So how do riders get stuck in this dressage detour in the first place? Riding horses from front to back happens when riders allow the backwards pull on the reins exerted by their arms to be stronger than the forward push from their abdominal core muscles, back and seat. In essence, correctly riding back to front requires a remarkable amount of push and a sensitive amount of hold. To do this effectively requires educated hands that can, and do, act independently from a strong, anchored and balanced seat. Calculating the amount of push versus hold on a dynamically moving horse is the crux of the problem – and it surely doesn’t help that pushing is physically hard, sweat producing labor and pulling seems just so much easier!
Last summer I wrote an article entitled, “Six Pack Abs of Steel” (Close Contact, July 2013) where I discussed how important it is for our horses to develop strong, resilient abdominal press muscles in order for them to be capable of lifting and arching their backs and going on the aids. Lifting the horses back is the job of the riders correctly aiding legs and seat, which act like little suction cups and encourage the horse to pull his tummy in and round his back up under the rider. The rider’s strong abdominal core and back muscles can then create the strong forward push that is needed to overcome the backward forces exerted on the rider when the horse is in motion. Through this push, riders encourage the horse to seek forward with a long neck and softly swinging topline and work on the aids.
The answer then to this detour lies in riders developing their own “Six Pack Abs of Steel” and then learning how to utilize these muscles to create the back to front connection that is the true foundation of correct classical riding. Finding our way out of the dressage detour is predicated not only on our being seated in balance on our horse (remember that all important shoulder, hip and heel vertical line), but then also having the core strength to push, not pull, our horses onto the aids and ride them back to front. If we expect our horses to have toned abdominal muscles in order perform correctly, then we can certainly expect no less from ourselves.
Bottom line, rider fitness with special attention to core fitness, is integral. It is important to note here that it often takes more than riding just one horse a day to be sufficient core workout for most of us – especially those of us who still remember how to dial a rotary telephone. Zumba, aerobics, martial arts and Pilates are all great choices to help riders tone up. I love to look for new and interesting ways to do barn chores that incorporate more abdominal core muscles. Ever tried carrying a 5-gallon bucket of water down the aisle holding it with both arms lifted so that the bottom of the bucket approaches your waist level? Gives feeding and cleaning the barn a whole new meaning!
So ditch the detour and solve front to back riding by focusing on increasing your own muscle tone to improve both your position and your riding. Your horse will thank you for it.
Susan Moody, IEO president