Tag Archives: Dressage Seat

Rising Trot Diagonal – Feel It

Recognising the influence we have with our seat early in our dressage career is essential.  Only then can we begin to appreciate how very generous our horses are for allowing us to ride them at all.  We owe it to them to try and be ‘at one’ with them for this honour.

How many riders are able to feel the movement of their horse’s hind leg through their seat and really understand what is happening underneath them?

In the Trot …

  • Do you need to visually check your diagonal when rising?
  • Is it automatic to you and always correct?
  • Can you feel when you take the wrong diagonal?
  • Do you think about the hind legs as you go into trot so that you are absolutely clear which diagonal you are rising on?

If you do not you are not alone.  Often riders have a tendency to think about the front of the horse to help achieve the correct diagonal.  We are told that as the outside shoulder comes back we should sit and if it is incorrect, sit for one beat and rise again.

Continue reading Rising Trot Diagonal – Feel It

Q7 – Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Hi Guys.  Today’s topic is a great one and one I’ve worked really hard to achieve, it’s a work in progress for me but worth the effort.

So many riders don’t realise they are actually working against their horses movement by just sitting on the saddle and by not utilising the hips to follow the natural motion of the horse.  So ask yourself …

Self-Assessment Question #7 : Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Your seat must follow the horse’s motion in a rhythmical way in order to allow the horse to move forward. If you say ‘go’ with your leg aids but your seat does not immediately follow the forward swing of the horse’s hips as he picks up a hind foot, you WILL restrict forward motion – guaranteed!

There are a number of common symptoms of tense hips that would inhibit your ability to correctly follow your horse’s motion and block his movement. You may be …

  • Collapsing at the belly button in an effort to absorb the motion.
  • Pumping with your upper body at the canter.
  • Leaning back and driving with your seat.

Tense hips will cause bouncing, head bobbing, flying elbows and lower leg flapping.  However, do not despair, there’s plenty that can be done about it.

You will need to work on thinking tall and elegant and transferring any rocking/blocking to the pelvis instead of the upper body. Continue reading Q7 – Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Q3: Do You Employ A Following Seat?

Still with me?  Fantastic.  Third in the ’99 Questions’ series of blogs.

Self-Assessment Question #3 : Do you employ a following seat?

Do you move with the horse in walk or rely on the horse’s motion to move you?  Do you allow with your hips in the trot?  Do you do the circular backward hip rotation in canter?   If not, you need to understand that a little help from you goes a long way to helping your horse forward.

Is it me or is it my horse?

Your seat must follow the horse’s motion in a rhythmical way in order to allow the horse to move forward. If you say ‘go’ with your leg aids but your seat does not immediately follow the forward swing of the horse’s hips as he picks up a hind foot, you WILL restrict forward motion – guaranteed!

Continue reading Q3: Do You Employ A Following Seat?

Misaligned Spine

“Do you need a Chiropractor?  … Have you got a spine?”

misaligned spine

Last time I went to see my Chiropractor Jane, she greeted me with “Hey, you are fast becoming my pimp!”

Since recognising my own spinal imbalances earlier in the year and getting treatment largely to help with my riding (inability to ride a right circle, or look over my horse’s head) I have waxed lyrical about the benefits to anyone who will listen to me!

My work colleague made an appointment and discovered she was really badly misaligned; she sent her mum who too had problems.   Then, when my groom couldn’t get our schoolmaster off the fence or when she rode a circle it just got smaller and smaller, we got her off the horse and checked out her range of movements to find she too was dreadfully misaligned.  Checking out the wear on her boots proved she had quite a severe problem and she too trundled off to see Jane.

Then one of the liveries horse’s appeared to be blocked in the forward movement and we scratched our heads, until I suggested a visit to Jane!  None of us were convinced but hey, I’d seen a sign at the Chiropractic Clinic which said …

“Do you need a Chiropractor?  … Have you got a spine?”

Continue reading Misaligned Spine

Dressage Versus Office

In the battle between ‘Dressage Versus Office’ my office is winning!

After all, in the quest for expertise they say it takes 10,000 hours of practice; that’s 5 years at 8 hours per working day sitting at a desk and I’ve been at it a lot longer than that.

I’ve just read an article by Nicola Smith of foreverfit.tv which essentially confirmed what I have known for many years.  My office is killing me and utterly ruining my chances of developing my skills as a Dressage rider!

Nicola says that when you spend the average of 6+ hours sitting at your desk it is going to make you age faster, increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, metabolic damage and so much more. dressage versus officeOur bodies simply are not designed to be sitting all day every day. This sedentary office based lifestyle affects our natural physical make up.

She advocates that you take control of your day and ensure you do what is necessary to change things by trying to keep active – Walk before work, ride before work, do a workout! Yeah, she’s a fitness guru! Use a chair that is going to help you sit correctly and research how to get your desk set up ergonomically, and my favourite … set a timer every 60 minutes and take a 2 minute break, stand and walk.

Continue reading Dressage Versus Office

Psoas Release

PsoasMy blog post back in March 2014 entitled ‘Release Your Psoas Muscle to Discover Your Dressage Seat’ talked about the importance of these muscles to our riding and ability to absorb the movement of our horse effectively.

I have become a little obsessed with mine, largely due to the fact that I spend many hours sitting at a desk each week and constantly bemoan the disadvantage this gives me when I climb aboard my horse but also because, as you will know by now, when I get an idea into my head I have to follow it through!

So, I am delighted to advise that I have found you a psoas expert and some great information about how to release this important set of muscles.  I am so excited because it is THE most simple thing you will ever do to aid your ability to position yourself effectively for dressage and simplicity is another of my obsessions!

Liz Koch has been investigating, teaching and writing about the psoas for over thirty years.  Koch believes that the best release for most people, especially when they are beginning, is what she calls constructive rest, which is a relaxation technique.

“It’s a being (not doing) position. Before you exercise or at the end of the day, constructive rest changes the whole expression of the central nervous system.  There’s a lot going on in constructive rest but you’re not doing it. You just allow it to happen” – Liz Koch

Here goes … Koch’s method for releasing your psoas muscles

  • Lie on your back.
  • Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor or alternatively up on a chair as in the diagram shown.
  •  You want your legs and feet to be parallel to each other and hip distance apart.
  • That means your knees will line up with the area just inside your hipbones and your middle toes will be in line with your knees.
  • Adjust the distance of your heels from your bottom so that you find a place where it takes the least amount of effort to have your legs in position.
  • You will know you have the right distance when you feel the weight is equal on the whole foot and the pelvis can move.
  • Let your spine lengthen along your mat.
  • You want a neutral spine position so there will be a slight curve under your low back. You can rock your pelvis back and forth a few times to find the middle place where your pubic bone and hip bones are flat along the same plane.
  • Relax your shoulders away from your ears and feel the weight of your shoulder girdle on your mat.
  • Keep your arms below shoulder height, letting them rest over the ribcage, to the sides of your body or on your pelvis
  • When the arms are kept below shoulder height, gravity releases tension in the psoas while in constructive rest. As this happens the pelvis rebalances and the spine elongates.
  • Relax your neck and jaw.
  • Do some deep breathing and relax.

Psoas Release 1 Psoas Release 2

In this simple position gravity releases the psoas! This is such a simple relaxation technique. You don’t have to do anything but allow release.  Don’t you just love it?  Simplicity – The key to brilliance.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Rider Asymmetry – Muscle Memory

How much consideration have you given to your own rider asymmetry?

Consider this … you are having a lesson.  Your issue is that your outside shoulder drops and turns to the outside on the right rein.  Your coach explains what is happening and demonstrates how your body position is affecting your horse.  You are very clear in your mind what is going wrong and what you need to do to rectify it.  It’s your turn to show what you have learnt.  You put yourself into position and off you go onto the right rein.  You start off with the shoulders in alignment with the horse but before you have turned half a circle the shoulder has dropped and is tuned in the wrong way, exactly as you had before the instruction.  You do it wrong.

Are you not trying?  Are you a fool?  Of course not, you are perfectly normal and have reacted exactly just as 85% of riders do.  Why? Because of muscle memory.  Most of us have come across this term at some point in our training, but it is not a memory stored in the muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain.  If you’re practicing your riding skills over and over again, the idea is that you’ll continue to improve, after all ‘practice makes perfect’ right?  The more you do something, you build up what is known as ‘procedural memory’ and your brain can fairly quickly learn to instruct your muscles to carry it out its instructions.  Great, all we have to do is regularly repeat.  You can become very good at something through repetition, but in exactly the same way it can make you weak at that same thing.  Your muscle memory can actually play against you if you’ve constantly been practicing something the wrong way.

Rider AsymmtreyMuscle memory doesn’t have the ability to judge whether you are riding well or not so if you practice sitting crooked (unknowingly) for hours on end you’re going to be really good at making those same mistakes over and over again.  When you repeat faults again and again, you build a muscle memory with those mistakes built in.

Image courtesy of The Saddle Research Trust (SRT)

That makes them really hard to overcome.  This is why some rider faults plague us in the same way that the very irritating matter of rolled up sleeves that fall down would.  Yes, you are training, you are getting hot so, up go the sleeves.  You feel the sleeves creeping down your arms but it’s ok they’re only just past the elbow.  Before you know it they’re down and you are getting hotter but you don’t know why.  Then you realise you’re sleeves are down and you have to push them back up.  This is exactly the same as your muscle memory.  It happens in your subconscious, without your knowledge and before you know it your hip has collapsed and you are sitting crooked.  It takes something in your conscious state to have you make the adjustment.

This explained to me why, after many years of riding, I had not progressed.  I was not using my hands, legs and body the way I thought that I was using them.  Because of this, I practiced the training techniques over and over but made no improvement.  The key to building good muscle memories is to focus on the quality of the quantity and here is that old saying again, ‘practice makes perfect’, well, no it doesn’t actually, only ‘perfect’ practice makes perfect.Asymmetry

You may have heard, probably from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, that 10,000 hours is the magic number to make you an expert.  It’s likely that this is the case when you practice well, but if you spend those 10,000 hours practising ineffectively you will build procedural memory in your muscles over and over again and guess what, you get really good at repeating your mistakes.  Most of us don’t want to be expert anyway, competent will do.  So it is not going to take 10,000 hours for you to eradicate those irritating rider faults that creep in and out of your riding.

Once you have identified your fault, be it collapsing, head tilting, knee gripping, elbow flying, hand opening, heel lifting, whatever it may be, when you practice, take it slowly at first.  Don’t identify several faults and rush to change everything.  Break the faults into parts and concentrate on learning one part really well.  Prioritise the effects that your rider errors are having on your training and practice the most important one until you’ve got it down, then add other elements until eventually you will have mastered the faults.  Try, practicing for about 5 minutes whilst just sitting on the horse if this is possible.  Have a friend video you riding your horse and study the video closely, often actually seeing what you are doing wrong is immensely helpful.  This is where mirrors are a real bonus.  If you still aren’t doing it right, sit on your horse, concentrate and go through the motions correctly. Do this over and over until you get the feel of it. Then pick up the reins and try it for real.

As always, be patient. In time you won’t have to consciously tell your body ‘keep your hands closed’ the body just knows how to do it, largely because neurons communicate with the muscles and say, ‘close hands’.  Using the muscles in a positive way thus becomes an unconscious process in exactly the same way as the original issue became ingrained.  The muscles grow accustomed to certain types of movement; extremely important in training for dressage. The more often you do a certain activity, the more likely you are to do it as needed, when needed. This is one of the reasons that learning an appropriate technique can be stressful.  You want your muscle memory to reflect the correct way to do things, not the incorrect way.

Dressage is a thinking sport, riding is all about strategy and although the general consensus is that muscle memory is best cultivated when the same activities are practiced over and over again, with any corrections of form that are needed, it appears that despite this practice, attitude can interfere with muscle memory.  Nerves can lead to clenched or tight muscles that can’t quite perform as they would if you weren’t thinking about it and self doubt about your abilities to perform may also affect muscle memory.  The ‘lack of confidence’ factor can over-ride any positive strides achieved in rectifying muscle memory faults.

The great master Nuno Oliveira said, ‘I don’t want riders who work physically hard. Work by thinking.’ – 1998.  When you consider that even the training of your muscles is actually down to training your brain to work your muscles and the way you approach your riding can overcome even this very strong instinct, you can begin to appreciate this approach to your training.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



Good Balanced Position

Having issues establishing and keeping a good balanced position?

I had a comment from my good friend Johanne Picken which might help you all …“I remember a blog you wrote regarding it most often being the rider that is unknowingly at fault, rather than the horse but I just didn’t realise just how much the rider’s body and position affects how the horse goes!” 

balanced positionHere’s the blog Johanne is referring to …Is it me or is it my horse?

Give this some thought yourself. What are you doing to influence the horse?  If when you ask correctly you get the correct response, doesn’t it follow that if you are not getting the correct response you may  not be asking correctly?   Step back, take a look at yourself. What could you be doing wrong?  Self analysis of your position from head to toe each time you climb aboard your horse will reap benefits.  Give it a go.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Release your PSOAS MUSCLES and discover your dressage seat

There are one set of muscles which have direct connections to your abdomen, pelvis and the ability to rotate your thigh –  The Psoas muscles.  The way they are intricately embroiled around our pelvic region is symbolic of their importance to our riding and ability to absorb the movement of our horse effectively.Psoas

1) psoas major 2) psoas minor 3) iliac us 4) iliopsoas

Click on the photo to be taken to the page about Psoas Muscles

A contracted Psoas muscle tilts the pelvis forwards and pulls the rider’s seat up and out of the forwards flow of movement. This is one of the causes of the incorrect hollow or ‘braced’ back.

Discovering these muscles is an absolute must for any rider with Dressage ambition and a yearning to improve their dressage seat.  For those of us who sit all day working at a computer, or driving, our Psoas muscles will inevitably be tight and contracted.  If they remain tight and contracted for long enough they will think that this is the norm leaving us with no alternative but to bounce in the saddle from a stiff lower back.

The most important exercises we can do off the horse, to help us on the horse, are those which release tension in the Psoas, which have to be soft and supple to enable you to respond to the movement of your horse. My advice is to set about discovering these muscles for yourself.

A really simple exercise you can do is illustrated here …

Psoas Dressage

Once you have discovered these muscles … but more importantly once you have released these muscles … you will soften your diaphragm; enable correct breathing; be able to sit on your horse better; calm yourself, and your horse.  Your abdominals, inner thighs seem to automatically become toned the moment the Psoas are released and the lower back lengthened.

I am not an expert in these matters, but there is plenty of information on line from those that are – worth having a browse!


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… or actually ‘Neutral Spine’.

Neutral 1

The term ‘three-point-seat’ has been around for centuries and it refers to the seat bones and the crotch.

Rocking on just two-point, under the buttocks leads to instability while sending out endlessly confusing aids; likewise if the rider rounds or convexes the back this may lead to the tail/coccyx being turned under the core/trunk.

The very act of sitting compresses the stacking arrangement of the spine and by virtue of gravity it will flatten the lumbar by curling it under and thus leave us without the ability to absorb movement effectively.

To compensate you will often see riders pushing their stomachs forward and arching the lower back, again not permitting the vertical stack which allows a free and cushioning arrangement for absorption of movement – The Neutral Spine.

It is only by ensuring you have full 3-point contact with the seat can you hope to remain over the horse’s centre of balance.  But beware, it is through flexibility of the spine that you absorb the movement, a straight back that is rigid is as bad as one that is hollow or collapsed.

The diagram shows from left to right.

  1. Rider tilting backwards, pushing out stomach and arching lower back
  2. Neutral spine with 3-point contact.
  3. Rider tilting forwards, collapsing stomach and pushing tail down 


Here’s what to do … try to think of stretching up when you ride.  Here’s a couple of ideas to help …

  1. Think that someone has you by the ears from above, stretch up your neck and ‘straighten’ your spine.  Or …
  2. Imagine someone just told you that you look like you lost weight, you would draw up, pull in the stomach, smile and say – “do you think so?”  This is the ‘stretched up’ feeling you want in the saddle.  Or …
  3. Sometimes it is better to think of opening upwards from the waist and keeping the navel and sternum projected, the spine will take its own correct alignment from this.

You will often hear instructors saying “relax the upper body”, what they actually mean is allow your upper body to grow taller and expand the torso.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster