“Movements that were once natural to the horse become suddenly very tiring when a rider is on his back because it changes his balance,” says Ulrike Thiel in her new book RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW. “A new balance must be developed—the horse must learn a different way of controlling his own movement and distributing his weight and the rider’s in order to effectively support the rider.”
Try this exercise to help better understand what it is like for the horse to control his body with the additional weight and movement of the rider on his back:
1 Balance a 6-foot-long, hollow, plastic pole (PVC works) from the building supply store on the flat of one hand while you “walk,” “trot,” and “canter” straight and on turns. When you first attempt the exercise, it is difficult to balance the pole and your body. You may have to use your other arm to stabilize yourself.
2 When the pole is not symmetrically balanced, as shown in the photo above, it causes stiffening in several areas of the body (noted by the arrows). Your resulting movements are abrupt, which is hard on your joints.
3 When changing direction or speed with the pole, you must again rebalance, or stiffness is the result (see arrows in photo above). It is difficult to move as you may have planned, which can be frustrating.
4 Eventually, you grow accustomed to carrying the pole and can “trot” and “canter” with it. The pole, in effect, becomes an extension of your body.
5 When carrying a rider who sits crookedly, as shown here, the horse must constantly react to the unbalanced weight of the rider. This again causes stiffness and tension, interfering with his ability to execute movements as he may be capable.
“I always have my students try this exercise,” says Ulrike. “They quickly come to understand why their horse does unexpected things like, for example, falling to the outside, going too fast, or shortening his stride. They also learn how hard they must concentrate on the pole in order to keep it balanced when they first attempt the exercise and how it moves on curves to such a degree that they frequently bump into objects in the arena or other students.”
Isn’t it eye-opening to see how it feels to be a horse?
RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW is available from the TSB online bookstore.
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