Sitting into the movement...
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, September 12, 2020 09:02 AM
One of the most fundamental skills of a good rider is to sit into the movement of the horse. It means matching horse's back movement well, sense of moving together, sense of ease and balance.
Human response to loss of balance, horse's loss of balance, strong contact, drift, etc - is to stiffen. This is immediate and unconscious reaction. On a horse it is very counterproductive to say the least.
1.It interferes with the horse's movement inviting him to stiffen too, slow down, stop or run away depending on his level of training and personality.
2. Stiffening is an action of catching something in order to hold. This does not improve neither rider's control/balance nor horse's balance.
Staying supple - to be able to sit into the movement, centered over horse's back left to right and front to back is outmost priority even during half halts and transitions!
Wilhelm Museler in his wonderful book "Riding Logic" tried to explain what action a rider must do in order to stay with the horse's movement, to put the horse on the aids and to do effective half halts.
However, his examples of exercises off the horse are very misleading apart from only one. Neither action of the back to swing the swing, nor lifting buttocks off the floor are correct muscle action for what is needed on a horse.
Tipping a stool or dinning chair while not bracing against a floor with your feet is the only exercise that offer a rider a chance to practice right muscle action off the horse. It does not require any "bracing", big leaning back
or any strong action in the back. It actually has a lot of core muscles working in coordination with some very deep low back muscles. This action is delicate and hard to observe.
Museler has tried to warn his readers that this action has nothing to do with force. However, English translation used a phrase "bracing of the back" which made any warnings drown in hundreds of times this phrase is repeated throughout the book.
Often I observe riders are either trying to move themselves in order to go with a horse or hang on the reins to stabilize their bodies which does give an impression of better balance and stability. In expense of their horse's mouth!
If a rider tries moving herself in walk, trot or canter there is absolutely no way she will match him precisely and effortlessly. It has to happen by itself. A rider has to allow her body to go with a horse. The problem here is how to stay
in dynamic balance, sitted into the movement without trying too hard or becoming a rag doll like some riders look by swaying their upper bodies left and right, loosely leaning over too much or wiggling in the back.
Any tension in the big lower back muscles and glutes will stop the hip's ability to move with the saddle/horse's back. Other leg muscles like hip flexors, inner thigh, outer thigh muscles and hamstrings are working in coordinated
supple, rhythmical way to maintain leg's stability (no gripping!), sense of a hug around horse's barrel. These muscles must not impede hip joints movement, nor lock or stiffen hips in any way.
Now, back to Museler's exercise. Tipping a stool gives a wonderful sensation of how to help yourself to sit into the movement without doing the above mistakes. The upper body will be more connected to the lower body
through core muscles and no push or tightening of the lower back is needed.
After you master tipping stools try it on a horse. Practicing this should start in walk. Because it is safe, easy and effective. Without stirrups even better. Try to coordinate this action with leg aid to start walking. Use it to initiate a halt. In his book
Museler considers teaching a rider, to walk on, trot on and halt are first very important lessons for beginner riders to learn. He thinks in those lessons a rider will be able to discover how to use the seat correctly.
If you are already an experienced rider and has no difficulty sitting trot and canter, reviewing Museler's idea of using "your back" can enhance your ability to sit a bouncier horse, become more skillful in riding any horse because
of more efficient aids due to better ability to stay with the movement. I have a young Friesian stallion in training right now. He has lovely gaits and a lot of movement in his back in trot and canter, lots of swing. Practicing tipping a stool
has helped me to recognize better when I get left behind his big movement and reconnect to him again without disturbing him. It helped me to ride more expressive and bigger collected trot on Santo who is actually quite bouncy. And especially ride his passage.