither particularly anxiety-inducing nor difficult.

Finally, try again but this time with your hands tied or handcuffed together in front of or behind your body.

Finally, try again but this time with your hands tied or handcuffed together in front of or behind your body.

3  Finally, tie or handcuff your hands in front of or behind your body and try again to tread the length of the beam. You will discover you fall out of balance more often and your muscles are more likely to cramp—plus, the knowledge that you cannot catch yourself from falling even if you want to, or relieve your cramping muscles, causes anxiety.

“When the horse is in the ‘classical contact’ (in front of the vertical and with sufficient neck length), he is able to use his ‘balancing rod’ (his neck) whenever he needs to catch his balance,” says Thiel.

This is like treading the beam in Step 2, with your hands unfastened but folded behind your back.

“However, when a horse is held in a shortened neck position by the rider’s hands, he doesn’t have that ability,” she goes on. “This is comparable to us having our hands tied behind our back [Step 3 of the exercise]. Think about it: Police bind prisoners’ hands behind their back with handcuffs so they can’t run away—their feet are free, but their balance is compromised. When the reins act as ‘handcuffs’ on the horse, they not only prevent him from balancing himself, they also cause instinctive fear in a flight animal, since he feels he can’t run away if necessary.”

Click image to order.

Click image to order.

RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT

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“Movements that were once natural to the horse become suddenly very tiring when a rider is on his back because it changes his balance,” says Ulrike Thiel in her new book RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW. “A new balance must be developed—the horse must learn a different way of controlling his own movement and distributing his weight and the rider’s in order to effectively support the rider.”

Try this exercise to help better understand what it is like for the horse to control his body with the additional weight and movement of the rider on his back:

 

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1  Balance a 6-foot-long, hollow, plastic pole (PVC works) from the building supply store on the flat of one hand while you “walk,” “trot,” and “canter” straight and on turns. When you first attempt the exercise, it is difficult to balance the pole and your body. You may have to use your other arm to stabilize yourself.

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When the pole is not symmetrically balanced, as shown in the photo above, it causes stiffening in several areas of the body (noted by the arrows). Your resulting movements are abrupt, which is hard on your joints.

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3  When changing direction or speed with the pole, you must again rebalance, or stiffness is the result (see arrows in photo above). It is difficult to move as you may have planned, which can be frustrating.

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Eventually, you grow accustomed to carrying the pole and can “trot” and “canter” with it. The pole, in effect, becomes an extension of your body.

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5  When carrying a rider who sits crookedly, as shown here, the horse must constantly react to the unbalanced weight of the rider. This again causes stiffness and tension, interfering with his ability to execute movements as he may be capable.

“I always have my students try this exercise,” says Ulrike. “They quickly come to understand why their horse does unexpected things like, for example, falling to the outside, going too fast, or shortening his stride. They also learn how hard they must concentrate on the pole in order to keep it balanced when they first attempt the exercise and how it moves on curves to such a degree that they frequently bump into objects in the arena or other students.”

 

Isn’t it eye-opening to see how it feels to be a horse?

 

RiddenPLC-300RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT (click on the red download link on the right side of the page)

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