How To Improve Your Dressage Position
In this article I will explain how you can improve your dressage position and give you insights as to how it should feel when you are both in and out of the saddle.
In dressage and any form of riding, the horse and rider are a team. We should be focusing just as much on our own dressage position and posture as we do our horses symmetry and balance.
Alignment is key as a dressage rider. From the moment we first sit on a horse, the importance of alignment is drilled into us. We’re constantly told to sit up tall, pull our shoulders back, use our abdominal muscles and balance our seat bones. We’re given cues and instructions to help us improve our posture and balance as we ride so that our dressage seat improves.
We know alignment is important, but how do we achieve optimal alignment and why is it key to improve our riding?
What is alignment?
I talk about alignment in detail in this article here and go through it in the video, but let me bring it to your attention now.
Let’s picture your car. When you get your car serviced, it’s wheel alignment is checked. This is vital for the car tyres to perform optimally, to improve the handling of the vehicle and to keep your car from pulling in one direction. Wheel alignment reduces the vibration and helps avoid uneven tread wear.
Now visualise your car with poor wheel alignment. The tyres become ‘feathered’, where the tread is worn and smooth on one side and your balance on the road is impaired. You’re also likely to feel a pull from one side making your car more difficult to drive and handle on the road.
Now your body is no different. It’s vital for your hinges and joints to be aligned so that they are working smoothly as you move. If they’re out of alignment, just like a car, it’s going to cause undue wear and tear through your joints and ligaments. This can result in pain, injuries, and stress on your body.
Add a horse’s movement underneath you and you’re going to create even more stress on your body. The impact and force on joints that aren’t aligned properly can be immense and over time can reduce the length of your riding career.
Understanding and improving your balance and center of gravity off the horse, improves it for when you are in the saddle.
Its all connected, poor posture and balance off the horse will be reflected in the saddle.
My goal is to help you enjoy dressage riding for as long as you choose to. In order to do so, it’s important to start looking after your joints and improving your alignment so that you’re not subjected to any undue wear and tear that could prevent you from riding in the future.
Correcting your alignment starts with the position of your pelvis and moves down to help you create that long dressage leg when your riding.
Your goal is to make sure your pelvis is stacked up correctly and your weight is evenly distributed on your seat bones. This will help your hips move freely. If you’re out of alignment and sitting to one side, there will be more stress on your hips. Also, if your pelvis is positioned too far forward it can create vulnerability through your lower back.
It’s also important to make sure your spine is stacked up correctly in a neutral position and activating a strong core. This is followed by good shoulder posture. If poor alignment leads to a blockage in your upper body it’s going to impact what’s occurring with your hands and reins. Ultimately, this will affect how your horse moves and responds to your aids.
As you can see, good alignment is not just about creating a visually pleasing picture. It’s about making sure you protect and look after your body with as much emphasis as you give to your horse’s form.
Putting it into practice
Like any athlete, as dressage riders, you need to practice and improve your posture on and off the horse. Improving your posture while off the horse is vital as it’s really difficult to correct your body’s alignment with the force of a moving horse underneath you.
The more you practice off the horse, the more natural your newfound alignment will be improving your stamina, stability and suppleness on the horse. When you’re in the saddle, you’ll then be able to focus more on your horse’s training than on your positioning.
Setting up neutral spine and good posture and dressage position
Your foundation is a neutral spine and good posture. This will set you up for success in the future and helps to create a beautiful, strong posture when on the horse.
As mentioned earlier, working on a neutral spine should begin off the horse for it to become second nature. Being aware of your neutral spine and posture as you move through your daily life will result in you needing to ‘do less’ when riding. Watch the video above to get a full run down on how to set up your neutral spine and good dressage position.
How To Improve Your Dressage Position
Now that you have an understanding of the DRT System, let’s look into what you can do now to start making changes and improving your dressage position.
One of the first places to consider is the daily environment that you work in. A common scenario when I talk to riders is that when they aren’t riding they spend a lot of time at a desk or sitting.
Depending on where you live and what sort of lifestyle you lead, you can’t deny the fact that as a population we tend to lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to say 50 years ago. The typical 9-5 job tends to lend itself to long office hours, strict deadlines, meetings, commuting and then often this same person is then home to the couch in and around a ride somewhere during their day.
The truth is we are spending far too long on our bottoms!
When you spend the average of 6+ hours sitting at your desk, the odd walk to get a drink of water and ride at the end of your day doesn’t quite undo all the negative effects that sitting has on your body. Desk life is a fast way to shorten your hip flexors and stiffen your lower back.
All of which are crucial to keeping supple as a rider.
How your environment affects your position
Our bodies simply aren’t designed to be sitting all day, day in and day out. Often when I talk to clients they feel like they have to sit all day and that they are trapped in this position from 9-5 because it the nature of the job and its the business they work for fault they are sedentary. I then go on to ask how they spend the others hours of their day and the truth eventually comes out.
The fact is often the average person who believes they are stuck in this position will then tend to also spend the other hours of their day, stuck in this exact same position, with the difference being they have moved from a computer chair to a couch.
This lack of movement throughout the day results in low-energy, dull mood, lack of mobility, increased pain, stiffness and many other long-term health related problems.
Not to mention the effects this has on how you ride your horse!
There are other hours in your day where you do have choices and it’s important to break up those 8 hours in the middle of the day as much as you can via either a stand-up desk or short walk breaks throughout your day and think about how much you move during your weekend to counteract your movement or lack of during the week.
Everything works together
We spend so much time looking at our horses and our horses health. If you want to get better at riding you also need to look at your health. Look at your day and be honest with how it is structured.
Does it help your riding, or hinder it?
Remember you are what you eat and equally important you are how you move your body.
So if you are sedentary for the majority of your day and your body is complaining in some way shape or form from little niggles, aches or pains, or lack of energy. Ask yourself is there a way I can improve my current situation?
Moving, standing and being more active throughout your day will not only improve your energy but will also improve your posture and natural biomechanics that will ultimately help you become a much more balanced fitter rider.
Put the effort into taking care of you as much as you take care of your horse.
To enhance your posture, watch the video above and I want to encourage you to spend more time throughout your day being aware of your neutral spine.
When you’re sitting in your chair, driving and walking become conscious of your spine’s position and adjust it when required. Think about your posture as you clean the house or do any chores around the stables.
Consider how your spine is stacked and activating your core so you can maintain a neutral position while performing these everyday tasks.
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