Keeping the girls in line

You knew I was going to get around to it.

Talking about something essential to most women riders.

58  AMAZONE  16X12





No, not dogs really, just bras.

Unlike Pug bunny ears, bras are an essential piece of equipment for a lady rider.

(Similarly ignored but essential is this.)



(See post from the winter: )

Anyway, never mind the cute pictures above–though entertaining–I lead you again to some relevant science and the New York Times today:

Apparently the runners are ahead of us yet again in getting down to what’s really happening when you take unsupported chest appendages and bounce them around over many miles. (They used cameras and treadmills.)

(FYI. Did you know the first sports bra, made mid-seventies was actually not called the Jogbra, but the Jockbra?  It was created with the idea of two jock straps knitted together to create, well something. . . we hope it was helpful.)

Things have improved somewhat over the years, and now we at least have brightly colored instruments of torture to strap on–and models to look pleased about the whole thing:


(This is actually supposed to be a pretty good item–though I have not tried one.  You can get it from

Anyway, there are two popular methods of securing the ladies.




Encapsulation is making some version of little coffins for the breasts and adhering those to the chest.

Compression, as we all know, is smashing two breast flat, into the uniboob position.

A mamogram in the other direction if you will.

These two methods, by themselves, are helpful for yoga classes and can be thought of as the low security wing of the women’s penitentiary.

But even the runners will admit that riding–particularly the sitting trot–is a high impact activity.   Just wishing for stability does not make it happen.  All methods available should be used.

Here is how to do it, without making yourself so miserable in the tack up and barn work that you are going to wish never to ride again.

Please note: In all that I say below the items in your kit should fit very well.  They should be tolerable in the dressing room, if not super-comfortable. It does not matter what they look like.  They have to feel okay.  Don’t be shy about letting the fitting people give advice about the best “one of type” for you.


1. Start with an under layer:


In this case the model is showing you two of them, which you can do, they are cheap.  Several companies make them.  This one is the Rhonda Shear Ahh Bra and can be gotten from  a place called Her Room.

(The Walcoal  version is better, but a lot more expensive)

In this bra you could possibly walk quietly to the grocery store without embarrassment.  It offers no support, neither compression nor encapsulation.

It is a layer.

As noted, this first layer is useless for riding–but it will stop your other outer and more functional bras from driving you crazy.

Never mind wearing these will give you something still on–when in the car on the way home you strip off those high impact outer bras that I am going tell you about.

Also good if you are arrested–which you will be if you try to take off the one below while driving.  Don’t do it.



So, anyway you have not done anything foolish, you are going to ride and you have the under layer on.  The girls are not yet in the penitentiary, but you would like them to be.

2. You strap a nice hook style encapsulation bra on top of the first layer.


A layering of course that the bra companies will not show you, the myth being that these more robust items are comfortable next to your skin while sweating.  (They are not.)

Encapsulation achieved.

Then, depending on how you are built, you grab a third item,

3. A compression style bra–hopefully with a front closure.  (Thinking about the future is something you should do.)


Strap that outer layer on.

This one is called Under Armor, but there are many styles.

Anyway, there you go.  Protection, encapsulation and compression–all at once.  Never mind the end result is some degree of modesty, comfort, and really pretty good stability.  All in a process easily reversed so you can go about your day after riding  without hiding in a rest room and wrestling off sweaty entrapments.

Never, ever, buy one of those super-tight sports bras that you can only get on by squeezing it over your head like a sausage casing.  There will be a day, dressing in a hurry right after a shower, when you will 100% regret it.

Highly specific behaviors you do over and over.

This from the New York Times this morning, an article oddly enough from the business section:  Tony Schwartz

He’s talking about the practice of doing short, intense, focused workouts, as it relates to employment.  (How to not  check in on Facebook every ten minutes but really focus for a period–and then really take a break.)

Mr. Schwartz writes:

“So what’s the trick to overcoming our resistance to pushing ourselves really hard, even for short periods?”

“The answer is fierce prioritization in the form of rituals. Set up highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible and no longer require conscious intention. As the authors Roy Baumeister, Charles Duhigg and others have written, the more we have to think consciously about doing something, the more rapidly we deplete our severely limited reservoir of will and discipline.”

Hmmm. . . . “highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible. . . .” 

“fierce prioritization in the form of rituals.”

That would be just like training dressage. . .

Walk on long reins

Warm up trot

Shoulder in left and right

Freshen the trot

Half pass left and right


Counter canter

Half pass in canter

Flying changes left and right



Medium canter

Extended trot

Back to the barn.

(Every single day at the same time.)

“the more we have to think consciously about doing something, the more rapidly we deplete our severely limited reservoir of will and discipline.”

It really does help to do the same thing every day, and if possible at the same time.  If your horse is not ready for the advanced movements in their slots, do things that will eventually prepare them for those movements.

Might be as simple as collect the gait and then send them forward without abandoning the frame. 

Wait a moment, every one of those movements above is just that!

Hmmm. . . . “highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible. . . .” 

Practice, practice, practice!

Shoulder Forward and medium canter

Bringing the horse’s shoulder a bit to the inside in canter is called shoulder fore.  It is a schooling movement that (to my knowledge) is not asked for in any test, yet is incredibly useful.

Why should this boring (until you try to do it correctly!) and little-used movement be so important?

1. If showing is you goal and you have ever got a comment about your medium canter down the long side “Haunches in,” or haunches drifting,” this movement is your friend.

2. If your horse understands shoulder fore in canter he or she also understands that you may use your inside leg to activate the inner hind in canter–without the horse offering a change of lead unasked–and that you may freely straighten the horse on your outer rein–also without them offering to change the lead unasked.  These are two absolutely essential things to be able to do at will.

Note:  In flying changes sometimes it can happen in the course of the work that the horse blackmails the rider into taking away necessary positioning influences: “If you use your leg or hand to straighten me I’ll get behind you and switch my lead!”  “I will, I really will!”

Shoulder fore is a way to make this concept clear to the horse:  “I am on the right lead canter, and the rider can actively use the right leg and left hand to influence my angle. They can also send me forward on the angle and bring me back onto my neatly positioned inside hind leg.”

What it looks like: it looks like a shoulder in with almost no bend, done in canter, typically down the long side.

The typical problem riders have with this movement is they approach it by attempting to use a lot of inner leg, seat and hand.  Effectively driving the shoulders of the horse to the outside and the haunches in–the opposite effect to the desired one!

The easier way to approach it is to first teach the horse to counter flex just a bit in the corners so they are familiar with the influence of the outside rein.  Then use the outer rein to line up the outer shoulder–an absolutely straight horse, directly in front of the rider’s pelvis and directly behind the rider’s pelvis.  Even on both sides.  (The angle is initiated with a slight, correct, angle of the rider’s body, weight centered.)

We are not approaching this like pushing the broken egg back into the shell!  It should feel like lifting the horse forward into the movement. The better the rider is and securing their own core the easier the horse will be able to understand what is expected.

And in schooling, take it easy at first if the horse has difficulty.  Just do a few steps and go on down the line again.  Once they understand to keep this angle until straightened on the line, you can send them forward to a nice medium canter and bring them back with no trouble.  It’s pretty easy, but the horse has to be straight or it will not work.  No bend, just positioning of the shoulders to the interior side.

We figured out why horses don’t like their girths

In a related post I have told you we solved the girth problem.  I know that sounds weird, but really, we did.


And now in 2018 have a workshop to prove it.

I heard a story a while ago at a clinic, while showing some girths to an interested crowd.

It goes like this: A friend who also rides for pleasure, was walking through CDI stabling at Dressage World Cup, witnessed a bunch of ears back, tails swishing behavior at tack up.

She asked, “How come all the nasty faces?”

Companion’s answer, “They are ALL like that–dressage horses.”


(And please, now that we know how to fix it–FIX IT!)

Here I am also going to tell you quite simply how we finally managed to make the horses more comfortable.  So it will perhaps make more sense.

The solution came about by trying things we suspected would work.  Most of them did not.  If you do this as a job and watch carefully without investment, the so called perfect answers really don’t work as much as you’d hope.

Our prejudices at the start:

  1. We liked our cord “mohair” girths–and on investigation found they were no longer made of corded mohair, but nylon with no give whatsoever.  Their only virtues were they typically do not rub and they are inexpensive.


Would anyone like a pile of them?

2. Real fiber with spring actually is good–but you can’t buy it for $24.99.  Ever feed a goat?  We have. You shear them once a year and it takes them a whole year to “grow” a fiber girth.  Then some human has to spin it and cord it and ply it.)


These things are gorgeous!  Darin Alexander, ArtCords did these.  They are much much better than nylon but at the tension we keep them they were not a solution unto themselves. I gave mine away because I could not bear to have the moths get them.

3. We thought unlimited stretch fabric girths would be nice.  Our horses don’t like them.  We asked, they made faces.

4. We didn’t like elastic ends.  Now we don’t care–the horses don’t care. But if you have them, please have them on both sides

5. We didn’t like short girths–too much hardware in moving places.

We still don’t like short girths and the horses have gotten over the bruising from trying the standard models.  Eventually we came up with one fitted with carefully measured–buckles as high as you can get them that actually works.  A tiny bit of elastic, a girth shield added–see lump like full snake in middle–and a girth cozy–no more ugly faces.  We will show you one at the end of the post.

6. We thought anatomic girths would be nice.  The horses walked off with peg legs.


Same of the “shoulder relief” girths.  The might work with a hunter saddle designed to be ridden up over the withers.   They cause a huge amount of elbow infringement in a “normally” placed saddle.  (Try one on and stick your fingers in the front side of it and walk the horse.  OUCH!)

7. We thought contoured girths with “humane” ends (which we still like–the humane ends) would be great.


The horses would not walk at all.

8. We thought the Balding was old fashioned.


The horses liked them pretty well.

Then we got frustrated that older and older was better and better and bought ourselves one of these very new things:


It is meant to check your saddle fit, but it worked very well on the bottom side of the horse too.

We strapped it to the beast and rode with it.  (Beast did not mind).


And then looked at it carefully.  The middle section is the pectorals–still some gel.  The spots that bottomed out–you can see light through them–are just behind the elbows at the base of the ribs.  And it bottomed out every single time we tried–a lot of pressure was being exerted there at the base of the rib cage.

So then off to the Internet and much study of anatomy and other people’s tests on race horses and girth tightening pressures and many many hours into it we came up with something that worked. The Girth Shield concept allows the horses to breath naturally while securely holding your saddle in place.  And that is what the horses are grumping about when you tack them up–when a normal girth is tightened it is hard for them to breath, and it hurts.

The horses are now all very happy.  No more ugly faces

Melynnda got her Silver Medal, I dusted off my Gold and then stuck it back in the car’s ash tray.

We found a way to give room for normal rib expansion by creating what is in effect a second tree for the base of the horse. 6,7,8 or 9 inches wide.  One size does NOT fit all.  But it’s not so complicated. a length that puts the buckles where you want them and a measurement across the pectorals.


The design evolves.


IMG_6169 6.46.07 AM


There are lots of ways to get around problems.

The X Girth is above, and it is about as simple as you can think of–other than it is hard to make because of the continuous loop.  It is easy to use.  Inexpensive.  We call it the dry martini of the girth world.

If you want one, make contact.

What’s to lose?  (Strong hint–the nasty faces and peg legs for a start.)

Below a modified girth  and how it looked before we modified it.



The heavily padded shield at the base of the girth creates a place for the horse’s ribs to expand when the girth is fully tightened.  Problem solved.

X-rated stretch (This one ought to get some air time. . .)

Actually, I am joking, there is nothing in the slightest bit x-rated about what I am going to tell you–but I will give you a story about Rudolf at the base that illustrates how very difficult it is for people in our culture to effectively teach riding when it is impossible to actually talk about anything from the mid-thigh to the navel of the rider–some would say mid-thigh to chin as advice of how to strap breasts down is largely ignored as well.

However, I promised to give you one basic (and fantastically effective) stretch which you can do in the saddle–as long as your saddle has a tree that you can access.

In fact, you MUST do it in the saddle, as there is no other way to do it that I can comfortably think of.    There are other stretches, but this one is too good to miss.  (Ms. Melynnda who originated this stretch, has a raft of them and will happily come do a clinic for you.)

Here it is, and given that you will not have your computer with you when you try this, I will keep it incredably short and to the point.

This is a picture of a pelvis with the muscles of the hip flexor and Psoas illustrated


Below is a saddle–mine–which a pelvis like the one above would sit over quite comfortably.

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular "pelvis marks" in the leather

Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular “pelvis marks” in the leather

So, imagine yourself sitting in the saddle looking forward.

Take one hand (lets say the right) palm down and cross your body with it grabbing the catch strap that I hope you have, and holding it firmly.

Lean softly back against that right hand, lifting your rib cage just a bit and with your right hip joint look forward and down for the tree of the saddle–in my saddle rather where the white lines are.

When you can feel that edge of the tree with the inner side of your hip joint (which you will not be able to do if you have overly rotated your tail bone under yourself–you must stretch upward and downward) stretch against the saddle, loosening the base of your Psoas from the internal side.

Repeat on the left.

Interestingly, this is one of the main areas of communication with your horse–they lift the front of the saddle when you ask them to, you connect and speak with your seat.

Oh, I promised to tell you one story on Rudolf.  Here it is–and I hope he is effectively ignoring the blog.

One summer in Germany Rudolf persistently told me to stretch my leg down.  And I tried–and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed.  You know the story.

In desperation, weeks into this process, I finally asked him, “Do you mean I am supposed to open my thighs?”

Eyes down, slight blush from him. Assent.

Gosh darn it, though I, a whole summer and he is too embarrassed to say!

However, do remember, it is the rider’s job to translate the language of the teacher into their own body memory–and indeed the movement required is “opening the thigh”, but also engaging the base in a supple way.

And in any case, Rudolf can read the blog to his heart’s content as I am 100% happy with his instruction–years and years down the road.  That says something. It works.  It really, really does.  But from a master, who would expect anything else?

Another view of the Psoas. . .

Here is a great article from another blog brought to my attention by Laurie Baldwin of Kalispell Montana


This fits right in with what we have been doing.  (Please see the Rider Fitness section in “Contents.”)

With an out-of-town rider in for a week of training,  Melynnda and I have had a chance to yet again teach the stretches that one does in the saddle to open and relax the Psoas muscles.

They makes a profound difference in the ride.

The comment from our rider:  I never knew what a lot of SPACE there was in that area.

Yes, there is a lot of space, and awareness in that area.

It is called “your seat.”

A wonderful connection to communicate with your horse, and nicely attached to the rest of your body. . .

If you would like the stretches, please ask.


The timing of the dressage whip in trot

This came in as a question: What is the timing of the whip in trot?

Answer: As the horse begins to pick up his hind leg on the whip side.

I have a rather long post on the use of the whip, done in the depths of winter last year here:

The timing is really easy, but takes a little practice.

You are holding your whip correctly over your thigh, the heel of your hand slightly pressing it downward.

You can feel your leg move in your hand as the whip is connected to both.

As the horse begins to step forward with the hind leg (the one on your whip side) you will feel your hip and thigh dropped a bit.  Your hip, like the horse’s hip, are no longer supported.  And, as the horse bends his hind leg folding it to swing through, that side drops.)

If you follow your thigh around and tic with the whip at this point the rhythm of that hind leg will be quickened.  And assuming you do not let the horse sprawl in front or rush off, then the diagonal pairing will be improved.

Oddly, though you should be able to do this on both sides, it improves both hind legs as long as you make sure the horse travels straight.  This is true in piaffe as well and why it is important to make sure the horse travels straight.