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Ah, show day! The delightful mix of butterflies and caffeine churning within as you rise with the sun. The bustling activity on the grounds as horses are fed, walked, and bathed. The knowledge that at some point in the very near future, you will stand before the masses and be judged

Sure, there are any number of cool cucumbers who can compete without missing a beat, but the majority of us struggle to some degree with show nerves and performance anxiety. In his book PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, renowned sport psychology expert Coach Daniel Stewart explains that one of the keys to success in this arena is to develop a strong showing mindset.

“The showing mindset is a subconscious skill that helps you avoid over-thinking, overreacting, and overanalyzing during competition,” says Coach Stewart. “The time for all that has passed; the time for self-analysis and criticism is gone; and the time for trust has arrived. Studies have shown that no appreciable learning of a skill—mechanical or technical—takes place on show day. This only happens at home during your lessons. So trying to improve while showing is an ineffective use of your time. As soon as you drive into the venue’s parking lot or exit the warm-up arena, you need to confidently transition from your schooling mindset, to your showing mindset, and just trust that all the self-critiques, analysis, and feedback from your lessons have prepared you well for the demands of the next few minutes.

“Showing with a schooling mindset also creates the impression that the harder you try, the harder it gets. For example, the more a jumper tries to see the distance to her next fence the harder it becomes (the dreaded ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ syndrome), and the harder a dressage rider tries to sit up perfectly straight, the more tense she becomes. When you show, no matter the discipline, it just happens too fast; you don’t have the time to analyze the height of your hands, the placement of your leg, or the position of your hips. You must turn off your conscious thoughts and allow your subconscious to take over. You’re on autopilot, trusting your training, and just letting it happen. In riding, this is often called riding freely, and it is here that you learn to trust, not train.”

Coach Stewart says that in order to ride well and compete at your best your mental approach to showing must be very different than your mental approach to schooling. Here are three of his tips for developing a strong schooling mindset:

Try “Softer”—Trying too hard or schooling when you should be showing can lead to pressure and fear of failure. Replace anxiety and self-criticism with self-belief and confidence.

Focus on a Task—Focus on a positive task, like repeating the motto, “Trust not train,” to stop your schooling mindset from getting in the way of your showing success.

Use a “Show-Starter”—Identify a cue that will create a boundary between your schooling and showing mindsets. For example, tell yourself to “start” your showing mindset when you hear the ding of the bell before your dressage test or when you walk into the start box before going cross-country. The sound of the bell, and the location of the start box, sets the boundary between your mindsets.

 

Pressure ProofGet more tips from Coach Daniel Stewart in PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

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

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It was over 25 years ago, but I can still close my eyes and immediately feel the pounding of hooves on the hard dirt road in my head, and the rawness of my skinned and abraded hands as they desperately pulled to one side, then the other, on what were, at the time, fairly useless reins. I can hear breathing—heavy, labored, both the horse’s and my own. And I can remember how the ground looked from where I crouched on the back of the runaway: it throbbed and swayed in corner of my eye, momentarily closer, then seemingly distant, a blurry heartbeat, pulsing in time with the horse’s manic strides.

The decision to abandon ship arrived in a moment of clarity. We were racing toward home, and the dirt road turned to pavement not so far ahead. I was 10 and overpowered. I feared the mare’s shoes slipping at this speed—there was a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. I was afraid of her falling, crushing me, or losing my weakening grip there, tumbling to the concrete in the path of oncoming cars.

I’d been taught the emergency dismount when I started riding as a five-year-old. My pony then had been much closer to the ground, but the muscle memory kicked in nonetheless, and I had my feet out of the stirrups, my hands on the pommel, and my slight body pushed up, over, and clear of my horse’s flailing legs before I could overthink the maneuver. I landed at a run that turned into a tumble in the (relatively) soft shoulder at the side of the road, and seconds later I was back on my feet, shaky but thankfully unbroken, and headed after the mare, hoping she, too, had survived her panicked flight.

While being able to stop a runaway or out-of-control horse from the saddle—using the pulley rein, for example—is certainly preferable in many cases, knowing how to use the emergency dismount is an important skill, too. Simply practicing it on a horse that is standing motionless can improve your courage and athleticism. And having it in your riding toolbox provides a viable option for handling a crisis by promoting safe and controlled landings, and helping avoid rider injury.

Here are four steps to performing a safe emergency dismount. Try it at the halt before attempting it in motion. Perform it first on the left side, then on the right, as described here, to ensure symmetry—and to make sure you’re prepared should that be the safer side to dismount during a potentially hazardous situation.

 

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1  Take both feet out of the stirrups. Inhale to prepare, stretching up, straightening both legs, and swinging them slightly forward to generate momentum for the next step, which should occur in one smooth, synchronized motion.

2  Exhale and fold down from the hips, bringing your belly to the horse and taking weight onto your hands, on the withers or pommel. Look forward through the horse’s ears as you simultaneously swing both legs up behind you over the hindquarters, touching your heels together. Practice swinging your legs a few times, returning to the basic seat in between.

3  To dismount, as you’re exhaling and when your legs are at their highest, slightly rotate your hips toward the right, pushing off and away to the right side of the horse, keeping your legs together.

4  As you land near the horse’s shoulder, keep your feet parallel with knees and ankles bent to absorb the impact. Look forward the entire time. Inhale as you straighten into an upright position, and then exhale. You did it!

Note: When vaulting off a moving horse, always face the direction of travel to maintain balance, and “hit the ground running” by taking a couple of walk or jog steps forward upon landing. If you lose balance, “tuck and roll” away from the horse: Tuck your head into your chest, wrap your arms around bent knees, and do a somersault.

Riding instructor Linda Benedik teaches the emergency dismount as part of a series of lessons for the rider on the longe line. For more lessons to building a confident rider with a balanced and effective seat, check out LONGEING THE RIDER FOR THE PERFECT SEAT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to buy this book on sale now!

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

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The rider’s trunk and extremities interact and depend on each other. For example, hands and arms depend on shoulder position, which depends on the shoulder girdle, which depends on the position of the spinal column (in particular, the thoracic spine). All of this interconnectedness means that the common instruction heard in riding rings round the world, “Shoulders back!” is detrimental to correct and supple rider position—in fact, it leads to stiffness and tension.

“If you simply take the shoulders back without changing the position of the trunk,” explains Susanne von Dietze in her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, “you exert a lot of energy and become cramped up in the process. It is a position you would not endure for long on a voluntary basis. Instead, start to straighten from the pelvis. The thorax is lifted automatically upward and forward; it is like pushing the thorax under the shoulder girdle. The building blocks of the upper body are then aligned once more and the shoulder girdle can be carried without any muscular effort.”

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“There are a few very beneficial stretching exercise for the shoulder girdle,” von Dietze goes on. “One of the ailments of our civilized society—poor posture—especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax. As a result the muscles in the front chest area shorten.”

Here is one exercise von Dietze recommends to stretch the often shortened musculature in the front of the body and open the thorax for better and more effective riding position:

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1  Stand with your back close to your horse’s side.

2  Bend your arms at the elbows and try to open them to the sides, touching your horse’s body with your lower arms.

3  Then try to stretch your arms out to full length, and if your horse allows it, lean your back gently against his side. This stretches your thoracic spine, expands your front chest muscles, and opens your thoracic cavity and breathing.

 

You can begin to understand more common riding mistakes and find ways to fix them in BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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

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Many riders have neck and shoulder tension, which derives from the body’s reaction of “turning on” the trapezius muscle (see illustration above) in their daily lives. When there is a neuromuscular “highway” to an unproductive area such as the trapezius, there will be an almost automatic physical reaction, collecting tension in that area, regardless of what the rider is trying to do. Shoving tense shoulders back during a ride only makes the problem worse: Exertion used to “fight” a tense muscle area creates additional tension.

The answer is not to fight the muscles that are involuntarily tense, but to reduce tension with a) extensive stretching, and b) to learn to use the muscle’s “off” switch, which is found by training the body to make better use of other areas.

Believe it or not, stretching your neck muscles makes a difference. Stretching your neck actually stretches the elevator scapula as well as the trapezius muscles, in addition to neck muscles. If you carry tension in your shoulders and neck, this exercise is especially important, but if you are relaxed and supple, doing quick neck stretches on a regular basis can just be part of healthy spine maintenance.

Holding your arms down to keep your shoulders down, tilt your head from side to side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder with a deep breath each time.

 

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You can also tuck your head forward as if looking under your armpit on each side.

Do not roll your head back because this compresses your neck vertebrae. If you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders, you can help release it by taking a free hand and squeezing your trapezius muscle or pushing down on it gently as you lean into the stretch. Do not hold the stretch very long before switching to the other side. These stretches should be done slowly and rhythmically.

A rider with shoulder tension can make a habit of doing this stretch, holding it longer, at the end of the day. When doing a deep neck stretch (any stretch can be turned into a “deep” one by holding it longer), it is important to use your hand to help raise your head afterward, since a deep stretch in the neck muscles will stretch the fibers and you can strain something by trying to lift the weight of your head using the same muscles that you just elongated.

For more from Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom, check out her bestselling book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS!, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

 

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

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sitonhandds

We all want to communicate with our horses in ways they can understand. When riding, that communication is dependent on our aids. What we might not realize is just knowing what the aids are and in what order to apply them isn’t enough to “speak” clearly to your horse. It is important sit centered, straight, and even in the saddle.

In the book 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, we learn how to get a feel for a seat that is centered, straight, and even.

1  Take both feet out of the stirrups and let your legs hang.

Allow your upper body to swing gently from front to back. After repeating this several times, you will notice that you instinctively find your center.

3  Round and hollow your back in order to get a feel for a correctly upright upper body. This is important as only then can your spine compensate for the movement of the horse and remain in balance.

4  Now, have a friend hold your horse as you shut your eyes for a moment and concentrate on the feel of your seat. You must develop a feeling for both seat bones and whether they are evenly bearing weight. If you are having trouble sensing both seat bones, drop your reins and sit on your hands: place them under your rear end with the palms facing toward the saddle and the top of the hands under your seat bones. This should enhance the pressure of the seat bones and help you distribute your weight evenly left to right.

Note: If you have continued difficulty evenly weighting your seat bones in the saddle, you may have natural crookedness or movement patterns in your body that need attention from a physical therapist or biomechanics expert.

For a terrific reference of schooling ideas for English and Western riders, check out 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter.

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

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No one can give us the skinny on how to do an honest-to-goodness half-halt like motivational speaker and dressage rider Jane Savoie. She gets that this integral part of, well, basically EVERY riding activity, can be difficult to understand and tough to put into practice in a way that it actually (really and truly) works.

Here’s Savoie’s no-fuss guide to understanding half-halts, from her bestselling book DRESSAGE 101:

Let’s break down the half-halt—or if you prefer, the “half-go”—into its parts. The half-halt itself is the combination of the driving aids (both legs and seat), the outside rein, and the bending aids (both legs and the inside rein), maintained for about three seconds.

During those three seconds, close both legs and push with your seat as if asking for that 100-percent, wholeheartedly forward response that you practiced when you put the horse in front of the leg. This is the “go” part of your half-go. But, instead of allowing the horse to go more forward as you did then, receive and contain this energy almost immediately by closing your outside hand in a fist. This becomes the rein of opposition. Make sure you feel the energy surge forward into the rein just before you actually close this outside hand.

By using your driving aids a fraction of a second before you use your rein aids, you ride your horse from back to front. This is your goal no matter what type of riding you do, because it’s the only way you can honestly connect your horse and make him more athletic and obedient. If you’re preoccupied with creating an artificial “headset” by fiddling with your hands, you’ll be riding your horse from front to back, and you’ll never truly be in charge. Remember, she who controls the hind legs—the “engine”—controls the horse. Always ride from back to front by directing the power from the hind legs forward into your hands.

To the naked eye, it will appear that you use all of these aids simultaneously. However, freeze-frame photography should show you using your driving aids first, then closing your outside hand, and finally, if necessary, vibrating your inside rein to keep the horse straight. (Remember, “straight” means straight on a line and bent along the arc on a curve.)

It is absolutely necessary for you to send your horse forward with your driving aids a fraction of a second before you close your outside hand. If you close your outside hand before you use your driving aids (or even exactly at the same time, for that matter), it’s like picking up the telephone before it rings—no one is there!

To help you imagine this concept, think about a balloon. Your driving aids blow up the balloon, and closing your outside hand in a fist puts the knot at the end of it to keep it full of air. So, to give a good half-halt, use your seat and legs first, and then close your outside hand, just as you’d inflate a balloon first and then tie the knot.

Quick Reference: The Aids for a Half-Halt (on a Circle to the Left)

Seat: Stretch up and use your seat in a driving way, as if pushing the back of the saddle toward the front of the saddle. Be sure to stay sitting in a vertical position when you push with your seat. Leaning behind the vertical can cause the horse to stiffen or hollow his back, and his head and neck will probably go up in the air as well.

Legs: Close your legs steadily, as if squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

Outside rein (right rein): Close your hand in a fist.

Inside rein (left rein): Vibrate, if necessary, to keep the horse’s neck straight.

The aids are applied almost simultaneously, but basically they should be thought of in this order:

1  Driving aids first to create energy.

2  Outside rein second to contain energy.

3  Inside rein third, if necessary, to keep the neck straight.

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Apply these aids for about three seconds by increasing the pressure of your legs and reins so it is slightly more than the maintenance pressure you have when your legs are softly draped around your horse’s sides and your hands have a firm but gentle feel of his mouth. After you give the half-halt, relax. This relaxing—the finish of the aid—is as important as the aid itself, because it is the horse’s reward. When you relax, let your legs rest lightly on your horse’s sides again, keep correct contact with his mouth, and continue riding your circle.

For more of Jane Savoie’s terrific teaching, check out DRESSAGE 101 from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com), where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now

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

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In WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS author Beth Baumert explains the four physical “Powerlines”—Vertical, Connecting, Spiraling, and Visual—that she says enable us to become balanced and effective in the saddle. The Visual Powerline influences the horse’s balance, as well as his line of travel.

The trajectory of the rider’s eyes is a Visual Powerline that goes out from your body—that is, outside the physical system. It connects you and your horse to the outside world. Your body spirals onto your line of travel, and your eyes focus on a point—a dressage letter, tree, fencepost, or a jump—and use it as a frame of reference so the horse can be directed on a planned course.

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The rider who is constantly looking at her horse’s neck has a problem similar to the one who clutches the saddle with her legs. She will always be in her horse’s balance; she uses her horse’s balance as a frame of reference because she never looks outside it. The rider who stares at her horse’s neck is committed to being “on the forehand” and can’t influence her horse otherwise. Some riders have nervous eyes; they furtively glance here and there. The horse might experience this behavior in the same way a rider experiences a horse that is always looking this way and that. Maybe it’s distracting; it surely can’t help.

The trajectory of the rider’s eyes has amazing influence over the horse’s balance. It can help put horse and rider in a downhill, horizontal, or uphill balance. The angle of the floor of your seat in relation to the ground and your torso’s position is determined by the horse’s balance, but it is influenced by the trajectory of your eyes. When the trajectory is in a downhill balance, your seat is not only inclined to be downhill, but it actually can’t follow the horse’s back.

When the trajectory of the eyes is horizontal, the floor of your seat offers the possibility of a horizontal frame for the “downhill” horse. It influences the horse’s spine to travel in a horizontal path, thus improving his natural balance. The horse’s horizontal frame puts the floor of the rider’s seat in a horizontal position. When the rider is in self-carriage with the trajectory of her eyes on a horizontal line, she can influence the horse to come into an uphill posture.

If you have problems with the trajectory of your eyes, imagine “half-halting” with your head. This encourages you to inhale and shift your head up, which improves your horse’s balance both longitudinally and laterally. It puts the trajectory of your eyes on the line that encourages your horse to become better balanced. Your seat can’t work when your head isn’t balanced over the place where the two spines meet.

Try this exercise:

Step 1  Hold on to just the buckle of your reins with one or both hands, and keep your hands over the pommel of your saddle.

Step 2  Use your eyes to chart your course. Be aware of how your eyes relate to the rest of your body. Your head will want to lead and misalign your body, but don’t let it. Be sure your hands, shoulders, knees, and toes also point the way.

Step 3  Track left and spiral onto a diagonal line of travel. Weight your left seat bone slightly and turn with your outside (right) aids. Be aware of how your weight works. You might need to use more outside leg than you expected.

Step 4  As you finish your diagonal line, spiral right to turn right. Weight your right seat bone slightly and turn with your outside (left) aids. Be persistent about your horse following your body.

Step 5  When your horse is able to understand your body language, pick up the reins and begin your warm-up. You’ll find that your horse is more in tune with your body language, and you only need very subtle rein aids.

 

Learn about the other three Powerlines in Baumert’s bestselling book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

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

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