“The experience of hundreds of years has taught us, however, that the principles of the classical art of riding have their imperishable value, because they deal with a creature of nature and not with a machine devised by the technical mind of man.”
The training of the rider commences with the teaching of the correct seat (posture), which is the basic requirement for any kind of riding and especially for dressage riding. The rider’s seat must be supple and flexible, upright and deep in order to be able to give the correct aids without disturbing the balance of the horse, especially in difficult exercises. It is also necessary for aesthetic reasons. Horse and rider in all movements should give the impression of two living creatures merged into one!
Legs and reins are to be employed as aids and not as a means to regain lost balance. Absolute self-control is the basic requirement for every rider. The rider must not only be able to control his body, but also his temperament. Only then will he be able to make the horse submit to his will and develop his natural abilities.
The rider’s seat and position in the saddle is generally described in many books. However the rider must be aware that it will take a long time to learn and practice to keep his entire body position relaxed with a certain muscle tone.
The correct seat in the saddle should be practiced at a halt with the pelvis in a horizontal position and the horse standing squarely on all four feet. The weight should be equal on both seat bones and the crotch, with a spread seat and relaxed muscles in the saddle. It’s no good to explain the rest of the entire position (hand, legs, and upper body as most people acquire the wrong idea, by being too rigid or too slack in their muscle tone with no feel of the horse.
A rider in most cases lets himself be shaped by the horse. Most horses are concave on one side and convex on the opposite side. This affects the way a rider learns to sit in the saddle and habits develop. On the concave side the rider should not allow the hip and lower leg to be in an advanced forward position. The rider finds it difficult to keep the leg back because the horse produces more action n this sides. On the convex side the horse feels less active than on the concave side and the rider receives less displacement on this side. The rider’s hip and lower leg are not pushed forward with each step the horse makes. This is why the rider can keep his and lower leg back more easily. The rider can get into a bad habit of holding the leg on the convex side in a pinched way backwards. The result is that the horse will get more concave as time goes on. No wonder why so many horses are getting so crooked.
This brings us to another situation where some horses have a tendency to resist on the convex side and keep the muscles braced. This side is usually more strongly developed. Did you ever notice that some horses seldom stay with the front legs square? One front leg is always a bit more advanced. Pay attention to this, correct it and make him stand square. This affects the scapula. Study your horse grazing and notice which front leg is more often advanced. This is why some horses resist on this side keeping the muscles braced and the jaw locked.
Now the rider has to pay attention to his posture when sitting in the saddle and influence the horse with his body. The awareness must be there to sit absolutely upright without getting rigid and stiff. The rider must also be horizontal in the hips and shoulders. This is not always as easy for the rider because some horse carry themselves unequally upright on both sides. Usually the convex side is a bit higher.
I have experienced an extreme case. There was a horse to be saddle-fitted who was much lower on his left side. His trainer found it very uncomfortable to sit on this horse so she asked if the saddle fitter could build up the saddle on the lower side so she could sit comfortably on the horse. When I heard this, I was against this idea because this would not have solved the problem. The owner approached me later to ask if I could help training this horse. I agreed and told her it would take some time to change the posture and the muscles of this horse. For over six months I was sitting only on the higher side, upright and horizontal. The lower side gradually came up and stayed there. So the idea is to feel this and not collapse with the weight all onto the lower side. This requires the rider to maintain his postural form.
The rider needs now the skill to develop postural strength and the ability to mantain the postural form. Postural strength brings power and coordination, balance and postural reflexes. The rider has to be aware (very important) to keep his weight forward on the convex side with a controlled muscle tone. On the concave side the rider as to be aware that his hip and lower leg are not pushed forward so the horse is unable to displace the riders posture (position). Now the rider with the correct posture is effective and totally in charge. This should be sought right from the beginning of the training and not delayed.
It is a complex subject and foremost depends on the riders acquired balance, feel and posture. This will only function correctly if the rein between thumb and index finger is fixed and emanates from the rider’s hips rather than the shoulders. Give the rein aids in front of the withers with mobile fingers, not with the lower arms pulling. Perfecting the leg yield exercises will be very profitable. The rider will learn and feel if the horse is going without braced muscles and relaxes his entire body. Do not push the quarters to the outside.
The rider has to give the aid son the convex side in the girth area towards the opposite shoulder of the horse. On the concave side keep the horse’s neck and body straight with the lower leg back. Do not allow the horse’s shoulder to bow out. This will improve the alignment in the horse. Good luck and start feeling the improvement in your horse!
If the horse is not sufficiently in front of the seat and leg, he will only drop his head with an overbent neck down and evading the contact, going behind the bit. If you intend to ride your horse low, your horse should seek the contact in a stretch way with engaged haunches.
Horses that are stiff and resistant are best worked first from the ground. A high head position is a sign associated with alarm in the horse’s mind, looking for predators or spooky things and being prepared to run or evade any situation by shying sideways. The handler has to be patient to lower the horse’s head and neck on request anytime to calm him and command his attention. The handler has to be patient and have excellent timing. Gently apply with your fingertips pressure to the area just behind his poll, releasing the pressure for a moment each time the horse lowers his head and relaxes. The horse should learn to get rid of the annoying pressure to lower his head and keep it down. Do not forget to praise instantly.
For stiffness laterally in the neck and rib cage, flex the neck and bring the head around to girth area on both sides. Be patient and do not use force. Wait until your horse relaxes his braced muscles then stroke and praise him. To bring his head around to the girth area can also be done by offering him a carrot. To lowering head and neck, put your hand between the front legs and offer him a carrot in this way. Finish!