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Training: Improve your body awareness

May 13, 2020

A lesson from David Thind, Grand Prix competition rider in dressage, jumping and a biomechanics expert. Borrowed as I found this really insightful and wanted to share!

There are many pieces that come together in the rider’s seat that allow you to ride harmoniously and effectively. There are two related concepts that the rider can work on for improving your position in the saddle. Self-image and body awareness help any rider understand how the body works when riding and give you tools to control the body in a relaxed way. 


Your self-image is how you imagine yourself. It is your own map of your body and its involuntary function. What body movements are impossible, difficult or easy? What do you see when you close your eyes and imagine a profile of yourself sitting on your favourite horse? What do you not see? To improve your own self-imagine, be specific. Fill in the parts of the map that are blurry or even missing at one piece at a time. For example, do you know what your pelvis looks like? How does the femur attach to the hip’s ball-and-socket joint? Where is that attachment? To get a more detailed picture, you can feel your own body, ask an expert or even look at a skeleton. This will help you understand how your body moves with the horse in a way you can recreate when you are in the saddle. The more curious you are, the better you can create your self-image. It’s also a great idea to study your horse and his movement, for a more complete picture of how you move together.

Self-image and self-esteem go together. Many of us have experienced being praised in a lesson, and the boost in self-esteem improved how we thought of ourselves, therefore enhancing how we rode. You can do this for yourself. Look at your favourite rider and realize that your body and brain are just as capable as his or hers. There may be differences in goals and circumstances, but you have the same body parts. Learning to truly believe in yourself can improve your self-esteem and then your self-image has the chance to perform at a higher level. 

Watch your favourite rider ride and be particular as you watch the use of body and seat, so you can apply the concepts to your own riding. How does the rider move? How is the horse’s movement being absorbed in various gaits? Do you see the motion of a bounce, spiral or pendulum in the movement that you can recreate? How do the rider’s joints move with the horse? There is no end as to how you can dissect the movements. The more you know about how riders work, the more specific you can be as you fill in the map of your self-image. This allows for new possibilities, higher performance without self-imposed limitations. You will become more aware of your body and can ride more effectively.

Body Awareness

Body awareness is when you can influence the parts of your body that you mapped in your self-image and develop positive patterns that hep you ride better. This will enhance the communication with the horse and lead to better performance while avoiding negative tension in the body. People are sometimes unaware of patterns of tension that show up in their bodies. All the patterns that exist in your body were developed by your brain because those patterns were useful at some point in your life. For example, we hold a small amount of tension in our jaw, which is useful as it prevents us from drooling. Another example of tension that is not useful is a tight lower back that causes the pelvis to tilt forward. This pattern will prevent the rider from following and influencing the horse effectively with the seat. 

If you do find yourself holding tension in certain areas, it’s not very helpful to criticise the old patterns and force yourself to stop. This will just add to the tension. Instead, try to find a new pattern to use your body in a different way. For example, when you find your back tense, imagine your pelvis as a bowl of soup and try to avoid spilling anything. This will encourage a rider to find the two seat bones and support the weight evenly to release the tension and sit more relaxed. Never try to force your body into a fixed position but instead find a solution, a new pattern that works. When you think of softness as opposed to force the rider is also encourages to ride with feel. Imagine holding a bag of grain while a friend places a feather on top. You won’t feel its weight. If you’re holding a single piece of paper and someone lays a feather on top, you will feel the weight of the feather. On other words, if your starting point is based on force and tension you will be further away from feeling. When you know the feeling of a light, neutral seat, you can better measure the amount of each aid because you are more aware of how much force you add. 

Find your starting point for all occasions. At a square halt stop and think: Do you have even pressure in both hands? Are you even in both seat bones? Are you even in both stirrups? Is breathing easy? If you ever feel you are applying too much pressure while riding, take a moment to breath. Breath often reduces the muscular tension you are unaware of. Exhaling can help you find your way back to a starting point where there is relaxation. Riding with a clear self-image and heightened body awareness is not only helpful for improved communication and better performance, but a requirement in upholding the classical tradition of achieving harmony between horse and rider. 

Fill in your own self-image and try to use your own body awareness to control your body parts and build useful patterns to improve your riding. Remember to breath and enjoy relaxation in your body. When the pieces come together, you will enjoy improved feel and sensitivity.


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