Create an Open "Backline"

Biomechanics expert Susanne von Dietze critiques Wendy Satara at First Level
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Credit: Badger Photography

Credit: Badger Photography

This picture was submitted by Wendy Satara from Sydney, Australia. She is riding her rising 9-year-old, Anglo-Arab/ warmblood-cross gelding, Cadence Park Raindancer, in the Australian equivalent of a First Level test. Wendy purchased him as a 4-year-old and has owned him for five years and they are now schooling Third Level. Here, the horse is in the left canter and his movement appears round and fluid. Wendy is sitting upright and balanced and the pair looks like a good match.

Analyzing this picture in detail, I notice some interesting points. Watching the horse’s neck, you can see clearly how the muscles of the top of his neck are working like a bow. The top muscles are visible and the lower part of the neck is soft. This signals good use of the neck and proper self-carriage. 

However, the horse’s poll is not the highest point, and his nose is slightly behind the vertical. I would advise Wendy to give some attention to the poll of her horse while cantering. I get the impression that he is nodding during the canter stride, which means that he lands with a nice head and neck position, but then his head and neck nod downward. This is often a sign of some weakness in the horse’s back and not enough weight on his hind legs. This impression is reinforced by the fact that his croup is slightly high and his hind leg is not far enough under Wendy’s weight. 

To address this, Wendy needs to imagine that the rocking point of her horse should be behind the saddle with his neck more stable.

At first glance, Wendy’s seat looks balanced and supple. I would like to see a little more straightness through her shoulders and neck. I also get the impression that when she rides, she shortens the inside of her upper body by dropping her inside shoulder slightly. 

When I focus on Wendy’s neck, I can see that the “backline” of her neck is short and her chin is lifted a little and pushed forward. This reveals some tension in her occipital joints, which are the joints that connect the neck with the head. This region is important because it can influence balance and coordination abilities. 

Try this: Imagine a diagonal line running from your chin up to the back of your head and stretching your neck without negative tension. With a more open neck, it will be easier to straighten in the shoulder area, too. To feel the connection, put one hand on the back of your neck. Bending your head forward and downward, you can feel the vertebrae of the neck stick out. The big one at the bottom is the lowest neck vertebra. Lifting your chin up, you can feel that this vertebra stays in place while the one above slides forward, away from your finger. Repeat the neck movement while attempting to maintain contact between that sliding vertebra and your hand. You will feel that you can control this part of your neck only when you are straight in your chest, too. 

In addition to affecting your balance and coordination, keeping your backline more active, open and long has a direct influence on the horse’s topline, keeping his back more engaged, supple and open. This may be an important key to improving the horse’s balance and self-carriage during the landing of the canter stride.

 I hope that Wendy can use this help to improve her harmonious rides with her nice horse. 

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