One of the biggest difficulties in the sport of dressage stems from the rider's desire to sit up tall. However, as riders, we also want to be able to follow our horses in a supple way, while maintaining the appropriate amount of muscular activity required for the task at hand.
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American Team Rider Charlotte Jorst has been incorporating the following slow-motion awareness exercises by noted equestrian biomechanics specialist Dave Thind. Jorst explained that prior to this work, she constantly had to work hard to sit up straight in her riding and was unknowingly working against her own body.
As riders, we must all work on refining our seats. At the higher levels, it is a matter of small details for more precision.
She also revealed that prior to weekly practice of the Dave Thind Method (DTM), based on the Feldenkrais Method®, Jorst could not alleviate pain on her own through the stretching exercises she was using.
To achieve optimal alignment goals and ride in harmony with our equine partners, we as riders must learn where in our bodies we can let go, therefore becoming more supple and fluid. Equally important is learning where in our bodies we require the appropriate degree of muscle tone so that our aids are most effective.
Train at Home
In addition to the help of a good instructor and a suitable horse, you can also train your seat from home. By doing slow-motion exercises to help you learn “feel,” you can easily learn the biomechanics and the secrets of “sitting up tall.” These unmounted exercises can also enhance your riding and help you avoid repetitive stress injuries. Even though we are calling these “exercises,” the ultimate goal is not necessarily increasing fitness, but refining our suppleness and feeling.
Many riders of various levels have achieved their ideal seat and also removed unnecessary stress, pain, and body tension through Dave Thind's method. Riders can expand their proprioception, increasing their awareness of old habits and body patterns. This helps to reset, reboot and allow the nervous system to choose more optimal ways of moving by presenting options while doing the exercises.
There are a multitude of reasons of why we would want to incorporate movement exercises such as DTM depending on age, goals and physical fitness.
“A smooth sitting rider who is swinging into the horses’ movements is a horseman/horsewoman. This is important for the welfare of the horse. The better the rider’s position, the happier the horse—and Dave helps his clients achieve good positions.” —Christoph Hess, German F.N. Educational Ambassador.
One of the reasons riders choose to incorporate this type of training is to address personal asymmetries. In traditional thinking, if a rider is crooked, we try to find symmetry by unbending or untwisting them in the opposite direction to create a long, symmetrical picture. However in DTM or Feldenkrais, which focuses on why the brain wants to put us in our perceived middle, we must do more of what the body wants to do in order to make the habitual pattern crystal clear to the nervous system. And then the rider can explore the same pattern on the other side. This gives the brain the stimulus needed to rediscover what our true middle is.
“In my early work with Dave, I remember really being fascinated by the concept and the feeling of being tall and upright without working hard," Jorst said. "Amazing! I was delighted to give up working hard to sit up and keep my shoulders back. His courses have catapulted my riding in a direction that I am very happy with and I am much more supple in my body, both when riding and in my daily life."
Research shows the “traditional approach” of “fixing,” typically causes more stiffness as the nervous system tends to guard against change that is corrective in nature. Therefore, the body’s response is more stiffness and guarding.
By implementing simple awareness exercises, we can show the brain new and more effective options to move. The easiest, most comfortable and most efficient organization in movement is usually the most biomechanically correct.
Tips to Sit Up Tall Without Working Against Yourself from Charlotte Jorst
1. Get to know your body parts. Where is your pelvis, your hip joints, the various vertebrae of your spine? With regards to the curves of your spine, how can they change, and what else changes when you change the shape of your spine?
2. Do you stand and walk with your head over your pelvis? We need this when we ride but it should not be forced. Therefore, via the spine, do your head and pelvis communicate with each other in a supple way, or is something rigid?
3. Sit in a chair and try slouching. Then slouch more. What do you need to do with your pelvis to do this well? Your chest? Your head? Maybe even your eyes? If your pelvis was a bowl of soup, tip the bowl backward toward your tailbone in order to lift your belt buckle. Maybe imagine a dog tucking its tail between its legs. See how tipping the bowl backward can help you slouch or round if you wanted to.
And inversely, tip the bowl forward letting your belly out, in order to get taller, vertebra by vertebra. Try doing this without working too hard. As you tip your pelvis forward, you can imagine a string gently pulling up on your sternum. Try to feel and imagine one vertebrae at a time tipping forward and finally coming all the way up to your sternum and your head (to make you taller). You can also imagine the whole spine like a pearl necklace and one pearl moves the next pearl. This is an example of the head and pelvis communicating with each other. Go back and forth. This exercise is called "Pelvic Clock."
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Click here to check out a popular introductory course endorsed by Christoph Hess and Charlotte Jorst, "A Good Seat Moves," designed to improve the sitting trot.
In the above video, Charlotte Jorst rides Nintendo.
Born in Canada and trained in Germany, Dave Thind makes his home in Walpole, Massachusetts, as owner of Aspire Farm since 2013. Thind has himself competed at the Grand Prix level in dressage and jumping. He is a noted equestrian biomechanics authority, with several published articles and appearances as an expert guest or lecturer to his credit. He received his German 'Trainer A' license in 2007 with a nearly perfect score awarded to him from the German National Federation. He holds an International Trainer Passport Level III and is an Authorized Teacher of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement.
Charlotte Jorst is a Danish-born American Grand Prix dressage rider at the Adult Amateur level. A devoted equestrian, wife, mother and successful businesswoman, she juggles the running of her popular apparel company, Kastel Denmark, with training and competing across the country. Jorst has been a successful competitor both domestically and internationally for more than 15 years, while continuing to train a collection of talented horses at her barn in Reno, Nevada. Her current lineup includes new stallion Grand Galaxy Win and longtime success and fan favorite, Kastel’s Nintendo. A consistent annual player in Wellington, Florida, Jorst has competed at the Rolex Cup in New York as well as the 2016 FEI World Cup Dressage Finals in Sweden. She has been a U.S. Team rider for the past six years, representing the U.S. during Nations Cups in Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden, America and Denmark. She is proud to have claimed first place in the Grand Prix for the USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship in 2018 and has her sights set on conquering the 2020 show season.