By Thomas Ritter

Dressage As Physiotherapy, Part 2

Dressage As Physiotherapy, Part 2

Balance, Straightness, and Suppleness. These three concepts are very closely connected, as I described in the first part of this two part series. Balance consists of the two aspects of longitudinal balance and lateral balance. Longitudinal balance (i.e. an even weight distribution between front legs and hind legs) develops out of a regular tempo that is neither too fast nor too slow.

Lateral balance is the ability to distribute the weight evenly between the left pair of legs and the right pair of legs, or to transfer it more to one lateral pair or the other.

Balance is not rigid or static, as in a statue. It’s dynamic. This means that the horse is able to shift his weight from one lateral pair of legs to the other, from the front legs to the hind legs, or from one diagonal pair of legs to the other.

Dressage as Physiotherapy [VIDEO]

Dressage as Physiotherapy [VIDEO]

In this video, we will explain how you can use gymnastic exercises to keep your horse sound, and oftentimes even return your horse to soundness. You will learn what you need to concentrate upon in the training to keep your horse sound.

Dressage as Physiotherapy, Part 1

Dressage as Physiotherapy, Part 1

Horses were not designed to carry somebody on their back. The presence of the rider’s weight therefore compromises the horse’s balance, at least at first. It changes the center of gravity, and it may inhibit the freedom of motion of the spine and the legs. If the horse feels impeded and out of balance because of the rider’s presence on his back, he will contract certain muscles and brace against the rider’s weight and the ground, which leads to unhealthy movement patterns. Muscular contractions diminish the range of motion of the affected joints, and they lead to a hard, jarring impact of the legs on the ground, which is not only uncomfortable for the rider as well as the horse, it also creates unnecessary wear and tear on the horse’s joints and tendons.

If we want to keep the horse sound we therefore have to counteract the negative effects of our weight. We need to enable the horse to move with the same freedom of motion, the same ease, the same balance, the same suppleness under the weight of the rider with which he moves at liberty.

Game Changers: Some Important Discoveries In My Own Journey

Game Changers: Some Important Discoveries In My Own Journey

As riders and teachers our particular approach, our techniques and methodology, our focus is very much a result of our own personal journey. It is shaped by the difficulties that we had to overcome, our own weaknesses, our discoveries, our teachers, the horses we have ridden, the books we have read, the other riders we have interacted with, and also by the students we have taught.

Occasionally, our personal journey leads us to discoveries that are real game changers for us. To others, they may be insignificant, but to us the world will never be the same afterwards. We can almost divide our riding career in pre-discovery and post-discovery. That’s how much these discoveries helped us improve our own riding. These game-changing discoveries will be different for everyone. In this blog post, I want to share some of my lightbulb moments that have helped me move to a higher level of understanding and practical skill. Perhaps they will be helpful for you as well, and maybe you can think of your own momentous discoveries and share them with us.

The Old Masters’ Views On Straightness

The Old Masters’ Views On Straightness

The old masters considered the horse’s natural crookedness to be a major obstacle in developing balance, suppleness, collection, impulsion, and “obedience” (i.e. positive responsiveness to the aids). Put positively, functional straightness is the foundation of balance, suppleness, collection, impulsion, and “obedience”. Without straightness, the horse won’t get very far in his training. Unfortunately, overcoming crookedness is not a trivial matter. It requires constant attention, and if the rider doesn’t work on straightening her horse every day, his innate crookedness will gradually increase again.

The Historical Development Of Elevating From A Low Head Position

The Historical Development Of Elevating From A Low Head Position

Looking at the development of equestrian art over longer periods of time, you will detect pendulum-like swings of opinions in many areas. There are fashion trends that are taken to a certain extreme. Then, opinions change, and the pendulum swings in the opposite direction until it reaches the other extreme. Although these developments are often based on correct observations in some areas, extremes are usually counter productive and often damage the horse’s soundness and overall health. It is always dangerous when an observation of one training aspect is made the only criterion for evaluating training progress and then taken to an extreme, following the motto: more is better.

One example of such extremes are two diametrically opposed opinions on riding long and low. On one end of the spectrum are those riders for whom stretching forward-downward is the highest goal of dressage training and the solution to all problems. Many of them believe that you are not allowed to do anything else in the training of your horse until the horse is able to stretch forward-downward. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who categorically reject any and all forward-downward stretching because they believe that it puts the horse onto the forehand and ruins the horse’s legs.

When a Flying Change Fails

When a Flying Change Fails

When a flying change fails, the reason is usually that the horse became crooked and/or fell on the forehand. This results in a loss of the connection between the inside hind leg, the ground, the rider’s weight, and the reins which prevents the half halts from going through. That’s why things generally don’t improve if you keep cantering and keep repeating the aids for the flying changes.

It saves much time, sweat, and aggravation for both horse and rider, if you interrupt what you’re doing, bring the horse back to the trot or walk, or even to the halt, straighten and balance the horse, check his body for stiff, braced areas, remove the muscle blockages, and re-explain the biomechanics of the flying change (i.e. shift the weight, change the bend, move the pelvis).


As the horse is developing his conscious competence, he will often need time to think and to plan his next move so that he can perform the task deliberately. As he moves from conscious competence to unconscious competence, he can do flying changes anywhere, any time, with less and less preparation.

The Principle of the Economy of Motion

The Principle of the Economy of Motion

There is a general tendency in all living beings to conserve energy, to avoid conflict if possible, and to travel the path of the least resistance. When they move, they try to do so in the most comfortable manner and with the least possible expenditure of strength and energy (they are only human, too).

Water seeks the lowest energy level by flowing downhill, through openings, and around obstacles. Electricity always seeks the path of the least resistance. It’s a natural law that you can observe every day in countless manifestations.

How to keep the training “fresh”

How to keep the training “fresh”

A student in our Video Coaching Program has observed that her horse found the exercises more strenuous than she had anticipated. He seemed to be a little tired the next day and perhaps a little muscle sore. So she asked me how she should structure her training from now on in order not to overface the horse while at the same time giving him enough physical exercise during a time of year when the weather conditions limit her turnout and trailriding options. This is a problem that many riders and horses face. That’s why I want to share a few thoughts on this subject here.

 

Why Bother Straightening Your Horse?

Why Bother Straightening Your Horse?

I’m sure you are all familiar with the concept of Straightness as one of the elements of the German  FN Training Scale. Those of you who are rooted in the French tradition know it as one of Alexis L’Hotte’s three main training principles (Calm, Forward, Straight). You have probably also run into its opposite - crookedness - as a tricky and quite pervasive issue. But has anybody explained to you what straightness is and why it is important? Why should you spend your entire equestrian life correcting the horse’s natural crookedness, as Jacques d’Auvergne wrote? Can’t we just go out and have fun on our horse?

Reasons Why Your Horse Is Not On The Bit - Part 2

Reasons Why Your Horse Is Not On The Bit - Part 2

Everything is connected in riding. Rhythm, balance, self carriage, straightness, suppleness/stiffness,  back movement, rein contact, impulsion, collection (i.e. flexion of the haunches) are all interrelated and influence each other. Rider balance and horse balance, rider crookedness and horse crookedness, rider stiffness and horse stiffness affect each other in very direct ways. Any improvement in one area leads to improvements in all the other areas. Unfortunately, it works the other way around, too: a problem in one area will also have negative repercussions throughout the entire system.

 

Reasons Why Your Horse Is Not On The Bit - Part 1

Reasons Why Your Horse Is Not On The Bit - Part 1

I vividly remember one riding lesson that I had in my early days. My teacher told me: “Your horse needs to be more on the bit.” I was painfully aware of this because on the one hand it was hard to overlook, and on the other hand it was the one problem I was struggling with more than anything else. I would have loved to ride the horse more on the bit. But I didn’t know how. I wasn’t riding the horse inverted on purpose. I needed more practical, actionable information in order to be able to do a better job. Over the years I researched this subject in depth because it was so difficult for me for a long time and discovered many factors that are involved in riding the horse on the bit.

 

Growing Pains

Growing Pains

Sometimes we don’t realize how much we have already learned and how much we have improved. Our quality standards and our awareness have grown faster than our skills, and so we feel like we are riding worse than ever, although in reality we are riding better than we used to be, just not as well as we would like.

If You Don’t Have The Back, You Have Nothing

If You Don’t Have The Back, You Have Nothing

But maybe we should ask ourselves what “through the back” actually means, how it feels, how it looks, and how you get there. Does the horse really automatically go “through the back” just because the head is down? What is the relationship between form and function? What do I do when I release the reins and the head stays where it is, i.e. the horse doesn’t stretch forward and down? What do people mean when they talk about “the back” anyway? Who knows?! Sometimes everyone means something else, depending on their level of understanding and experience, and you have to translate their words into an objective, systematic, structural framework.

 

A question about elbows and hand position

A question about elbows and hand position

In one of our Facebook groups someone asked a question about elbows and hand position. She had been told by a trainer that she should keep her hands forward, close to the withers of the horse. Since she is not very tall, she has to round her shoulders or tip forward with her torso in order to put her hands where the trainer wants them to be. That compromises the integrity and the effectiveness of the seat, of course.