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5.16

Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Santa Fe Renegade. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) defines engagement as “increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (‘lightening the forehand’).”

Engagement is a prerequisite to impulsion (thrust): the “releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse’s elastic, whole-body movement.” Engagement is carrying power, whereas impulsion is pushing power.

Many people who ride horses have no idea what the technical terms mean. Although Cowboy Dressage tries to avoid confusing language, engagement and impulsion are such important aspects of forward motion that they need to be understood and recognized, and so they are explained in the book COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

In simpler terms, engagement refers to the manner in which a balanced horse brings his hind legs under his belly to move forward off his hindquarters efficiently. Engagement is the basis for a horse’s impulsion–the energy with which a horse moves forward. The true lightness of Cowboy Dressage can only happen when the horse is engaged and moving with impulsion, with his weight over the hindquarters rather than on the forehand.

The hindquarters are the energy source of the horse. At the same time, he carries most of his weight on his forehand thanks to the head and neck. Engagement helps the horse achieve balance under these physiological conditions. To better bear the weight and enable balance, the horse must round his back and bring his hind legs well forward under him. This is called tracking or tracking up (USDF). Tracking is a necessary component of engagement, but it should not be confused with reach (how far the hind leg reaches forward).

Nor should engagement and impulsion be confused with speed. A horse that is rushing will often be strung out and hollow-backed, the opposite of being engaged. The front and hind end may appear disjointed or unconnected. Conversely, a horse that is engaged will move from behind in a balanced, energetic fashion at any gait and any speed.

Although the Cowboy Dressage horse may not have the length of stride or suspension that a traditional dressage horse has, he should show engagement and impulsion. All four feet should be working together in a rhythmic fashion.

To achieve impulsion and engagement, encourage your horse to round his back, stretch and lower his neck, and move forward actively. The energy has to flow naturally through your hands at a free gait. Much of the time spent on the horse’s foundation should be dedicated to encouraging forward motion. Good horsepersons make engagement and forward motion a prerequisite to every maneuver.

6.5B

Encourage your horse to stretch and lower his neck as seen in this free jog.

Again, remember that energetic forward motion requires strength and endurance: the horse must be conditioned slowly until he has the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of Cowboy Dressage or any other equestrian discipline. Much of the cadence and beauty of the finished gaits comes from long hours simply moving forward at the walk, jog, and lope.

Find out more about developing beautiful gaits in your horse in COWBOY DRESSAGE, 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 company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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PILATESDR10

A lot of things can happen in 10 years of riding. Common goals shared by most riders are to have improved their seat; advanced the training of their horses while maintaining soundness; and nurtured connection and communication with their equine partners—that is, find harmony.

There was a time Janice Dulak couldn’t sit a trot. She had great riding instructors, but as one teacher put it, “You just don’t have harmony yet.” Terribly frustrated, Janice realized something was wrong. How could she, a former professional dancer, a Professor of Dance, and a Certified Romana’s Pilates Instructor, not be able to learn how to sit a trot?

 

There was a time when Janice Dulak couldn't sit the trot--all that changed when she developed Pilates for the Dressage Rider.

There was a time when Janice Dulak couldn’t sit the trot—all that changed when she developed Pilates for the Dressage Rider.

It dawned on her that a dancer’s vocabulary was much more specific than riding vocabulary. A riding instructor says, “Use your leg.” A dancing instructor says, “Turn your leg out and lift it to the side with the foot flexed and knee bent.” Exacting vocabulary to create exact movement. This “ah-ha” moment led her to begin asking her mare India “questions”: Janice would create a feeling or movement in her body and listen for India to respond. Within a week, Janice understood how she needed to use her body so her horse could be comfortable, and at last, Janice was able to sit the trot.

Janice began teaching her work to riders around the country, and PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER was published in 2006, establishing a new vocabulary that helped riders understand how to use their bodies to create a more harmonious ride. As her methods caught on, Janice was invited to teach Linda Parelli and her students, and to co-present clinics with USDF Gold medalist and Certified Instructor Sarah Martin, which propelled her to the frontlines of a new form of training that ensured happier, more comfortable horses, as well as better, more satisfied riders.

“From Intro to Grand Prix riders, I see that my work elicits change,” Janice says today, reflecting on the past 10 years. “I see horses stop swishing their tails. I see riders learn how to open their hips and stay in the saddle at the sitting trot and canter. I see horses round up without being cranked down with the hands. I see riders learn how to have a steady contact. I see happy horses. I see happy riders.

“In the 10 years since PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER was published, my riding and my life has changed. I’m now a USDF Bronze medalist, working toward the Silver this year, and with all the wonderful comments I have received on my books, DVDs, and clinics, I am inspired to continue researching and sharing what I learn. Moving up the levels, it becomes apparent that my work is not done. There is so much more to explain and teach to help riders. For all of you struggling dressage riders, there is hope.”

Janice’s Pilates for Dressage program took her from being unable to sit the trot, to within reach of her USDF Silver, as well as helping thousands of others. She gives us more than hope…she gives us a way forward.

In honor of the 10th Anniversary of PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER, the book and DVD are both 20% off from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. (Offer good until June 15, 2016.)

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

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Not many of us come to riding with the anatomical understanding of a medical doctor, and so it is often our aids and position are caught somewhere between a mystery and a miracle—we’re not sure how or why they work, but we are thrilled when they do! Dr. Beth Glosten does have that knowledge of the human body and how it functions, and she found that it was integral to her progress as a rider when she came back to horses after years away to pursue her medical degree and residencies.

In Dr. Glosten’s flat-out fantastic book THE RIDING DOCTOR (available from the TSB online store CLICK HERE), she provides clear, practical explanations of the realities of the human body and how it can be trained to accommodate the shape and movement of the horse, as well as the skills necessary in all riding sports. More than 50 easy-to-do exercises help develop fitness and mechanics specific to riding. It has been described as “a more technical, practical Centered Riding…sort of Centered Riding for the rest of us” and “a wonderful resource.”

We recently caught up with Dr. Glosten before her busy season of teaching and clinics begins, and asked her a little about her path from “Doctor Doctor” to “Riding Doctor,” as well as how she hopes her book will help other riders in their own journeys.

 

TSB author Dr. Beth Glosten and her horse Bluette.

TSB author Dr. Beth Glosten and her horse Bluette.

 

TSB: You grew up riding; then there were a number of years while you were in medical school when horses couldn’t be part of your life. When you came back to horses you were in your thirties, and found riding wasn’t as easy as it used to be! What discoveries did you make about yourself, your horses, and riding at this time?

BG: I was reminded how learning a sport comes relatively easily when we are young. When I came back to riding in my 30s, I was uncoordinated, out of shape, and all “in my head.” I had been in school for so long, everything I did revolved around thinking, not moving! As you might imagine, this approach doesn’t work very well with horses and riding. I was pretty frustrated for quite a while!  I didn’t realize this at the time, but looking back I can see how disconnected I was from my body, and as a result, struggled to move with and communicate clearly to the horses I rode.

 

TSB: How did being a medical doctor impact your pursuit of riding and eventually dressage?

BG: I was hooked on horses and riding before going to medical school. Horses were not a part of my life during my medical education, and I wasn’t sure at that time that they would be a part of my life again, I was so busy and consumed by my training. It wasn’t until I started to have some time for myself, after medical school and residency training, that the idea of riding again entered my mind.

While I did do some jumping when I got back into riding, dressage proved to be the perfect fit. It matches my detail-oriented, perfection-seeking mind! While a practicing physician, I was an Anesthesiologist—again, a detail-oriented profession—and one would hope every Anesthesiologist seeks perfection in their practice!

 

TSB: When did you discover Pilates? Why did you choose to become Pilates-certified and teach other riders Pilates exercises?

BG: I found Pilates after back surgery for a herniated disc. I knew I needed an ongoing fitness program so I could go back to horseback riding. I tried Pilates when I saw an article written by a dressage rider in a local magazine. Like dressage (and medicine), Pilates is detail-oriented, so it fit my personality. But more important, the instructor I had was quite good at sorting out my movement habits that likely contributed to my underlying back problem. I was really intrigued with how difficult it was to sort through and change these habits! But the real selling point was my rides after my Pilates sessions were my best rides, by far! I was amazed at how much better I could sit in balance, and move with my horse. I knew I hadn’t gotten stronger in the session, but clearly the session had made a profound difference in how I could use my body.

It was also at this time that I had made a decision to leave the practice of medicine. As you might imagine, I really needed something “to do.” I was not at all used to having so much time on my hands! I was so impressed with how Pilates helped my back and my riding that I wanted to share it with other riders. Plus, for me, it was wonderfully empowering to recognize how I could help myself heal from my back problems with this program of mindful movement (as opposed to having someone work on me).  In the end, this is what inspires me the most today—helping people help themselves move through their day more mindfully and comfortably.

 

TSB: How do you feel your medical career and knowledge of Pilates principles helps your riding and the riding of your students?

BG: Understanding a bit of anatomy helps me solve my riding position problems and the horse’s training problems. While riding can feel magical, being successful does not happen by magic. I believe that wonderful feeling of riding in harmony comes from thoughtful consideration of what is going on. There is a great deal of this kind of problem-solving in medicine.

Many of my clients come to me because of prior injuries or pain issues while they ride. My medical education helps me understand their problems, and hopefully pin down movement or riding habits that could contribute to their problem. My own history of injuries, I hope, helps me approach the issues that my clients have with compassion and patience—at least this is my goal!

 

Dr. Glosten with a student.

Dr. Glosten with a student.

 

TSB: What is the most common issue you see in your riding students? What is the usual solution?

BG: I would have to say it is a rare rider that doesn’t have some postural issue to work on. Posture is so fundamental to a balanced position in the saddle, both front-to-back, and side-to-side. Problems with front-to-back posture (being arched, or rounded, in the spine) can interfere with staying precisely with the horse’s movement, and not being left behind. Lateral, or side-to-side, imbalance is also very common—that is, a rider sits heavily on either her right or left seat bone, all the time, rather than staying balanced over both seat bones.

The usual solution is first helping the rider to be aware of the problem, and with feedback from mirrors, help her recognize that what feels “normal” is not correct alignment. Activating the relevant muscle groups to help stabilize correct alignment helps the rider keep the good posture. Feedback from the horse, by way of improved movement and responsiveness, is the most powerful, positive reinforcement for keeping, and believing in, the prescribed postural changes.

 

TSB: What are three things you hope riders can take away from your book THE RIDING DOCTOR?

BG: I hope riders are empowered to take seriously the important role their posture and balance plays in the success of their horse’s training.

I hope that riders come to believe that they can change posture and movement habits that interfere with their riding and performance.

I hope that riders come away with a system to consider their position every step of the ride. That they can ride along asking themselves, “Where am I? Where am I?” to maintain awareness of their own body while riding.

 

TSB: You are an active competitor. What are your training and showing goals for 2015?

BG: I am looking forward to 2015 as a training year. The horse I ride now, Donner Girl, is one-year post-rehabilitation for a ligament injury. It has been a slow journey back to training, but she is going really well right now. I don’t want the pressure of the show ring to change the path we are on. Maybe we’ll be back there in 2016. Also, this summer is pretty booked for me teaching clinics on the weekends—which I thoroughly enjoy.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

BG: I’m not sure I remember the very first time. But I do recall, when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old, friends up the road came by with their horses. I remember thinking that they were HUGE! Now, they might have been 16 hands or so, but for a kid, it was a long way up! I definitely recall the wonderful smells of leather and the horses’ sweaty coats and warm breath. I remember feeling both fear and joy as the horse I sat on walked off, marveling at how natural it was for the horse to move this way, but how foreign it felt to me.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

BG: This I do recall! The same friends I mentioned, who lived in our neighborhood just during the summer, not only had big horses, but they also leased two ponies. Perhaps a year or so after my first ride, I remember going to their house to ride the ponies. There was a little trail through the pasture we used to ride on, back and forth. One day the pony I was riding “took off” on this trail in the downhill section. I landed face first in the dirt, with a bloody nose. But I was back on the next day!

 

Dr. Glosten and Donner Girl ("DG").

Dr. Glosten and Donner Girl (“DG”).

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

BG: I don’t think I can name just one quality. Sincerity and honesty come to mind, but also the willingness to simply bear witness—that is, just listen to my story. Give advice only if asked.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

BG: I really appreciate a horse that tries hard to do what you are asking. Donner Girl is this way— and of all the horses I tried when looking for her, it is the characteristic that made her stand out.

 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

BG: Breeze a racehorse.

 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

BG: 1% milk for my morning coffee, mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery), eggs, cooked brown rice, vegetables, cheddar and parmesan cheeses.

 

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

BG: Good health, good companionship (people and/or critters), and acceptance.

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

BG: First, it must be made from real, natural ingredients. I am a committed omnivore, but care that any meat I eat comes from an animal that was humanely treated.  While I’m a meat-eater, I love vegetables. The perfect meal is satisfying but balanced so I don’t feel grossly full afterward. And the perfect dinner is always accompanied by a lovely wine—an Oregonian or French Pinot Noir would be delightful, thank you!

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

BG: A perfect vacation inspires me, and exposes me to new ideas, new art, new food. Relaxing is not what I seek—I want something different. Recently I traveled to Thailand on my own. It was nearly the perfect vacation, except that I sprained my ankle halfway through.  If this hadn’t happened, however, I would have never experienced Thai acupuncture!

 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

BG: Siddartha Gautama, or the Buddha. His teachings weren’t written down until 400 years after his death. I wonder how close they are to what he really taught.

 

TSB: What is your motto?

BG: Perfection is the enemy of good.

 

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Read more about Dr. Glosten’s book THE RIDING DOCTOR and download a FREE sample chapter on the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE

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Dr. Beth Glosten is the author of THE RIDING DOCTOR.

Dr. Beth Glosten is the author of THE RIDING DOCTOR.

Dr. Beth Glosten no longer practices medicine but has turned her attention and precise knowledge of anatomy to riding (she’s a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist) and teaching riders, both in the saddle and on the ground (she’s also a licensed Pilates instructor).

In her fabulous new book THE RIDING DOCTOR: A PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTHY, BALANCED, BEAUTIFUL RIDING, NOW AND FOR YEARS TO COME, Dr. Glosten provides a remarkably clear look at what our bodies “do” on horseback. Here’s how she boils down the attainability of “feel” (it IS attainable!), beginning with what she describes as “what moves and what shouldn’t move much” when you are riding at each gait.

 

You CAN Develop “Feel”

Consideration of how the horse moves opens the door to riding in harmony. Without considering the character of the horse’s gaits, you have no basis from which to improve the horse’s way of going. The horse’s character of movement is his raw material for you to work with. You must understand how you interact with this material before expecting it to change.

The ability to move in harmonious communication with your horse is the same as riding with “feel.” Some say feel is a skill you either have or you don’t: If you are lucky to be a rider with feel, you are admired. If, however, you are told you lack this skill, it seems you are doomed to a riding career of struggles. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. While some riders do seem to have a knack for moving naturally with their horse, I wholeheartedly believe you can develop feel in your riding if your position and balance are solid as guided by the Rider Fundamentals.

A rider with feel predicts and interacts with the horse’s movements and behaviors as if she can read the horse’s mind and body. A rider with feel always appears with the horse despite challenges or evasions from the horse. This rider seems to always know just the right amount and timing of encouraging or correcting rein or leg aids, and seems to be sitting inside the horse, rather than on top. The resulting picture, to the uneducated eye, looks as if the rider is doing nothing (but we know otherwise!).

 

Dr. Glosten on her mare "DG" at sitting trot: She keeps spine stability with her "abdominal seat belt" while allowing her legs to swing at the hip joint with DG's back.

Dr. Glosten on her mare “DG” at sitting trot: She keeps spine stability with her “abdominal seat belt” while her hip joints allow her legs to swing with the side-to-side movement of DG’s barrel.

 

Young riders have a particular knack for feel. With relatively little guidance, a skilled young rider develops the ability to move with the horse and influence him in a positive way. This is not surprising, as learning new movement skills comes naturally at a young age. As we get older, it becomes harder and harder for the brain and body to learn new tasks and make logical choices for balance and coordination. It is not that we can’t learn something new; it just takes longer and requires a greater commitment. If you are an older rider and think you lack feel, don’t give up. I strongly believe it can be learned and developed.

Learning and understanding your horse’s rhythm and movement at each gait, and how you, the rider, should move with them, puts you and your horse on the same page, and the door is open to ride with feel.

 

Walk: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your shoulder and elbow joints move to stay with your horse’s head and neck.

• Your legs alternately swing slightly in and out at the hip joint, staying with your horse’s rib cage as it rocks side to side with each step.

• Your pelvis and spine move somewhat forward and back (but this is often exaggerated). The amount of movement of your pelvis when you ride a walking horse is similar to the amount of movement of your pelvis when you walk.

 

Posting Trot: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your hands stay in a stable position.                                                           

• Your legs stay stable underneath your body.                             

• Your torso is in stable alignment, slightly inclined forward, while it moves up and forward over the pommel of the saddle, and then back down. 

 

Sitting Trot: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your hands stay in a stable position.

• Your legs stay stable underneath your body.

• Your torso is in stable alignment.

• Your hip joints allow the side-to-side swing of your legs with your horse’s barrel.

• Your ankle joints move to absorb the up-and-down motion.

 

Canter: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your arms follow the motion of your horse’s head and neck.

• Your legs are stable.

• Your hip joints allow the rolling back-to-front motion of your horse’s body, especially your inside hip joint.

• Your torso stays in correct alignment, without excess rocking forward and back. The more collected the canter, the less your torso rocks; it adopts a more up-and-down motion with your horse.

 

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Learn more from Dr. Beth Glosten, plus get over 50 step-by-step exercises geared toward developing the riding skills we need to be balanced, effective, healthy riders, now and for years to come in THE RIDING DOCTOR, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE

 

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Janet Foy’s forthcoming book DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE is featured in the May 2012 issue of USDF Connection, the official publication of the United States Dressage Federation (USDF). USDF members can check it out as their issue arrives in their mailbox this month.

DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE is available for preorder at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

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CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY OF DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE TODAY

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