My head is a corkscrew.
My spine is a marble tree.
My legs are a glove.
These are my takeaways from the Susanne von Dietze dressage clinic in Carmel Valley last weekend.
Susanne is a magician. Well, really she is a physiotherapist and riding instructor based in Germany. But I’m sticking with magician.
World’s best dressage trainer Anke Herbert organized a field trip with a few of her students to carpool down and audit the clinic. Spending the day with a group of horse crazy women (Anke, Wendy and Nan) was so fun.
The clinic had – oh let me see – maybe 8 riders? Each one rode for about 50 minutes. Varying levels of horse and rider abilities. Susanne has a wonderful way about her. Very encouraging.
It was refreshing to see a clinic focused on the balance and movement of the rider . The magic happened after Susanne had each rider do a few exercises to help them balance and then the horse would just relax.
Clear as day the horse was saying “thank you for not bouncing around and pulling and leaning and in general getting in the way of my ability to move forward.”
There were three exercises that particularly resonated with me.
Susanne recommends you start by visualizing a marble that starts at your tailbone and rolls around your spine – straightening everything as it goes up. Then you do it again with the marble traveling the opposite direction. Have to do this to stay even!
Once you’re all stacked up in a straight line the next two visualizations that work for me is to imagine my head is a corkscrew constantly being pulled up. And my legs are a glove softly fitted around the barrel of Now Voyager.
She also pointed out the horse’s barrel is like a big ball and our pelvis is also like a ball so the whole process of riding is balancing two balls on top of each other.
Ha! No wonder it’s challenging!
Here is an excerpt from Susanne’s book Balance in Movement:
Just as shoulder-girdle and hands must be independent from the seat, a similar independence is asked from the legs as well. The independently hanging leg can be of great help or the balance of the trunk, comparable to the pendulum of a bicyclist on the high-wire.
The position of the pelvis has a great influence on the suppleness of the leg. The hip joint is located higher than the seat bones, and it moves inevitably with every movement of the pelvis.
The leg is an important aid for finding the neutral position of the pelvis. If the pelvis is tilted too far to the front, one is sitting more on the inside of the thigh musculature. This musculature reflexively tightens when the pelvis is tilting to the rear, thus creating the tendency for the knees to slide up, and the anterior thigh muscle to get tight. Only with the pelvis in the neutral position, can the thigh hang absolutely free.
It is an important aspect for good leg aids to develop this feeling and to think about it again and again, especially when moving. On the other hand, the thigh can help stabilize the position of the pelvis; it is thus a stabilizer, while the lower leg is agile and gives the aids.