Riders in class often hear “Look where you want to ride.” Is this really true? Our experts agree that the head and gaze begin with the rotation of the body. However, errors do occur here from time to time. Because the rider often aims for the goal, but not the way to get there, as Anke Recktenwald explains.
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Why should riders look at the position of their heads
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“When I park my car, I don’t just look at the parking lot, I also look at my way there,” explains teacher Feldenkrais. “Where we look decides what we tune our muscles to,” says Western trainer Kirsten Babel. If you look too far ahead, your head is spinning a lot and it may happen that your body will turn in the opposite direction. Then the horse’s aids become confusing.
Draw the lines: “I imagine drawing a line three to four meters in front of me on the ground and wanting to ride on it,” explains Kirsten Babel. “This way, I prevent the gaze from straying too far and the wrong body turns from crawling in.”
looks sarcastic How did our view change the seat? You can feel it with this exercise. Sit on the edge of a chair and move your hands under your buttocks. Then look at the left edge of the chair and feel your weight shift into your left buttock. “If you look inward at the ground while turning in the saddle, that’s exactly what happens,” explains Marlies Fischer-Zillinger. “You lean in and lose contact with the outer buttock.”
soft look: Eyes should always remain soft and pliable, so don’t stare, experts say. Because when you stare, your body becomes stationary and immobile. Anke Recktenwald has an exercise ready for this: While riding, steady your horse’s ears and keep staring for a few seconds. Then you take your eyes off her and let her wander into the distance. How does a stare feel and how does a soft stare feel? How well can they keep up with the movement? How does your horse react?
I look around you in fear: When we feel fear, we get nervous and stare. This is why Marlis Fischer-Zeilinger recommends anxious riders to consciously look around and notice different things in their surroundings. This relaxes your eyes and muscles. As a result, one can breathe and sit more freely, fear and tension disappear.
The ears are essential for good balance, because our balance organ is hidden in the inner ear. “Riders with a less developed sense of balance often tighten their legs and knees,” says Western trainer Kirsten Babel. Anke Recktenwald has often noticed that riders lose their balance when they turn their heads to better hear the riding instructor’s instructions. A headset can be a solution here.
Tensions also have a negative effect on a sense of balance. “If you’re tense, you can’t walk and sit up in balance,” says movement therapist Marliss Fischer Zeilinger.
Compensation sport and coordination training: In order to train your balance, Kerstin Babel advises you to do recreational sports or specific coordination training along with horseback riding.
“For me, the cervical spine is part of the head,” says Kirsten Babel. If your neck is strained, you cannot sit in a balanced position.
Yes and no: “To relieve acute tension in the cervical spine, you can nod or shake your head slightly. It is always important to make good movements,” explains Marlies Fischer-Zillinger.
round neck: Kirsten Babel recommends the following neck-tightening exercise: “Let your head tilt forward toward the explosion. Then turn your head to the left and do three small nodding movements. Then turn your head to the right and repeat the whole thing.” Another western trainer exercise: Clasp your hands behind your head and move your elbows forward and down toward your chest. This is how the neck muscles are stretched.
“The horse senses when the rider is smiling,” says Anke Recktenwald. Kirsten Babel explains why: “When you smile, your jaw muscles relax as well as your whole body up to your hips.” So smiling not only looks beautiful, but is also good for your seat.
flutter: “If you exhale with lips flapping, you make a purring sound when you exhale, your lips and jaw relax, and your breathing calms,” says Marlies Fischer-Zillinger.
Did you know that the jaw can clog the whole body? “If your jaw is tense, everything from your cervical spine to your pelvis becomes tight and you just can’t keep up,” Western trainer Kirsten Babel explains. Anke Recktenwald adds: “The hands and therefore our association with the horse’s mouth are directly affected by the jaw muscles.”
So it is better to leave the jaw loose. But where does the tension come from anyway? “This often happens when we’re focused or angry because something isn’t going well,” says Kirsten Babel. Marlies Fischer-Zillinger adds, “Jaw muscles are often an indicator of stress. In the long run, you should try to find the cause and resolve the stress patterns.”
to bite: This exercise promises aha moments: Anke Recktenwald advises playing small horses. Two people holding a pair of reins between them. The “horse” is sitting and now imitates the horse’s gesturing motion by making a back-and-forth motion of its arms. The “knight” follows the movement with his hands. It can also trot into place for greater effect. How far can a rider keep up if he grits his teeth?
Tooth count: This exercise by Anke Recktenwald offers instant help for a tense jaw: you strike each tooth separately from the inside and outside with your tongue. Very slowly, like counting each tooth separately. This is how the jaw relaxes.
hot friesMovement expert Marlies Fischer-Zillinger recommends imagining you have a hot potato in your mouth. The O motion you make with your mouth during this performance instantly relaxes your jaw muscles.
Tongue behind the teethImmediate Help Tip: If you gently press your tongue against the incisors in the direction of your throat, you won’t be able to clench your teeth, reveals Kirsten Babel. Try it! Don’t forget to loosen your tongue again.
Our experts agree that correct posture is critical to achieving good proportion, and good posture starts with the head. Anke Recktenwald describes, “When straightened properly, the neck gets a good length, the back becomes free, and the pelvis relaxes. The arms and legs become free and flexible and you feel as if you are sitting low.”
“The sternum is free and breathing is easy,” adds Kirsten Babel. If you look down, leave your head hanging and no longer sit properly, the hip muscles are tense and the legs automatically slide forward. You can no longer lengthen your leg and spring. “I tested this myself while training on the Long Line,” says Marliss Fischer Zelinger.
Hobby Hobby Writer: “The right posture makes it easy,” says Anke Recktenwald. You can feel this with the following exercise: One person sits on another’s lap and you play “Hoppe Hoppe Reiter”. The knight changes his position. To feel the effect clearly, you can move your head up or down in an exaggerated manner. The person below will notice that if the passenger sits upright, it will be easier to move them. The horse also feels this effect.
Interior pictures: The concepts can help the rider to sit more straight. The first interior photo comes from Anke Recktenwald: “Feel your head sitting on your spine. Imagine you’re wearing a wide tiara or basket on your head – depending on what suits you best.”
Kerstin Babel also has an inside photo ready: “To get the posture right, imagine you’re going to grab your high ponytail and pull it back. This will straighten your head and straighten your spine.”
A mistake almost every rider knows: Over and over again the gaze wanders down and the chin moves toward the chest. The curves of our cervical spine increase the pressure on our back and our head hangs down. Anke Recktenwald explains, “In principle, the muscles then have to tighten the head, it’s no longer where it actually belongs. The shoulders drop forward, we become tight and we can’t sit flexibly.” But the reverse error also occurs: “A lot of riders push their chins forward when they’re tense,” notes Kirsten Babel. The xiphoid process, that is, the lower part of the sternum, tilts backward and the spine becomes unstable. “So, a correct erection is no longer possible and the head cannot be held freely,” explains Fischer-Zeilinger.
Be more aware: In order to become more aware of correct chin position, Anke Recktenwald recommends consciously pushing the chin back and forth while riding and feeling what is happening and which parts of the body are affected.
fist grip: In this exercise by Marlies Fischer-Zillinger, you make a fist and place it over your breastbone with your little finger on it and your thumb pointing toward your chin. Now clasp your fist to your chin. After a few steps you leave this position, relax your neck (see the point “neck”) and feel the difference. Do the exercise on the lunge line or with one hand on a long hand.
On her DVD “Understanding Seat and Hand Assist,” Anke Recktenwald shows several exercises for more precise aids when riding. www.anke-recktenwald.de
Kristen Babel is a Western Riding instructor and equine physical therapist. She runs the most western riding school. www.kerstin-babel.com
Marliss Fischer-Zeilinger, among others, is a movement and breathing therapist. www.marlies-fischer-zillinger.de