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.


Locating your diaphragm.

I gave this post two tags.  One is Rider Fitness.  The other, Organizing Your Time at the Barn.

Or in this case, your time not at the barn.

Perhaps it is the start of show season here in the Northwest that is creating a tendency in the professionals to nag, but I have been noticing that many of you spend a great deal of time in your cars.  In fact, I would say some of you spend more time in your cars than on your horses.  (This is something that should be thought of as a quality of life issue!)

Given that you do this, then I have a suggestion: use this time to find and strengthen your diaphragm.

Short story:

Yesterday I came home and Rick asked me about my day, “How did it go?”

I said, “Great!  Sally finally found her diaphragm!”

Not a long male silence, just a pause, the hint of a grin, neatly squelched.

“Perfect.  Where was it?”

There are days when he should just go straight to the creek, smoke a cigar and leave the niceties of coming home well enough alone.

But anyway, Sally drives rather a lot, and I gave her this task last week:  When driving, hopefully on one of those long, boring sections that are common in Eastern Oregon and the south side of Washington State,


place your hands at the base (YES–AT THE BASE) of the steering wheel, settling your seat bones in the seat nicely, lift your chest, press upward on the wheel, downward on your elbows, downward/backward on your seat bones.

Hopefully you will locate and press out and up the place just under your rib cage in the center–the same one that should ache like crazy on your first horse, about ten minutes into the ride.  That place is key to both your center and using diaphragmatic breathing to your advantage on a horse.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear how many people do long trips with hands at the 10 and 2 position.  I understand this for severe traffic, drivers education, or the Indy 500, but on a long trip?

On looking for the following totally frightening picture:


I located an article that says 10 and 2 hand position is no longer advised:


For one thing steering wheels have changed design, and then, should the airbag deploy, it will hit your hands going several hundred miles an hour.  And I gather, through some other unpleasant-sounding articles that nasty consequences can occur–such as “degloving” which I will not go into just now.

The consequence I am looking for is that you ride better.

Anyway, I always drive hands low on a long trip. and was surprised to hear others do not.  If you spend a lot of time at something it shapes you.  Give it a try.

(For more on this subject–diagrams!–please see previous post: https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/weight-aids-use-of-the-seat/)

How fit do you really have to be?

How fit do you really have to be to do dressage well?

Good question.  How well do you want to do it?  What are you riding?

The answer re fitness is short.  Most of the time when you ride a balanced, cooperative horse you must have just enough core strength to keep yourself stable on a moving platform.

But, when you have to apply aids to rebalance a horse, it is a different discussion.

If the horse is cooperative and has learned to understand and trust your aids, the period of effort will be short.

(Trust means that the horse knows what is expected, and also that ignoring the aid will result in a consequence, just as cooperating will result in a nice experience.)

If you break the agreement with the horse that your aids and communications mean something, you are in for a much harder ride.  This agreement can be broken by not having a developed a good enough seat, or by overreaching your ability at the time.  A lot of people then take the gym route–get fitter-fitter-fitter!  This will not help in the end if you have insufficient skill and tact.  The point of being strong is to not be strong very often!  Find your center and keep it.  (Easier said than done–but not impossible.)

Tasks for riders:

Develop correct independent balance.

Practice tactful, rhythmical supportive directives. (AKA the horse can always, 100% of the time, answer this question: What am I supposed to be doing?)

When you are practicing movements, never (ever) think you can afford to sacrifice the calmness, ridability and basic balance “just to get it done.”

And now a story.  This is no one rider in particular for I have seen this rider-owner in my own crowd; witnessed it in Germany, Rudolf with a sad smile patting a US horse so locked up in the jaw and dead to the aids that nothing short of dynamite would get his true attention.  This story exists across continents!

There is a rider who has aspirations to the upper level, and she buys a horse with training and movement that would indicate potential into the FEI–a good horse with free gaits, but also a powerful horse with enough movement to get itself in trouble if not correctly balanced.

(Some horses can trudge around all day long on the forehand and never really lose balance in a way that effects the rider–they just don’t move very well.  Rudolf said, by the way, that a good schoolmaster could lose the quality of the gait and still be able to do the movements–we see them all the time on the show circuit here in the states, and I would imagine other places as well.  That is the point, even if the rider fails to correctly set up the balance for a movement the horse can still do the movement.  This makes the rider able to practice the timing for the movements which is important.  But it does not make a good, free, expressive mover.)

So for a time, if she is lucky enough to have one available, the owner-rider with the mid-level warmblood rides with a trainer who is a strong and effective rider.  That strong and effective trainer has a lot of experience and tact–as well as a lot of strength.  The trainer rides lightly at all times when the horse is responding correctly, but if the horse (who knows already how to perform these movements and different balances) shows any sign of ignoring the aids there is a swift and strong correction.  Pay attention!  Now, that is better! Equilibrium restablished.

But the owner-rider, after a year or so, begins to tire of training bills, and is more confident of the horse and the character of the horse.  The trainer is no longer necessary–or at least not very much of the time.  A lesson now and then will do.  And the horse begins to get heavy (or sucked back or inverted or inactive. . . .fill in the blank).

But not VERY heavy or not so much anyway that it can’t be ridden.  It’s just a bit heavy.


But a year later when the team goes to a show what is shown is that the horse is no longer accurate, the gaits have deteriorated, and much worse, the rider-owner is really having to sweat.  It is not a pretty picture.  The rider is being dragged around the arena–and thinking of joining a gym!

So the rider-owner tries a clinic or two.  She is advised to stretch the horse downward to improve the quality of the gait.  This lands the horse solidly on the hands of the already taxed owner-rider.


In the next clinic the advice is given to go forward!  Which in this case ends up with the horse careening around the arena with quickened rhythm, falling further way from the hind leg and now impossible to half halt.  Then in the third strike the third clinician says: up, up, UP!  And SLOW, slower. . .


So now we have a horse that is heavy if stretched, running out of rhythm if sent forward, and inverted and not going forward–all in sequence.   The horse has learned that all three directions provide escapes from work–and worse yet, that they are expected.

So perhaps the rider-owner goes back to the original trainer and says: he seems to be XYZ, can you get on and see what the issue is?  Oh, but he needs now to be ridden in a snaffle, this new saddle that I have bought is the only thing that can fit him, and I would appreciate it if there were no “tic” marks on him so don’t use your whip.  And spurs, well they just make him run. . .

The correct response is of course for the trainer to come no place near that horse:  improvement is impossible given the guidelines set out by the owner-rider–and ignoring a client’s express wishes is bad form in any business.  Even if they are misguided.

But, if the trainer were to get on the horse, he or she would find a workout bar none.  The horse used to be light, but has learned that aids can be safely ignored, that no consistent program will be in effect, and it is really better just not to pay attention at all.  Horses are very trainable–more so than humans in most cases, and what they learn they take a long time to unlearn and there is confusion and angst in the process.  And to regroup such a horse the rider must be very, very , VERY strong–which most amateur riders are not.

So the moral of the story is there is a reason that we do not let horse lean, pull, or lose rhythm and activity.  Even a little bit!

If an error of understanding exists about balance, it  WILL  get bigger. 

(I promise.)

So, paradoxically, if you are very skilled you don’t have to be so fit.  If you make mistakes, you may have to dig your way out, and that is going to take some strength–we hope, very briefly.  Sadly, attaining that strength is not a brief process and if you use your horse as the gym, working on anything but self-carriage, you can bet he or she will have the advantage in the end.

“The only difference between a rut and a grave is depth.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hunch Back

From Melynnda Thiessen

Posture… we’ve all been nagged about this!   In the dressage arena, I’d bet none of us have been spared the correction of “shoulder’s back and down”, “don’t lean forward!” and  “look up, look up!”.

Much has been discovered about the rider’s need for a strong core. However this post is to shed light on another important piece of the rider’s stability…the upper back.

I have found two truths about the proper use of the upper back:

  1. It is necessary for stability –i.e. when riding the young horse
  2. It is necessary for connection –i.e. accessing the upper level movements

I have posted a suggested exercise at the end to help riders begin to strengthen their upper backs.

I have a young Andalusian in training. This guy, sweet as he is in temperament, is squirrely to ride! Those of you familiar with the breed can empathize with their loosey goose shoulders and flexible necks that can be a real challenge to keep together in frame.  Green horses come in and out of their frames all the time, but this guy is especially talented at it! I found he was able to challenge my stability through his quick and flexible movements, which if left unchecked gave me a tendency to hunch through the upper back and send my elbows out and thumbs down. This, of course, compromised my stability.

Due to the number of amateur riders I work with, I began pondering this tendency as at least 85% of my riders suffer from hunching their upper backs.

My conclusion was that riders resort to this as a defense mechanism when their balance is challenged.

Unfortunately, this is one of the least effective positions.  It disconnects the rider’s lower back from ever having influence on the horses hind leg thus losing rider orientation, balance and therefore, control of the horse.  And what I have noticed all too often is that once the rider has taken up this position, they very often stay there…a big mistake in a dressage rider.


example of a rider disengaging their upper back when their balance has been challenged.

I very quickly corrected my position and began taking the offensive in the ride through a firm position of my upper back. (A position that holds my shoulders back and down, my core is engaged, my center of gravity is low, my hips are loose and sink down in the saddle with my legs relaxed at his side.)

Westley as a teacher:

But riding the green horse has not been the only event that has led me to weed the error of a disengaged upper back out of my ride.

I always tell my students to observe the world class arena of dressage riders and recall their postures.

Courtney King-Dye showing excellent posture in her upper back.

I then explain to them they don’t sit tall just because it looks good, they have to in order to get the job done.  (First explained to me by my own instructor, then clearly demonstrated to me by my horse, Westley.)

So enters Westley’s passage 🙂

(The new love in my life, Westley – Grand Prix TB/Hanovarian Cross gelding)

I have found that the ability to ‘find’ passage, is the ability to connect in a way that lifts the horse to the movement.  Yes, you need a secure position on a young horse for stability. However, when riding passage, the concept of a connected upper back is brought to a whole new level.  Ahhh, the fantastic joy of the upper levels!

When done correctly a definite connection is felt all the way through the horses back to the riders seat up through their trunk and on up through the upper back.  This is the process that takes place with each and every stride, so it feels like a rhythmic circle of energy that is contained through the rider’s body, back to the horse and so forth.  When you are truly connected, you feel as though your seat acts as a suction cup, bringing the horse right up in the air with you.

What struck me about this connection was my upper back. Sure, its obvious that it takes a strong core. This can be discovered just by observation. But to realize that if you don’t connect your upper back correctly you will never complete the circle of connection from rider to horse.  To understand this, for me anyhow, took experiencing passage.

Moral of the story:

  1. Correct your upper back issues.  Don’t be bashful; we all have had this issue to some extent!  Please see exercise below.
  2. When you have an opportunity to get on a horse that knows the upper levels, take it! …the experience given to you by a well trained horse will pay you back 10 fold!

Suggested Exercise – Chair sit:

I like practicing this exercise just before I get on.  Its great for my upper back because it stretches and strengthens that area and begins warming up my core.  When doing this exercise I focus on keeping my back straight and my shoulders back and down. I initially hold for 30 seconds, extending the duration with each repetition over a series of several days. Please discontinue if any pain or discomfort is experienced.


Becoming an Athlete

Melynnda Thiessen

“Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better. “  Paul Coffey

Cross training is how I have developed as an athlete, not just a rider. (And yes, the first exercise is at the bottom!)  In what other sport do you find athletes only willing to practice their particular sport with the expectation of achieving a fully trained and complete specimen.  Shoot, we don’t even expect our horses to be complete dressage athletes by solely practicing dressage!  We trail ride, hack, jump, gallop and what have you, all as a means of developing the well-rounded athlete.

So I must remind riders that if they expect their mounts to be an athlete, and they certainly should, then as the leader of the dancing pair they must first become athletes.

Merriam Webster definition of an Athlete: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

The words I take from this definition are trained, physical strength, agility and stamina, all words that require an action to develop.  Put another way, its not so much talent, but hard work that develops the athlete.

What?  Dressage riders must commit the act of physical work to develop as an athlete?  “Wait a minute”, one might ask… “whatever happened to the sport of dressage that I picked because of its grace and ease?”

Lets not forget that to get grace and ease, we must “crack some eggs” as Dale so kindly puts it.  And as Kourtney King-Dye put it “You go through a lot of ugly to get pretty”.  The process of egg cracking takes athleticism folks!

Training the upper levels of dressage proves that dressage takes balance, a certain amount of strength, agility and the endurance to “stick through a tough spot” for the duration until you and your horse can wade out of your particular situation.  This all takes physical fitness.

As a fellow area trainer complained to me in exasperation: “I’m just getting them (out of shape student) started when they look at me, out of breath, and ask to take a break.  How are we to get any real work done?!”

So this is my aim, to develop myself and other riders with the result of attaining physical strength, agility and stamina resulting in a trained athlete that has worked hard and achieved the highest level of the sport possible to them.

On to the first exercise for the dressage athlete.

Before we ever begin any real work, it’s a must to loosen the body and breath. So the first exercises is simple yet very important.  This is an opening exercise, and great to do just before your ride as it begins your deep breathing, gives you a chance to focus on the ride and get rid of any “extras” running around in your brain from that days chaos (no thinking about paying bills, chores that need to be done or family troubles!).  Begin to sanctify your ride as your “happy” place. When you enter the barn, you are problem free!  I find that riders need to take a specific action to clear their mind and enter this place of calm, so this is why I picked the “Standing Opening” as our first exercise.

With your shoulders square to your hips and your hips square to your feet, raise your hands directly overhead. This motion in itself stretches and opens your chest.  Pull your shoulder blades together, keep your back straight and engage those abs. Now, with your hands directly over head reaching up as far as is comfortable, sink your arms deeper into their sockets and begin deep breathing.  While you breath, begin to focus on the ride ahead and stop thinking of the “extras”.

My disclaimer:  I am only sharing what has worked for me and fellow students.  Exercise at your own risk! If done incorrectly, injury is possible.  Please consult your physician first, and especially if you have any previous injuries, back pain etc.  Some of these exercises may not be recommended with previous conditions.  Always stop all exercises if you feel pain!

Anticipation of a dressage hopeful.

Melynnda Thiessen:

As an extension to Dale’s post about the correct use of the seat, I want to emphasize rider fitness.  By increasing my own fitness levels, I gave myself an advantage when I was put in an optimal position to train for the sport. Here is how I did it:

First, I adopted this attitude: No pain, no gain! I am a believer in cross-training your body for your sport.

I was without a horse for a number of years, waiting for my next opportunity to dive into dressage. Being the stubborn type, I was not willing to ride for the sake of riding. I would only get back into the sport of dressage under three conditions: The first was the ability to begin training in dressage full-time with the right instructor; the second was to do so with the right horse; and the third was to be able to afford it all.

Well, as you can image, having no instructor, no horse, and no way (yet) to afford my beloved sport, I went through a long lag time of not riding at all.

Sad Melynnda.

But, though I am stubborn, I am also optimistic! I looked around and wondered what I could do to prepare myself for this sport off the horse. I wanted to be ready to shoot out of the cannon the minute opportunity struck. With this determination fueling me, I dove into a physical fitness program that focused on core strength, flexibility and cardio. By golly, when I did get on a horse, I wasn’t going to be out of shape. Though I knew my skill was deficient, I wasn’t going to allow that shortcoming to be exacerbated by a lack of general fitness!

Thus entered core conditioning and all the grueling mat exercises I could stomach (no pun intended, of course).  😉

I did every kind of strengthening and stretching known to man. I did so much that I went overboard and strained a muscle or two. I then got smart and began working closely with a certified Pilates instructor and physical therapist who helped me wade through all the garbage exercises out there (just look on YouTube–you will find them in droves!). What I found were exercises tailored to the sport of riding; they were easier on the body and really did work to tone and strengthen the core. I soon developed a very fit core and when that opportunity to ride with Dale arrived, I was ready! I couldn’t believe how fit I felt. Skilled…well, no… but prepared…YES! I could easily stabilize myself on the horse, even on her Grand Prix mount Galoni as he guided me through a canter pirouette (what a wonderful soul that guy was!). It made my rides that much more enjoyable to feel stabilized and fit enough to do the sport justice. No, my skill had not come along just yet, as that takes years (7-10 years to make a Grand Prix rider), but at least there was no lack of fitness holding me back.

So this is why I believe so strongly in the value of core strength. It’s worked for me, and as I teach my students, I see it working for them in a way that cuts their training in the saddle back so they can move on to the “fun” stuff so much quicker.

So, much more to come on fitness. In the meantime, go buy yourself a stability ball!

Are you fit enough?

Dale Forbes:

Are you fit enough?

I know I’m not!

At 54, I really feel I need to work at it–much more so than when I was 30, though I should have worked at it more then too.

Can you get fit by riding?  Yes and no.

An aside: My main instructor in Aikido said that you should not depend on Aikido practice for your fitness.  He maintained that one must do something else–run, lift weights, bike–whatever.

Here is what Aikido looks like–(my partner Rick throwing me)


(Some say that Aikido itself is not that hard–it is the getting up off the floor a thousand times that takes the work.  There is something to that.)

This might not be for everyone, but there really ARE things you can do off the horse to help your riding.  Most of us who ride do not have unlimited horses to ride, and importantly, unless you have HAD to ride six or eight of them a day, you do not understand that the properly trained horse is not your gym.  They are supposed to be fairly easy to ride, because they give you a place to sit.

Green horses are a different story–the proper analogy would be the schooled horse is like walking on the earth and a green horse is like walking on an airplane.  But, on all horses your goal is to improve your own self-carriage.  And you are certainly not supposed to grow biceps of steel by pulling.  Core strength matters.  It gives the horse a place to be connected to you.  It is also a challenge to develop.

When I was in Germany we would sometimes go join a fitness group for riders that met at the Olympic Training center there in Warendorf.  There were a variety of stretches, some rather similar to Yoga or Pilates–please see Melynnda’s post on core strength work, based on Pilates, with which she is more familiar than I.  And then in Germany they made us play basketball–because they said riders were notoriously bad at team participation.

Who knew? Riders not team players?  Hmmmmmm.  Ever witnessed that? Not us, surely not US!

But, never mind group participation, very rarely do coaches talk about fitness issues when it comes to riding.

Here are some things they do talk about–things that have a lot more to do with body image than fitness:

From the old George Morris influence–BE THIN!!!! BE THIN!!!! BE THIN!!!! BE THINNER!!!!

(Wrong for a dressage rider–Rudolf, to my utter delight, once told a very thin (and rich) rival of mine that she needed to go eat noodles.  HA!  Revenge was sweet.)

From the Southern group: along with your tanning time, go lift weights to look nice in the tank top.

(This is not a problem for us bordering Canada–we hide in layers of down nine months of the year.)

(Okay, maybe go to the gym, but give a man a hammer and every problem is a nail.  Given power, one tends to use it.)

And then there is always liposuction.  Honestly, before the Atlanta Games that was actual advice from a well-known US trainer to his female student.

What Rudolf said about large body size was, on occasion: “She could lose a pound or two.”  But never more severe than that.  I actually heard him say one time to a very short rider: “There are tall riders and there are short riders, but as long as they ARE riders it is not a problem.”  And that is the point.

If body image is preventing you from getting on the horse, get on anyway.  Also get on your bike, mow the lawn, buck some hay bales, sweep, walk.  Do whatever to stay active.  That said, dressage riding takes a great deal of endurance to do properly.  From there I will hand the ball to Melynnda.  She has a good set of exercises.

Weight aids–finding your seat.

Dale Forbes

One morning in Germany, Rudolf walked over to me just as I had dismounted and took a quick look at my saddle.   Like him and Schultheis at the time, I rode (and still ride) a Stubben Tristan “Extra,” designed by Herr Schultheis eons ago.  It is known as a saddle for an experienced rider because it does not “put” you anywhere–as has become the fashion of late in saddlery.

After the quick inspection Rudolf said, “This is good. The marks are correct.” 



What he was talking about were two fairly symmetrical, about two-inch-wide and round wear spots (sweat marks, if you will!) in my saddle.  I thought really nothing of them.  But I began to notice that not all the riders’ saddles were marked that way.  Some had really no marks at all–a sign that the thigh held the rider away from the saddle.  Some had one central mark toward the rear of the saddle–a sign that the rider habitually rotated the pelvis to sit on the coccyx.

When I first rode with Rudolf Zeilinger, in a five-day clinic in the US in 1989,  he was asked what he thought the biggest problem with riders in America was.

His answer: “The seat–there is not enough use of the weight aids.”

I am sure this sent most of us into a frenzy of sitting like bricks, driving our pelvises mercilessly against the horse.

This was of course not his intention. . . More is not always better or appropriate to the situation.

For a visual example please see the clip in https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/swing-over-the-back/

Several things go into using the seat correctly.


The first is that the rider must be oriented evenly on the line of travel.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case.  Many riders adopt a perpetual semi-shoulder in.

It’s easiest to think of this going on a straight line.  The seat bones are allowed to settle into the saddle. (And it is allowing–there is no correct way to force this–though you can do some stretches both in and out of the saddle that help.)

The upper body remains carried, but not tense, the muscles of the cross of the back connecting the shoulder and torso to the pelvis.  The front of the rider has an elongated feel, stabilized by the diaphragm (which will feel slightly pushed out just under the ribs in front) and psoas muscles, which are a group of much-ignored and fairly constantly used elements of standing and stabilizing the torso–as well as some hip flexor capacity. (Remember “flexor” means also length–relaxation and suppleness are important.  This set of muscles tend to get contracted and tight.)


The correct use–a stretching sort of feel–of this group of muscles is what makes certain schools of good dressage riders look very grounded, but also as if they are sitting tall.


They are not doing this to adopt a pose.  They are doing it because in order to not constantly grab with the thigh (which stabilizes but also immobilizes the pelvis), they have to go to alternate means. (See below.)

Re posture: PT experts who know far more than I describe it thus: “The primary balancing act occurs between upward tension exerted by the diaphragm, and downward force exerted by the psoas major. An optimal balance of this mechanism contributes to efficient co-contraction of the small segmental stabilizers. This helps provide a strong stable abdominal cavity.” (http://conorpcollins.com/?p=1393)

(Please see article under rider fitness: https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/locating-your-diaphragm/)

In other words–core strength, not limb strength (or external muscle rigidity) is the goal.

Note: The alternate method is to stabilize externally–typically either grabbing inward with the thigh or locking the knee under some sort of thigh block.  These methods have their strengths and weaknesses.  Many successful riders adopt this pattern of external rather than internal stabilization.  The downside of external stability is that the seat is never actually in contact with the saddle in a moving, communicative manner, acting more like an off-and-on switch rather than a dimmer. The downside of internal  stability is that developing a flexible/strong connection–not weak, flexible–takes some time.

Again look at the clip in post: https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/swing-over-the-back/

In the end it is a matter of taste, time, ability, and goals.  But, those decisions, in my very humble opinion, are often the difference between mastery and competence.

Hint: Going to the gym and lifting weights will probably not help develop your seat.

Dale’s view? Pilates is probably a better option.

Back to the seat!

And a quick note about an important question Melynnda asked in the ride yesterday that illustrates not only how persistent one must be to develop a good seat, but also how easy it is to get sidetracked.

Melynnda has a very good seat, and she is also a very good student.  So she stopped for a moment when I asked her to support with her leg at slow speed and said,  “If I use my leg in the transition it locks my pelvis and I can’t regulate the movement.”

A very good point!

I explained, showing her from the horse I was riding, that as I used my calf and at the same moment softly stretched the front of my my pelvis forward–in effect “looking” for the tree of the saddle,  my thigh moving just a little downward with each step, I retained the flexibility and connection I needed.  (And the four-year-old I was riding started to piaffe, so I stopped!)

Note: There is nothing  new in riding–it’s been around a while–if we just listened and understood  Musler’s advice  in Riding Logic (http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Logic-Wilhelm-Museler/dp/0851319513)  He describes this very well using the image of pushing the book on the table back on the table with your pelvis so you get an extension of the front, which keeps mobility.

Back to Melynnda on her horse! Given “new” information, which she had now found usefu, (as in great piaffe on the horse she was riding), Melynnda looked at me, eyebrows up, and blurted out:

“How come you never told me this?” (Good student!)

Of course, I told her I had withheld this tip because I wanted to collect years of training money and become rich at her expense.  (BAD Dale!)

The real answer is, I had told her, but there is more than one way to use your seat; and to quote Rudolf on almost any question asked, It depends on what you want to accomplish. 

And by the way, though Rudolf commented on my saddle, and I watched a lot of other people, nobody ever  actually told it to me.  Very few people actually do it well, let alone think about it.

And now, if you want to see what to do with your correctly positioned seat, you can look at another post: