Classical riding- German style.
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Author:  Luskeliten [ Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Classical riding- German style.

Being raised as a rider with the 'traditional' riding-school style of riding, I found it quite challenging when I started to apply classical techniques when riding the horse at my disposal that time many years ago. But it worked, and, somehow that clumsy little horse was a not-so clumsy little thing anymore.
Alas, she was sold, and I started studying.
Throughout the last couple of years, I've followed your work, and just been longing for the day when I could start riding with you guys. When-I-just-would-move-back-to-Norway.
That's apparently easier said than done, and now I'm stuck in Germany :P (the boyfriend invited me to stay for a week,, in july... :P)

Being stuck in Germany is quite pleasant. Especially being stuck in what I assume to be the horse-densest area in Germany, Nordrhein Westfalen. This left me with the luxury of too many places to choose from, and it took me almost a month choosing the 'right one'. But now, I think I've found one.

All of the horses are schooled to be grand-prix-proficient, and today the finally deemed me skilled enough to ride one of those.
I was expecting this, and the whole weekend, I've been reading your riding theory to brush up. And also because I find it to be unusually well written.
So with my head full of theory, I went on to ride this wonderful animal.
And it ended.. i do not know how to describe it properly.. not-so-good.
I was too preoccupied with keeping my pelvis in the right position and my shoulders back to actually remember to ride..

My instructor apparently is a big fan of academic riding, and luckily saw what i attempted to do, and really tried to help me along.."Not just for you, but for the horse too, you know" she said.

Apparently I do normally have a good classical posture, which is good, I guess. But today, I focused so much of perfecting it, that I forgot that I had to move with the horse aswell, and ended up clinging to the horse with my thighs, subsequently leading the horse to slow down, loosing all his forward drive.

Although my instructor is a good one, I wonder if you have any ideas on how to get my focus straight?

Author:  Hanne [ Fri Sep 14, 2012 10:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Haha, I know a lot about that phenomenon. :D Just relax, we can fix that. Not so easy over the net of course, but we have managed that before, and it is always a good learning experience for other readers, so I would gladly spend some time on it.

Good things to build on:
- You have access to good horses that can teach you and tell you when you are getting it right.
- You have good instructors who can help you.
- You understand a lot of theory, and are interested in learning.

So, we will have to talk a little first, in order for me to understand what the problem is, and perhaps for you to understand what to do to fix it. This might take some time, but it is possible.

First, I would like to ask some questions:

- When you say "classical riding", what specifically do you mean? Many people mean "academic art of riding" by this term, or more generically baroque riding style. This is a little different from how we train, but I understand some of it, as we have tried it before, and it will help me to understand if the horses you ride have been trained this way. Please also tell me if they are trained in the more traditional German classical way, i.e. the German training scale.
- What were the problems you experienced when riding? Please describe how it felt for you, or what the trainer said.

Very often, when you try to change a movement pattern, such as your position or your seat, or the way you are using the aids, you become stiff. That is because your nervous system has not yet got used to the new movement, and struggles to get it right. But on the other hand, nobody has ever gotten into a good position by just relaxing either. We have quite a big set of training methods to help you get through such frustrating stages, I just need to find out more about what the problem really is. Often the core problem is quite different from what you think, but that is my job to find out. :)

And by the way, welcome to this forum.

Author:  Luskeliten [ Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

First off, and maybe most importantly, I think I mean classical in your terms. My riding instructor referred to it as 'classical dressage' and went on to mention Müesler and
Kottas and then had a short, but wonderful lecture on muscle-dynamics, and she clearly understood what I was doing on top of that wonderful horse I was sitting on (but unfortunally not riding).
Also, she went on to talk about the 'quick-fix'-traditional dressage aswell, and called it 'blödsinn' -idiocy .. (yes, i learn a lot of German, not just riding, there)

Anywho.. she told me, the instructor, Renate, that she could see very clearly what I was doing, that I was fighting my pelvis, and not letting it fall in place naturally (like it apparently had done during our last session). Thus, i ended up stiff and not light and flexible. As a result, I ended up beeing thrown around in the saddle.
Which is an absolutely correct observation; for the first time ever, I even sat on my symphysis (NOT pleasant!), and when i finally found my balance in the seat, on the tuberousities, I clinged so hard to the saddle with my thighs, that poor Diamond almost stopped.
I know that i was clinging to the saddle with my thighs because I have bruises... In short, I spent a lot of time simply clinging to Diamond, not riding him. Also, I could feel that I brought him out of balance a lot of times because of this.
This resulted in a feeling of no contact with the horse. I was sitting on top of him, and he was mechanically doing what I asked him to.

At the end, though, Renate started distracting me, and was talking about muscle dynamics and müsler, and all of a sudden, Diamond lifted his back, shot forward and was so collected my whole body was one giant goosebump.
Renate exploded with enthusiasm, pointed out to me that 'Das is ja perfekt, schön und locker' (that's perfect, beautiful and smooth). 2 minutes later, I started fighting my pelvis, and I decided that enough was enough.
A nice walk around the field was a better ending to that lesson. :

Author:  Hanne [ Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Oh, so your brain gets in the way? ;) Not uncommon.

Perhaps you know about my mental picture "the man in the brain"? I like to picture this green man that is sitting inside your brain contolling your movement. He does not understand words, only movement. Your teacher sounds very smart, distracting you conscious brain, so that your man in the brain, or nervous system, can start feeling and coordinating without interruption.

It seems to me that you need intuitive instruction, that is no technical descriptions or detailed muscle- or joint focus. Your feelings are actually meant to do the job, and you are made to feel what is right, we only need instruction to lead us to the right feeling.

The position of the pelvis and the movement of the hip joint is complex technically that it is almost impossible to describe in words. This is why we need good horses and good instructors to teach us and to tell us when we get it right. Your goose bumps certainly gave you the answer: this is good movent, because that is when goose bumps do. ;)

So I wonder: what do you need me for? It seems you are in very good hands. Please get me right, I love to help. :)


Author:  Hanne [ Sat Sep 15, 2012 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

And sorry for all the typos, I am away on a clinic, and on Iphone. :)

Author:  Luskeliten [ Mon Sep 17, 2012 11:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Oh.. well.. The reason I'm writing here was simply to be sure all that theory I was soaking up from your forum was really that I wanted to have an idea on how to connect the theory with practical riding.
And if I'm connecting it correctly.
My teacher is really a good one, but it is mainly your theoretical fuel I'm using when I'm riding; and while she gives me good feedback and guides me, you are still the source, so I hope you don't mind asking you for guidance when I'm not getting it right :)

And yes, it may seem, as you say, that the man in the brain is acting up, that bastard :P What with the intuitive riding is also a good pointer, and I realize I should, as you say, ride with feeling, and rather focus improvement on evaluation AFTER the session, rather than when on the horse. And let the goosebumps guide me :mrgreen:

Author:  Hanne [ Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Yes, very true. Arthur Kottas once told me that in the Spanish Riding School i Vienna, the riders never are allowed to say anything during a lesson, and after the lesson, he is allow to ask ONE question to the master. I find this a very good system, because:
1. The rider is forced to shut up during the whole lesson, which means he must concentrate on trying to do what he is told, and to feel what happens.
2. The rider must think through what he has learned, and prioritize what he would like an answer to. This means that he also is forced to think on his own, and learn from this.

Babbling usually brings little new knowledge. And it often shuts out everything else. ;)

As you know, we focus a lot on theory, and often we get students who are very strong theoretically. Many of these have problems putting the theory aside to let their feeling through. Problem is: Your feelings are the only way to control movement, and feel is a very powerful value. Sometimes it seems that the stronger the rider is theoretically, the more she will regard feelings as unimportant or even in the way.

It is the conscious brain that is in the way. Theory is very good for correction of faults and understanding next step in training, but when that is understood, we need to put the conscious brain away, and just feel.

Another problem is that we often train our feelings to recognize the wrong things. For instance we often see riders who have learnt that a very bumpy, uncomfortable trot is a sign that the horse has begun moving in a good dressage gait, when it has just fallen apart and lost its back, jarring its joints and the rider too.

Funny thing is; when I let these riders work on connecting the horse again, they ALWAYS feel it when the horse starts moving over the back again. Without me saying anything about it, they say something like "WOW!" and smile, and tells me afterwards that they got the goose pimples or other signs that their nervous system certainly understood what was going on.

So, to the issue on the pelvis and its vertical position. This is NOT easy to explain over a distance. I have tried many times, and failed. We have believed we got it right, only to find out that we didn't once I finally got to travel to the rider and instruct hands on. Problem is that the hip joint is very complex. Or, not the joint, but the movement of it. The muscles around the joint work in a very complex cooperation, and the only way to really show you, is to be there.

And I have actually never seen a rider that has a perfectly functioning hip joint without specific training. Some very few have a vertical pelvis and a stabilized upper body, most often these have ridden since they were little, going through good instruction, often with vaulting or other athletic training beside the riding.

I so wish I had the resources to make a film or two showing this. It is not easy to show in a way that is easily understood. But there are a couple of things you and your instructor could do to check if you really have a vertical pelvis and loose hip joints:

1. Sit in the saddle with your seat bones in the saddle's lowest point and the legs in a position so that your heels are under your seat bones. Feet horizontal. Elbows at your side, hands in normal position holding the reins. Let your instructor tug at your reins, standing at the horse's head. You should be able to stabilize your body so that your instructor is unable to rock you at all. Please note that your crotch should NOT be pressed down into the pommel. Sit on the seat bones. Use your abs and your seat muscles to prevent it. Use your lats (latissimus dorsi) to hold your elbows in place.
2. There should be a defined crease in your breeches in the transition between your buttock and your hamstrings at all times when you sit in the saddle, seen from the side. If there is just a smooth line at this place, you know that the hip joint is not moving when the horse moves. When the horse moves, you should be able to see the hip joint moving. I assume you know where the hip joint is. Not everybody does ;)
3. You should be able to stop the horse by just pushing the seat bones towards the front in the saddle while keeping a steady contact with the reins, keeping the upper body straight.
4. You should be able to sit in extended trot without leaning back or bouncing, and to regulate the collection and the rythm in the gait just by using the seat.
5. You should be able to keep the soft contact between your leg and the horse's side at all times without losing the contact with the saddle's deepest point with your seat bones.

The most common problem hindering this, is that the seat- and hamstrings muscles are too inactive in most modern people, since we sit far too much and thus inactivate these muscles. We also often get too short in the muscles around the crotch, making us cling to the saddle in a faulty way, and especially women get too sway backed, thus tilting the pelvis forwards at the top. This results in seat bones that are working backwards, not being able to collect the horse or go with the horse.

Sorry for the long explanation, but this is a complex matter, easily misunderstood, especially by experienced riders with deeply rooted faults. It is not easy to feel a fault that you have had for many years. That is way so many tests are needed. :)


Author:  Luskeliten [ Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Ever since that last riding lesson, and even more so after the tale of the green man in the brain, I have been focusing so much on what I did wrong, and how to improve it.. Doing so, I have used my bike. Living in what is called 'the bike capital of Europe', that was a piece of cake. My bike has one of those wide seats, and up until last week, I have hated it, just because it tilts my pelvis forward, and I end up sitting with a kink in my back and a sore symphysis and 'lady-parts'.
So, I figured, I could try to start straightening my pelvis when riding that bike.
It quite easy to do this on a bike, as it (most of the time) does exactly what I want, so that I can focus on the pelvis without messing stuff up.
It really felt kinda weird the first couple of times, the Herr Doktor of my relationship was of course wondering why I was sitting that way on the bike (but then again, his biggest concern when it comes to horses, if how they are neighing :P), and my hip flexors were sore.
The next couple of times, it felt more natural, and I could start observing what happened to my body;as my pelvis was held straight, the abdominal muscles were activated, and my thighs were abducted, in short, my pelvis 'opened' AND my shoulders, my damned shoulders naturally sank backwards, as I know they should.
I still have to remind myself to do it, but it comes more natural to me now, hah! take that, little green Man-in-the-brain!
Ring a bike is something quite different, but its all about being aware and adjusting the movement-patterns we have grown into - and being aware of the adujstment needed/being done.
So today, I went to the stable, still a bit shameful from the last time, and fearing they'd 'downgraded' me to another horse.

We always have to come an hour or so earlier, to hunt the horses from the fields and prepare them ourselves, so I came much much earlyer, eager to try, but also worried. I automatically went and got my Diamond, prepared him, and started to ride.
After 15 minutes or so, Renate told me that I should stop riding, let Diamond back out on the fields and go fetch 'Donna Watonga' - "the biggest, blackest mare out there" . Those were her exact words.
I felt like I'd been punched in my stomach, but obediently (albeit annoyed with Renate's smile) went to fetch the biggest Wesfahler out there.
I fetched her, brought her to the stables, put on the saddle and bridle and was charmed by her gentle character while doing so, but I was still seriously sulky....
Until I got up on her back, that was. This was no downgrade, by god, it was an upgrade!
Renate explained that Donna is one of the youngest horses in the stable, with her mere 6 years, and that only skilled riders gets to ride her, because she needs to be educated aswell..

Riding Donna was not an easy task, she is big , and she has just grown into her body ( Renate was in doubt she would ever stop growing) so she is not yet fully developed musclewise- or coordinationwise. This meant that I really had to ride her, helping her find the balance, enabling her to lift her back and shoot forwards.
With my new found place in the saddle, Donna really started working, and I felt as comfortable as I have ever done in a saddle. As she was in need of a very 'present' rider, I was constantly reminded when I was not riding, and instantly rewarded when I was.
As you pointed out before, too much theory is not necessarily a good thing, as was my experience last time.
Now, this time, I had actually been working actively to override the Man in my brain, and could focus on other things, riding for example:P

My pelvis is still not perfectly in place, but most of the time, it close, and some of the time it is. I feel it when it is, and Donna does too. 3 quartes of an hour with goose bumbs is a good sign. I think I understand the mechanics behind it, especially after your last post, and I think its mostly about me and my man in the brain.

I have never really had posture-problems, but I notice now, that with my newfound pelvic posture, that I have a tendency to look down at Donna's ears, and that by dong so, I'm loosing touch with her mouth. (i think i look down because it gives me a false sense of balance?)
When looking up, I automatically pull my shoulders back, my hands up, increase contact with Donna's mouth and bring Donna into a better state of balance.
Also, I did something I can only translate into 'umbilical grip' to modulate the speed of donnas gait in stead of just squeesing my thighs together or tugging the reins on Renate's order; when exhaling, I would pull my abdominal muscles (without messing up the pelvis ofc) towards my umbilicus, and when relaxing them, Donna slowed down. Completely amazing!!!!

I must really really thank you for taking the time to answer despite the fact that I have not yet had the opportunity to ride under your guidance..

It really matters!

Author:  Hanne [ Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Cool! I completely agree with you on everything that you write. Very cool that you found out this when riding a bicycle. It is most important to relate the training also to other aspects of life.

I just love the term "umbilical grip". :D And yes: Squeezing with the thighs is complete rubbish. It just blocks the horse's shoulders and squeezes you out of the saddle. The umbilical grip is much more efficient, as it more or less grabs hold of the spine and controls the swinging of the back.

This is also why a constant blockage of the hip joint is almost like driving with the hand brake on. ;)


Author:  Luskeliten [ Mon Oct 01, 2012 11:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Now, having found my place in the saddle, more or less brought the horse into balance, I was ready to ride. As in really riding.
Easier said than done.
Donna is a clever and loving horse who really tries. But she is young, and she does not always know how to help me when I make mistakes. Which is good, I guess. As it forces me to develop as a rider, not just relaxing and going with the flow.
More specifically, I realise I need to focus on my transitions.. They are tragic.

I bring Donna out of balance. I end up pulling the reins, loosing the forward drive, and have to start all over again.
She understands the umbilical grip, and trot to walk works good. Gallop to trot is ok. Gallop to walk is a bit harder, but still works. Walk to gallop kinda works. Trot to gallop is a disaster.

During normal trot, I have good control. Donna is in balance, and we have good forward drive. For some reason, when I try to gallop, this is lost.
I think it might be because I tense up or stress a lot although I don't think I'm doing it?
Whatever the reason is, the result is me fumbling around, not managing to give the horse the proper signals.. :/

For me, this is really confusing. Gallop has never been a problem for me. Gallop was always the simple exit, so to say. Trot was rather the challenge, to get the transitions smooth and right while maintain the balance.
Could this be due to my newfound 'seat' in the saddle?

Any tips or pointers?

Author:  Hanne [ Mon Oct 01, 2012 1:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Just guessing: I often see that riders lean a bit forwards and block their hips in the upwards transition from trot. Then the horse just blocks as well. Easy way to check it: Lean a bit backwards with upper body and push the seat bones forwards in the strike off, opening the hip joint. Especially the inside one, of course, but focus on both, to check.

See if this helps, and call me back if not, we'll take it from there.


Author:  Luskeliten [ Fri Oct 26, 2012 5:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

So.. My German riding adventure has come to an end for this time.
I am moving northwards, and as I have actually never attended any of your lessons, or even spoken to you in person, i do not think it would be strange if I just let this thread die.
But I won't, inot just quite yet. I want to share some of my peculiar experiences with you first, to show how grateful I am for the guidance you have offered, both with your replies, and with your general posts on this forum.

Now, first of. I stopped attending riding schools over 10 years ago, as I felt they could simply not offer me anything more. We were taught that if we were to stop the horses, we should drag the reins. If we wanted it to move, we were to use the whip or the spurs, preferably together; and if we wanted the horse's neck to curl, all we had to do, was to lower our hands and start moving them in a sawing way. Neat, huh? They always yelled at me because i had long stirrups, and god knows what.
As I was lucky, when I quit riding, I had access to the sweet, but all-too-clumsy Horse, and I could develop myself further as a rider.. But all things come to an end, Horse was sold, and besides I didn't have anyone to instruct me.
After this, I continued to ride different horses for some 5 years, until I quit almost completely because of studies (horse-culture in Slovakia is slightly chaotic..).

So, when I was returning as an active rider this fall, I was both insanely happy of the opportunity, and extremely skeptic due to my previous bad experiences.

Before I started this time over, I spent a lot of time reading riding theory, including what I found on your pages and learning to 'think correctly' (as to be able to fight the infamous man in the brain).
The first times, I was fumbling, like when you are playing tetris, to get all the bits and pieces into place. And often, whenever I felt that I took a step forward, the next time, I had taken two backwards.
Luckily I have had an amazing teacher here. AND I have had you to guide me.And this is what I really want to thank you for; not just your valuable advice, but also for your attitude and approach. It is really inspiring, and somehow inspires me to push myself into becoming a rider I didnt think I could be.

In 2 short months, I have gone from being a self-taught rider with vague interpretations of correct riding and horse in balance, to being a confident rider getting closer and closer to correct riding and a horse in balance. Every time I sit on that horse now, it simply feels like magic, and sometimes I'm completely swept away (untill Donna stumbles :P), and then I remember, its not magic, its inspiration.
Which is the real life version of magic.

Thank you!

Author:  Luskeliten [ Fri Oct 26, 2012 5:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Oh, and also, I figured out the problem with the gallop.. puh!
I was reluctant to think it was me leaning forward thus locking my hip, but it turns out it was not far from it.
It seems as if I was curling my legs; lifting my inner thigh, in practice leading me to be slightly forward bent.
As it was, I found this to be THE problem.
And, as I brought myself to continuously focus on stretching the hamstrings (yes, I use my bike for this too), I found that I no longer curl my legs when I get stressed either.

Author:  Hanne [ Mon Oct 29, 2012 5:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Classical riding- German style.

Cool! And thanks for the nice words.

Hope we'll meet one day. :)


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