“When Sally’s book was published, it was a breakthrough moment–for ALL riders.”

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Last week, TSB author and acclaimed dancer and choreographer Paula Josa-Jones explained how CENTERED RIDING transformed how she thought about and felt her body while on horseback. Another of our authors comes from a professional dance background: Janice Dulak, dressage rider and Pilates instructor, and author of PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER and NINE PILATES ESSENTIALS FOR THE BALANCED RIDER. Dulak says that Sally Swift’s ideas were part of the inspiration behind her own book and DVDs.

“As a professional dancer, I studied the Alexander Technique for years,” she explains. “The work enhanced my technique and allowed for a freedom of movement that changed how I danced. In becoming a rider, movement became new again, and challenging in a way that I hadn’t imagined. When Sally’s book was published, it was a breakthrough moment—for all riders. Understanding that one could translate this method to riding was brilliant…and in part, an inspiration for my work, PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER! Thank you, Sally Swift!”

Share your own CENTERED RIDING memories and “aha” moments online and tag them #CenteredRiding30! And remember, all CENTERED RIDING books and DVDs are 30% off, the entire month of November.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

6 Great Things One Traffic Cone Can Do for Your Riding

All it takes is one traffic cone to change your riding and your horse's riding experience.

All it takes is one traffic cone to change your riding and your horse’s riding experience.

Every rider knows the kinds of activities and exercises you can do with your horse in the ring—circles (lots and lots of circles), bending lines and serpentines, upward and downward transitions…depending on your discipline and style of riding, the options number many! But what do you do when your circles look like eggs, your horse isn’t bending evenly through the serpentine, or he’s dragging his feet so lifelessly through the sand that you would rather just get off?

In TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, author Sigrid Schope provides more than 40 exercises using simple, affordable tools that make your “eggs” round, your serpentines smooth, and your horse energized, to name just a few benefits.

Try this: Place a cone in the middle of the ring (at “X” in a dressage arena). Ride around the ring on the rail, looking toward the cone before asking the horse to turn at the center of one of the short sides (“A” or “C” if the dressage letters are marked) and riding directly toward it. Here are 6 ways that single traffic cone will improve your riding:

1   Your “plan” and focus on the cone will cause you to hold the reins more softly, improving connection and contact.

2  Thinking about where you want to ride and at what gait helps you prepare your horse properly, rather than suddenly “attacking” him with your aids.

3  Your focus on the cone will help you hold your head and upper body straight, and you will find your horse will move on a straight line toward your goal. Your head, shoulders, and body will follow your eyes, and this will also direct your horse.

4  Looking ahead toward an end point will cause a sluggish horse that lacks impulsion to pick up his tempo.

5  Practicing simple lines with a clear goal helps you learn to ride more precisely.

6  Incorporating “props” in your riding exercises adds interest for the horse, improving his concentration while making the training process more engaging.

 

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For lots of easy ways to become a better rider while ensuring both you and your horse are having fun together in the ring, check out TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

A Lesson in Lengthening and Shortening Stride with Anne Kursinski

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In her acclaimed book ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, the five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic silver-medalist provides step-by-step descriptions of 20 exercises to improve your position and your feel. We can all—whatever discipline we favor or breed of horse we ride—put the following lesson in lengthening and shortening the horse’s stride into practice:

Once you have the basic tools for controlling speed and straightness, the next step to master is basic lengthening and shortening of your horse’s stride length. I’m not talking about extension and collection here, but simply about developing your ability to get (and to know you’re getting) a longer stride and a shorter stride—covering more ground or less ground with each of his footfalls. For this work, you may find it useful to have a helper on the ground to confirm and correct your impressions about how you’re affecting the horse’s stride.

To emphasize the importance of “forward,” begin with lengthening:

1.     In the working walk, increase the feel in your legs with a “squeeze-soften-squeeze” sequence that almost asks for a trot, then softens, and squeezes again, in rhythm with your horse’s steps.

2.     Let your hips swing forward to follow the walk, as they should naturally do, while you close your legs and feel your horse gaining more ground by taking longer strides.

3.     And yet, your hands don’t allow him to trot, nor do your legs push quite that hard. As he stretches and nods his neck, watch this motion and allow your elbows to open and close, so that you follow with your arms but don’t drop the contact. Don’t smother him so that he can’t lengthen, but don’t let him trot. (Think of him as an accordion, expanding and contracting.)

Now that you’ve pushed your horse into a longer stride (make sure your helper on the ground confirms that you have), teach him to shorten his stride by using your retarding aids more than your driving aids.

4.     With both hands, take more contact in rhythm with the stride, as if you’re going to stop …

5.     … but keep your legs squeezing and softening to tell him, “No, don’t stop. Stay active—take a shorter step but don’t stop, a shorter step but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop, almost stop but don’t stop.” Keep the movement rhythmic, so you get regular short steps, not choppy ones.

6.     Keep alternating the length of steps you ask for—short, short, short, then working (regular), working, then long, long, long, and back again, in the walk and then in the trot and canter so that you feel the different lengths and rhythms and develop your horse’s understanding of your aids.

7.     As you squeeze your legs, especially in the trot and canter, be sure your contact with the horse’s mouth is elastic, so that he can stretch into the longer stride. Remember that he can only lengthen his stride as far as his nose is poking out. If he’s overflexed or very short in the neck, he may throw his front leg forward, but his stride will still be short because he has to touch the ground at a point beneath where his nose is.

Listen to your horse’s strides. In each pace, try to make them as consistent as a metronome. With practice, as you get to know how his lengthened and shortened gaits feel and what balance of leg and hand aids produce them, you’ll be able to choose and then maintain whatever rhythm you want.

 

Get more great lessons on the flat and over fences in ANNE KURSINSKI’S RIDING & JUMPING CLINIC, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Dynamic Buttocks: Two Exercises for a Better Seat and Improved Riding Position

Yes, you read that right: dynamic buttocks are the secret to moving fluidly with your horse, whatever your riding discipline. “Sitting on a horse is never rigid (static),” write sports physiologist Eckart Meyners, Head of the German Riding School Hannes Muller, and St. George magazine editor Kerstin Niemann in their book RIDER+HORSE=1. “It is always dynamic.”

You can break through the stereotypical static sitting pattern with these two exercises from RIDER+HORSE=1, intended to improve sacroiliac joint and pelvic mobility in the rider.

 

You can mobilize your pelvis by lifting and lowering your buttocks on each side of the saddle---riding is never static, it is always dynamic!

You can mobilize your pelvis by lifting and lowering your buttocks on each side of the saddle—riding is never static, it is always dynamic!

 

1  While sitting on your horse, slide one buttock down the side and out of the saddle, then gently lift and lower this side of the body 8 to 12 times. Repeat on the other side. You will feel this exercise pleasantly reorganize your entire body structure when you again sit centered in the saddle.

2  Again sitting on your horse, imagine you are sitting on the face of a clock: when you lower your pelvis to the right, you are sitting on three o’clock, and when you lower it to the left, you are sitting on nine o’clock. Lower your pelvis to three o’clock only several times, then nine o’clock only, and then combine them in one fluid motion. Vary the pace of your movements and do not strain.

 

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You can find more exercises to improve your balance and aids, and identify and respond to the motion sequences of the horse in RIDER+HORSE=1, available from the TSB online bookstore where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

The “Faux” Runaway and an Exercise for Getting Your Horse’s Engine in Gear

FauxRunaway

Early in my riding career, but after I knew a thing or two, I used to ride this hot chestnut mare (I know, if three words were ever meant to string together…). I’d be exhausted after flatting her 15 minutes. I thought it was really all I could do to keep her from plowing down the long side and right through the arena fence. But man could that mare jump. So, I kept on, keeping on—if only just barely.

After months of making little progress on my own, I finally had a lesson, and as is many times the case, a breakthrough.

“Stop trying to hold her back and put your leg ON her,” my instructor barked, clearly frustrated by my struggles that were all about the mare’s front end, with no concern at all for what was going on behind me.

Sure enough, as soon as I ceased obsessing about the control I felt I didn’t have and instead focused on activating her hind end, she stepped up and under me, stretched down and forward, and our awful, lurching, zig-zaggy rhythm that had clearly caused my instructor to feel quite ill, evened out.

In her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, dressage trainer and technical editor for Dressage Today magazine Beth Baumert discusses what she calls the “Faux Runaway” and a very easy exercise to get the party going out back so things can settle down up front. Check it out:

 

As you know, horses don’t inherently know that the way to gain freedom is by energizing the hindquarters, rather than the forehand. Fresh young horses or hot older horses are a tough test for the rider’s balance as their enthusiastic front legs want to carry the forehand away from the lazy hindquarters. They pull the center of balance forward and away from the rider’s seat—the seat that connects the rider to her horse’s hindquarters.

The rider feels that her horse is running away, so she’s amazed when her trainer says her horse’s hindquarters look lazy. The feeling is misleading because the surge of energy is actually very real, but it’s caused by the front end that’s running away from the snoozing hind end. It’s often even an experienced rider’s tendency to use prolonged restraining aids with this horse, but that never works.

Years ago at the Aachen Horse Show, one of the American riders was in this situation. Her horse was very hot, and she was persistently trying to quiet and relax him. Her German trainer came along and told her to go for a gallop. Although the rider was horrified at the prospect, that was just the answer to her problem. It got the horse’s hind end in gear so the energy that reached her hand came from the hindquarters instead of the forehand. As a result, the horse was very successful in the competition. The American rider retained her horse’s enthusiasm for working, but gained control over the whole horse from behind.

When your horse is too strong and you can’t (or don’t dare to) gallop, do movements in which your leg is required to activate the hindquarters. Find a way to ride your horse from back to front. Make turns-on-the-forehand and do leg-yield. If you and your horse know how, do movements such as turn-on-the-haunches, shoulder-in, travers (haunches-in), renvers (haunches-out), and half-pass. Also do transitions between these movements. Do things that require you to use your seat and leg, and use your hands last—and only when you need to. Each time you communicate with your seat and leg more, you need your hands less. Then he will listen to your seat and legs more, and work more from his hind-end pushing engine.

And try this exercise:

WhenTwoSpinesAlignFinal

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Get your Horse’s Pushing Engine in Gear

Directions: To get your horse’s pushing engine in gear, start from the moment you walk out of the barn with your horse in hand. Do you have to pull him out by his face, or does he step smartly from his hind legs and walk next to your shoulder? He might need to be asked with a cluck or a tap from your whip. So, begin…

      Walk in Hand. Ask your horse to give you the same walk that you will expect when you’re sitting on him. While walking in hand, his only restrictions are the weight of the saddle and bridle. (When you mount, no matter how skilled you are, your weight is an additional restriction. Ideally, you want the energy stepping through his back and to your hand before he has this restriction.) Your horse’s walk should convey a quiet workmanlike attitude. When you have a self-perpetuating, relaxed walk, get on. Many top riders hand walk their horses for 10 or 15 minutes before mounting.

      Mount and Walk on a Long Rein. Walk on a long rein (if it feels safe). Be sure the pushing engine is still in gear given the added restriction of your weight. Carry your own weight in a balanced way so your horse’s body won’t be inclined to become like a hammock. If you have a mirror in your arena, walk parallel to it and ask yourself: “Why are we covering ground? Is it because of the front-end pulling engine or the hind-end pushing engine?”

Listen to the rhythm of the four-beat walk. When he’s balanced, your horse takes energetic steps from behind that are deliberate and self-perpetuating, but not hectic. Feel the energy flowing under your seat. When he’s stepping “through” his body, you can steer him easily with your body. Give yourself a steering test by riding simple figures and diagonal lines without rein contact. Leave your hands on the withers and point him on your line of travel with your eyes, shoulders, hips, knees, and toes and step in the direction you want to go. He’ll follow your weight and reach in that direction.

 

Find more great riding insight and exercises in WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS by Beth Baumert, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Coming to the USDF Convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this week? Stop by the TSB booth and meet authors Beth Baumert and Anne Gribbons during special author signings!

“Looking for the Possibility”–An Easy Transition Exercise for Riders

Upward transitions are all about thrust and reach. They reinforce the "Go." Downward transitions are all about engagement. They reinforce the "Whoa."

Upward transitions are all about thrust and reach. They reinforce the “Go.” Downward transitions are all about engagement. They reinforce the “Whoa.”

 

“The purpose of transitions,” says Beth Baumert in her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, “isn’t to get into the gait of choice, but rather to do it with grace, in a way that improves the horse. Transitions can improve the connection and collect him.”

Transitions not only make life fun and interesting for the horse, they also put the rider in the position of leader. Here are Beth’s tips for riding good transitions:

  • Make one change at a time.
  • Convert the energy.
  • Monitor the frame.
  • Relax the neck.
  • Monitor the bend.
  • Monitor the rhythm.
  • Monitor the speed.
  • “Look for the possibility”—feel for the right moment to make the transition.

 

Exercise: Looking for the Possibility
“Looking for the possibility” of a transition is all about gaining access to the horse’s hindquarters and keeping connected to them.

Step 1  Do a trot-walk transition and immediately do a leg-yield or shoulder-fore. Then trot off again.

Step 2  Next, halt briefly and do a turn-on-the-forehand or a turn-on-the-haunches. Then trot off again. The turn or movement teaches the horse that he needs to stay connected and listening with his hindquarters in the walk. Even if the turn or the movement isn’t perfect, it improves him, making the next upward transition more supple, engaged, and obedient. It makes the next transition more possible.

Step 3  Do variations of the same theme: Leg-yield or confirm your shoulder-fore before the transition to canter. These transitions help you retain the ability to “Go” in downward transitions, and they help you retain the ability to “Whoa” in the forward work. When the circle of aids is working you can easily adjust your horse within that circle, making anything possible. You want to be in the “land of all possibilities.”

 

Find other great insight and exercises in Beth’s new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

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Here’s what top riders, trainers, and judges are saying about WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS:

“Sometimes when I’m teaching I find myself thinking my student really needs to read Beth Baumert’s book. The perspective and the words she’s chosen give a welcomed fresh approach to describing the theories behind training.” —George Williams, Member, US Dressage Team and President, United States Dressage Federation (USDF)

“I absolutely LOVE this book! It grabbed me from the moment I read the words ‘perfect balance’ and ‘that place where two spines meet’—you get such a great visual from this! When teaching, it can be a struggle to help riders who can’t seem to balance themselves. This is where author Beth Baumert provides a valuable tool: She explains why the rider’s balance is the key to the horse’s balance and how a controlled interaction of balance ultimately leads to success and harmony. This book is where the magic begins.” —Debbie McDonald, Two-Time Olympian and USEF Developing Dressage Coach

“Beth Baumert and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to horses and dressage training. Now she has created the best guide I’ve seen for those who really want to grasp the ins and outs of dressage—I’ve never read a book covering all facets of dressage in this detail. With all that is going on in our sport today, I hope that riders—now and in the future—will pursue dressage as it is described here by Beth.” —Henk van Bergen, Former Chef d’Equipe, Dutch National Dressage Team and British National Young Riders Developing Team, and Member, FEI Judges Supervisory Panel

“This book is truly timeless. I can humbly admit that it clarified some subject even for me, after a lifetime of being involved with dressage. It is the equivalent of countless clinics given by some of the best in the world.” —Axel Steiner, FEI 5* Dressage Judge (Retired), USEF “S” Judge, and USDF “L” Program Faculty Member

“Beth Baumert’s book is desperately needed. I see many riders going down the wrong road, often because of a dubious understanding of the term ‘dressage’ and a limited view of its importance. Whatever you are riding—whether hunters, ponies, jumpers—I recommend that you learn about and use dressage in your schooling, if only for reasons of maintaining soundness. I’m lucky that, in my life of riding and teaching, there has never been jumping without flatwork. But that’s in my own little world. Today’s riders are too consumed with cosmetics and competition. Even riders at the top have somehow lost what the Masters knew centuries ago! Every rider needs to know the basic tenets of dressage, and so I recommend When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics. I can’t say enough good about it.” —George Morris, Former Chef d’Equipe, US Show Jumping Team

“This is a great book! It mirrors what I see in Beth Baumert’s students—they all demonstrate a very classical way of riding and training horses. When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics clearly explains the classical foundation of how the rider should balance and sit so that he or she can then educate the horse. Beth has provided a valuable tool for all kinds and levels of riders.” —Bo Jena, Chef d’Equipe, Swedish Dressage Team and FEI 4* Judge

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Improve Your Horse’s Walk-to-Canter Transition with This Easy (but Meaningful) Exercise

Who hasn’t struggled with walk-to-canter transitions sometime in his or her riding life? While our earliest engagements with walk-to-faster-FASTER-FASTER trots can be owed to short legs, lack of riding experience, and smart ponies, later on it is generally a fault (or two) in our aiding or position, and poor preparation of the horse for what’s necessary: activity of his hind end and the “lift” he needs to get his legs and body in order so the desired transition is actually biomechanically possible.

Here’s one exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING, the new book by FN-licensed trainer and instructor Julia Kohl, that helps us, and our horses, get organized and fit for seamless walk-to-canter transitions.

 

LEG-YIELD CENTERLINE TO TRACK AND CANTER

Where You Go
Ride in walk, tracking right, onto the short side, and turn up the centerline. Leg-yield your horse off the right leg toward the track. (Note: The leg-yield should begin in the first third of the centerline.) Upon reaching the track, ride a transition to right lead canter.

Why You Do It
This exercise helps prepare the horse for the transition from walk to canter. The horse is suppled on the inside (right) rein, the inside flexion improves, and the horse is “sent into” the outside (left) rein making it possible for the rider to soften the inside rein in the moment of the canter transition. This allows the horse’s inside hind leg to reach forward, well under the horse’s body, with good activity in the transition. (Just to clarify: The outside hind is the first leg to strike off in the canter depart.)

 

Leg-Yield Centerline to Track and Canter--an exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING.

Leg-Yield Centerline to Track and Canter–an exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING by Julia Kohl.

 

Here’s How
1 Ride at the walk, tracking right, and when you come onto the short side of the arena, turn up the centerline at A or C.

2 Ride a few steps straight on the centerline before beginning to leg-yield to the left—off your right leg. If you leg-yield directly out of the turn, the horse may “fall through” his outside (left) shoulder.

3 Increase the weight on your right (inside) seat bone, along with the use of your forward-and-sideways driving right leg to send your horse forward and to the left. Give and take on the right rein to flex your horse to the right.

4 When necessary, use your left rein and left “guarding” leg to keep your horse’s left shoulder and haunches from falling too much to the left. As a reminder, your horse’s body should remain nearly parallel to the track as he moves, with this forehand leading just slightly.

5 When you reach the track on the long side of the arena, end the leg-yield. Use your left (outside) leg to prevent the horse from stepping further sideways. Return your right (inside) leg to the girth and continue to drive the horse into the outside rein, maintaining a minimal inside flexion. Your right seat bone should remain more heavily weighted than the left, but it now “swings” in a forward direction rather than forward-and-sideways. Even when you are riding in an arena with a wall or fence that prevents the horse from continuing the leg-yield, it is important to actively use the aids to end the leg-yield in order to prepare for the canter transition that comes next in this exercise. These aids should be ideally applied in one step while also giving a half-halt.

6 Become passive for a brief moment with the driving aids, then ask the horse to canter by pushing your right (inside) seat bone forward, sliding your left (outside) leg back, and giving on the right (inside) rein concurrently. It is important that you do not lose focus after completing the leg-yield (Step 5), because then the “positive tension” that the horse has built up as he moved from the centerline to the track will go to waste.

7 Send your horse forward in the canter by driving with your right leg, not your left (inside leg, not outside). Overuse of the outside leg in canter sends the horse’s haunches to the inside. If there is a mirror in the corner on the short side of the arena, it is easy to check if your horse’s haunches have fallen in as you canter down the track toward it.

8 Repeat this exercise a few times in each direction.

 

For 55, detailed, meaningful exercises to make schooling your horse interesting, fun, and productive for you both, check out CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING by Julia Kohl, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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In Honor of Independence Day, TSB Gives You Four Ways to Achieve an Independent Seat

July4 2014

 

No matter our favorite breed of horse or chosen discipline; whatever our age or skill level, if we ride horses, we yearn for a balanced, stable, and independent seat that allows us to move with the horse and direct him using subtle aids without interfering with his ability to perform.

In honor of July 4, 2014, we at TSB are sharing four of our favorite exercises to help develop a little seat independence in all of us:

 

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The Teeter-Totter from Centered Riding 2 by Sally Swift

  • Stand quietly and comfortably erect, feet slightly apart.
  • With your whole body straight, tip forward as far as you can without having to take a step to catch yourself.
  • Hold yourself in this extreme position with your feet quiet. Notice how much tension there is in your body, your feet, legs, torso, and neck.
  • Come back to a balanced position in the center and relax.
  • Now lean backward and notice again the degree of tension in your whole body, especially up the front of your thighs and torso.
  • Come back to the center and feel the freedom and ease of being in what I call “pure balance.”
  • Now imagine you are on your horse–you need to be in “pure balance” with your center directly over your feet to ensure you are not unconsciously transferring tension to the horse. This “pure balance” applies to all seats and disciplines. Practice the Teeter-Totter exercise regularly to build and maintain awareness of your balance and center.

 

 

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2  Push Hands from A Gymnastic Riding System Using Mind, Body, & Spirit by Betsy Steiner

  • Stand squarely facing a partner, hands at your sides.
  • Reach out to your partner, and have your partner reach out to you, and place your hands palm to palm. You should be close enough that your elbows, and your partner’s elbows, are slightly bent. Your knees should also be slightly bent.
  • Have your partner give you a vigorous push with her left hand while you try to keep your right hand and shoulder from moving. As you resist the push, you’ll feel tension and resistance in your entire body and maybe lose your balance and have to take a step back.
  • Now have your partner again give you a push with her left hand. This time, release your right hand and shoulder and allow them to go where your partner moves them.  When you “release” in this way, allowing your shoulder to move backward and your partner’s had to go forward, the tension of the push is dissipated and there is no resistance in your body.
  • Repeat the exercise with the opposite hands.
  • Push Hands shows us how the horse and rider must “give” to each other, and how the rider must be able to receive pressure as well as apply it by being supple and centered. When you’re relaxed in your arms and shoulders, for example, you are able to maintain your balance and center. Try to achieve the same “give-and-take” of pressure with the horse when you ride.

 

 

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Find Your Flat Back from 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes by Wendy Murdoch

  • Sit on the edge of a flat bench or chair. If possible, do so beside a mirror so you can see what your back looks like when it is flat.
  • Place the back of one hand on your lower back. Make sure your hand is on the waist area, not the sacrum.
  • Place your other hand palm up under one seat bone and rest on your hand. Feel how your lower back and seat bones change position in relation to each other when you hollow, round, or flatten your lower back.
  • Gradually change from one position to the other making smaller and lower movements until you have a definite feeling that your back is flat and broad. Notice what happens to your weight on the bench or chair. Do your buttocks muscles soften? Can you sink back into your hips as if to sit more deeply? When your back is flat, the seat bones will follow the line of the your back.
  • Repeat the exercise in the saddle. As your back hollows, your seat bones point back toward your horse’s tail; as your back rounds, your seat bones point forward toward your horse’s head; when your back is flat, your seat bones follow the line of your back, straight from head to seat. A flat back stabilizes your pelvis and upper body so that you feel more secure in the saddle.

 

 

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Plank on Mat: Knees from The Riding Doctor by Beth Glosten, MD

  • Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat.
  • Bend your elbows and keep them by your sides, placing your forearms on the mat. Bend your knees so your lower legs are off the floor.
  • While keeping your shoulders stable, lift yourself onto your knees and forearms into a suspended plank position. Seek a long and neutral spine position, and avoid pulling your shoulders up around your ears. Try to keep your pelvis level–it shouldn’t be pushed up toward the ceiling.
  • Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • This is a fantastic integrating exercise for core muscle function and shoulder and leg support, stabilizing spine alignment. In the saddle, you want stability of the spine–that is, despite changes in forward or sideways energy, you want to keep your body in a balanced upright position.

 

Happy Independence Day from Trafalgar Square Books!

Visit our online bookstore at www.HorseandRiderBooks.com, where shipping in the US is FREE.

The Riding Doctor Explains One Reason Why It Might Be So Hard to Keep Your Horse Going

Dr. Beth Glosten, author of THE RIDING DOCTOR, with a student.

Dr. Beth Glosten, author of THE RIDING DOCTOR, with a student.

After leaving horses behind for many years to pursue her medical career, Dr. Beth Glosten decided it was time to ride again—only to discover that, as a middle-aged woman, she struggled with tension, awkwardness, and an aching back. Dr. Glosten’s own frustration with riding prompted her to apply her clinical research skills to figure out what it would take to not only create the harmonious picture of horse and rider moving together, but also feel good while doing it. Now, she’s sharing what she learned in THE RIDING DOCTOR, her new book from Trafalgar Square Books.

“By helping you understand how your body interfaces with your horse,” says Dr. Glosten, “I hope to help you meet your riding goals and, at the same time, ride in good health and prevent injury.”

In THE RIDING DOCTOR, readers are introduced to a sensible system of organizing the human body in the saddle, and throughout, “Rider’s Challenge” case studies provide a glimpse of the kinds of problems commonly faced and how to best solve them. Then, Dr. Glosten—who is also a certified Pilates instructor and founder of the RiderPilates LLC fitness program—provides over 50 step-by-step exercises geared toward further developing the riding skills we need to be balanced, effective, healthy riders, now and for years to come.

Here Dr. Glosten shares one rider’s story that explains why sometimes it feels so hard to keep your horse going.

 

The Rider’s Challenge: Gripping Adductors

Before working with a new rider, I ask her to provide some information about her riding experience, goals, and how I might help her. On her form, Elise states, “I don’t understand why I get so tired after only riding about 30 minutes. I do not think I’m that out of shape!”

I meet Elise on her six-year-old bay Trakehner mare, Peony, and watch her do some warm-up rounds at posting trot and canter. She has a reasonably correct posture and rides with a very positive “come with me” attitude. However, while the mare will initially pick up the canter fairly readily, before long Peony loses impulsion and breaks out of canter.

“It is so much work to keep her going!” Elise exclaims as she comes back to a walk.

I have Elise do some trot work first to sort out the challenge she has keeping Peony moving in canter. At posting trot, Elise maintains good balance and alignment and stays with Peony. At sitting trot, however, it is a challenge for Elise to keep Peony in a rhythmic and ground-covering trot. I see that Elise’s leg gets quite still—too still—and that her back loses its stable position. Her leg position gets so locked that her feet bounce up and down in the stirrup, rather than rest on the stirrup with movement through the ankle joints.

Elise grips hard to keep from bouncing at sitting trot. By doing so, she inhibits Peony’s movement, interfering with her staying in a good trot. I’m suspicious that this is also what is going on in the canter. I explain to Elise that her legs should be against the horse, but not gripping. When the legs grip, it is like riding with the brakes on. Peony responds with a loss of steadiness in the trot and a tendency to break out of the canter.

 

 

Remedy

At the halt, I have Elise actively stabilize her spine with her deep abdominal and back muscles, then carefully lift her legs slightly away from the saddle, out to the side. She immediately feels how much heavier she sits in the saddle, in a good way. I have her repeat the exercise at walk to help her learn the sensation of a more supple, less-gripping leg, and a heavier and more anchored position of her pelvis. I emphasize that it is easy to strain her back with this exercise of lifting the legs off the saddle; it must be done carefully with suitable spine support, aiming for a small range of upper-thigh motion, as if she were trying to slide a piece of paper between her leg and the horse.

Back at sitting trot, I again coach Elise to activate her core muscles and then try a few steps of sitting trot, keeping her legs far enough “away” from the saddle to prevent gripping. She does this for a few steps, and begins to feel when the gripping creeps in.

We do the same exercise at canter to try and get her legs to let go and allow Peony to canter freely. To prevent her legs from clinging to Peony’s side, I coach her to give a fairly loose leg aid, being conscious of its beginning and end: apply the aid and then let go. I also tell Elise to, at times, give a light tap with the whip, rather than use a leg aid, to encourage Peony to stay in canter. In this way, Elise feels her legs stay released and free.

Our lesson lasts about 45 minutes, with a lot of transitions and attempts to keep Elise’s leg muscles supple and not gripping at all gaits. At the end Elise remarks, “I don’t remember the last time I rode for 45 minutes straight through without a break.”

 

 

The Adductor Stretch from THE RIDING DOCTOR by Dr. Beth Glosten.

The Adductor Stretch from THE RIDING DOCTOR by Dr. Beth Glosten.

Adductor Stretch

Here’s an easy stretch to combat tightness in the adductor muscles of the hip joint.

1. Lie on your back on a mat.

2. Wrap a towel or elastic stretch band around the bottom of each foot.

3. Hold tightly onto the towels or bands while reaching your legs together up toward the ceiling, as straight as possible, and then carefully supporting them in a stretch out to the side. Be sure to avoid changing your pelvic position during this stretch.

4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

 

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Learn Not to Pull on Your Horse (So He Doesn’t Pull on You!): An Easy Exercise to Try with a Friend

In this lesson from THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK, trainer and founder of the International Horse Agility Club Vanessa Bee helps us learn not to pull on our horse (so he, in turn, doesn’t pull on us!) with an easy exercise to try with a friend at home or at the barn.

 

I can lead my horse Secret with a loose lead rope—she “reads” me for direction rather than relying on a tug of the lead rope.

I can lead my horse Secret with a loose lead rope—she “reads” me for direction rather than relying on a tug of the lead rope.

 

Have you ever tried to pull a horse along by the lead rope? Hard work, isn’t it? That’s because when you pull on a horse, he pulls back against you. However, it’s very easy to train a horse to stop pulling on you—just stop pulling on him. It takes two to pull! When you ask the horse to walk with you, it should feel as if he’s “floating along” on the end of the lead rope. However, he’ll never do this if you pull on him because he will always look for the lead rope to “guide” him rather than “read” the handler for direction.

By starting off with a polite request and increasing the pressure very slightly until the horse gives to that pressure—and then rewarding him by releasing instantly—you can train the horse to move quietly and softly on a loose lead.

 

The “Learning Not to Pull” Game: Human to Human

1  Find a friend and hold a lead rope between you. The person holding the clip end is the “horse” and the person at the other end is the “handler.” (It doesn’t matter who is the “horse” first because you can swap positions later.) The “horse” may find it easier to close her eyes in order to feel communication traveling down the rope.

2  The rope should be slack with no feeling of a connection between “handler” and “horse.” The “handler” then lifts and shortens the rope slowly until the “horse” can feel a connection.

 

Lucy (left) is the horse and Vanessa (right) is the handler. Vanessa "invites" her "horse" to walk toward her.

Lucy (left) is the horse and Vanessa (right) is the handler. Vanessa “invites” her “horse” to walk toward her with a little squeeze on the rope.

 

3  The “handler” then puts a tiny squeeze on the rope, inviting the “horse” to walk towards her. The aim is for the human players to see how little pressure is needed to communicate the human request to the horse. (You will be amazed how tiny this feel can be—when a real horse is trained to look for these tiny signals, communication between horse and handler becomes almost invisible.)

4  The willing “horse” feels the squeeze and walks. As soon as the “handler” feels the “horse” give to the pressure, the “handler” must release, too. If she doesn’t, there is no reward for the “horse,” who may well just pull back.

5  You can enact various real-life scenarios: a pulling horse, a “stuck” horse, an easy horse. Start the game again, but this time the “horse” doesn’t immediately walk but pulls back a tiny bit. The “handler” must hold on without pulling harder because that may well cause the “horse” to pull harder, and I can tell you, a real horse will win!

 

Lucy and Vanessa switch roles. Vanessa, the "horse," closes her eyes to really feel Lucy communicating with her through the lead rope.

Lucy and Vanessa switch roles. Vanessa, the “horse,” closes her eyes to really feel Lucy communicating with her through the lead rope.

 

6  Try that next: Start the game again, only this time when the “horse” answers the squeeze and walks forward, the “handler” just goes on pulling. Ask the “horse” how she felt about it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the “horse” will say she wanted to pull back. Whenever the horse gives to pressure, the handler must release instantly.

7  Take turns watching each other as the “handler,” and notice what you do before you squeeze the rope. This is the beginning of the “horse” reading the “handler’s” body language instead of being guided by the rope.

 

Now Take What You Learned and Play with a Real Horse!

To prepare the horse to walk forward on the lead:

1  Raise your energy level (to get his attention), run your hand down the rope to set up a vibration, lean forward into the direction of the movement, lift the rope, and point in the direction you want him to go. Using very little pressure on the rope, ask him to walk with you.

2  When he takes the first step, release the pressure on the rope and take a step, too. You will find that you are walking together with a loose rope. Stay relaxed but focus on the speed and direction of the walk while remaining aware of the horse. The lead rope between you and the horse should remain loose—it is only there as a “safety belt”—it is not for dragging the horse. Walk with intention, looking forward to where you want to go.

 

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And watch for the NEW BOOK coming from Vanessa Bee! 3-MINUTE HORSEMANSHIP: 60 AMAZINGLY ACHIEVABLE LESSONS TO IMPROVE YOUR HORSE (AND YOURSELF) WHEN TIME IS SHORT will be released in February 2014.

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