Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The engaged rider

Some times, you're just a passenger along for the ride.

Other times, you are a rider.

It always makes me smile when non-riders comment with "Riding isn't REAL exercise. The horse does all the work."

Well. Yes and no. Depends on the ride. If you're just a passenger, then yes, the horse IS doing all the work. Being a passenger is just fine for trail rides or hacking out.

But if you are a RIDER, then you work for the ride. You sweat, you ache, you get winded and muscles can get sore and even cramp. Because being a rider is about being more than a passenger, you're a partner working to help your horse be his very best. He needs your support, your guidance and your ability to stay upright and in balance with him, not just sitting there like a useless sack of potatoes making his job harder.

Last night Gabe reminded me how very important it is to be a rider, not a passenger. He was having a rough time with circles tracking right. Falling out big time, feeling really unbalanced and unsure of himself as he tried to do as I asked.

And then I realized I was just being a passenger guiding him through the exercises. I wasn't giving him the support he needed to really use his body in the most effective, efficient and beautiful way possible.

So I stepped up my game, got in tune with him and RODE. I engaged my core, realized I was collapsing a hip around the corners, which subsequently threw him off balance and caused him him to fall out, and put him on my aids, between the reins and my legs, balanced my seat bones on him evenly and asked him to match me.

And he did. It took a little bit but once I was in tune with HIM he tuned in to me and matched my body, balanced, even and upright. It awes me the way they are able to match your body nearly step for step when you take the time and the effort to be in balance and harmony with them. It doesn't take brute strength to bend them nicely around a corner: It takes an engaged core, a tightening of the obliques on the inside of the circle and a slight adjustment of the seat bones and upper body to guide them.

Sometimes I forget to use the classical dressage "spiral seat" but once I remember to engage it magic happens under the saddle and I want to beat myself about the head and shoulders for failing my horse and making HIM do all the work or struggle beneath my unbalanced weight. My personal riding goal is to never forget to use it!

There is a reason Alois Podhajsky, Nuno Oliveira, Reiner Klimke and Walter Zettl are known as the "masters." They know classical dressage and anyone who wants to be more than just a passenger along for the ride should study them or find a trainer who has studied them. Their writing is inspiring, their methods fair to the horse and their insights often create an "ah ha!" moment for me.


  1. Excellent and excellently written....and ridden!! Gabe must be dreamy this summer. Bet you have had fun. NICE when the mind can tell these difference s

    Wa wishes...that the trail rides would be as they described...far from it!
    Dressage happens in and out of an arena for us! I do drePpam of a formal ( any ) arena...for now, it remains...spirals down the long road. Counter flexion, flexion around trees, laterals around stumps....and my bareback saddle really gives my core a whirl! Posting, subtly, is nice on it.
    That link was really good....will revisit that, thanks.

    Love hearing of your dreamy work on that handsome horse!

  2. Nice post and thanks for the link. I haven't visited the that site for a while and it really speaks to my ever so present issues.