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"Who's best built to ride?"
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Joined: Wed Apr 4th, 2007
Location: Stony Plain, Alberta Canada
Posts: 2
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 Posted: Wed Apr 4th, 2007 05:20 pm
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Sorry about sending you the e-mail directly, Dr Deb... I will give this a go, hope it works....

Good day!

After reading "Who's best built to ride?", I have a couple of questions.

How do children fit in the equation, are pre-pubescent female riders similiar to males? How do the changes of puberty and childbirth affect posture? How do you learn/teach through those physical changes? What happens to the back/pelvis in the half seat and over jumps and upon landing? When I first started riding in an English saddle (from Western) I found a tendency for my crotch and lower back to be sore, I feel it was tipping me forward- maybe because my legs had trouble staying under me and the more vertical motion of Hunter gaits than my cow pony (although this problem was much less evident in a dressage saddle)? Then when I went back to my Western (barrel) saddle, I felt is was "sucking" me down towards my tailbone- and I choose a barrel saddle as I felt it put me more on my seatbones than other saddles, not to mention the lightness for lifting.

Just a note about the article- I also prefer to ride bareback, and now am likely that much better as riding English seems to have helped me with my 'busy' swinging leg problem, as there are not fenders to hold my legs still my muscles have to do that. I particularly enjoy riding without stirrups- what work! Which also has alleviated the arthritis in my knees.

I know I have a problem with my shoulders creeping up- this stems from an off horse problem. I try to remember to melt my shoulder blades down, and they almost feel like they are sticking and pop right back up and over (I am fairly fit, but I have broad shoulders and large breasts that I am not overly fond of calling attention to). I also had a tendency to arch my back which seems to be much improved with strengthening of my "ring of muscles" or core in people speak. I have these problems despite years of ballet and dance. Any suggestions for helping those dang dissapearing-ears-shoulders?

Okay, so that was a ton of questions!

Thank you so much for your time and all the knowledge!

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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
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 Posted: Thu Apr 5th, 2007 06:36 pm
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Like so many other people who take riding lessons, AbbeyMarie, you have learned to regard the act of riding as a challenge and a contest and you have declared a kind of "war" against your "rebellious" body -- i.e. my SHOULDERS do this, my LEGS are busy, my SEATBONES do this or that. Is your body not a whole? Or in your case, do you have arms and legs and seatbones running about independent of a unifying will and intelligence?

I do not think that this attitude, of being at war with your body, is wholly the fault of your riding instructor. I think that he or she, like all of us, is a member of a society that implicitly says that womens' bodies have "problems". I know a couple who are longtime fitness "experts" -- they have been on TV and they have books and fitness products -- and they both refer to womens' hips, thighs, buttocks, waist, or whatever as "problem areas" that need to be fought against and "conquered".

Beyond any other effects, one effect that this attitude and approach is sure to have on you as a rider is to hold you down forever, to make you dependent upon someone else telling you (FINALLY telling you) that you are O.K., that you are doing it "right", that you are acceptable.

I am here to tell you that you are acceptable already, in fact, perfect.

There is no process of improvement that you must go through, and there are no battles to be won, any more than there would be if you had just gone out for an evening of dancing with your sweetie. Just simply take each single "feel", each single step, each single experience, and go deeply into THAT. This is what your body as a WHOLE should be doing, and in fact, it is the only thing it CAN be doing.

So much for your body. As to your understanding, which governs much of this, what you need is correct information about:

a) Saddle fit and design -- for which, call Dave Genadek at 1-800-449-7409 and for $25 (the at-cost price) obtain his one-hour videotape entitled "About Saddle Fit". This contains no sales pitch whatsoever, and clearly explains why your "barrel saddle" seems to suck your tailbone down, why your jumping saddle seems to cause you to drop your crotch, why you can't keep your lower legs still. FYI and in case it is not absolutely clear from the tape (the example used there for this particular point happens to be what are called "western" saddles, but the concept applies universally) -- a major reason you can't keep your lower legs still is that the center of the seat of whatever saddle you own (all of them, probably) is more than 4" behind the point at which the stirrup leathers/fenders are hung. So, I am telling you not only to quit fighting your body but also to quit fighting your saddle -- go find properly designed saddles.

b) Proper philosophy of riding -- there is only one way to ride. There is no such thing as "western" or "english", except insofar as relates to very superficial details of the style of bitting and the cut and finish of the saddle and clothing, or as relates to rules from some show association (with which we are not concerned here at all). There is only one way to sit, and unless you sit this way, you are not really riding at all. There is no such thing as "two point" as an entity or technique separate from either sitting or posting. Posting and sitting are the same. Once you have learned how to sit properly, this becomes obvious.

c) Swinging or busy lower leg -- this relates not only to fighting a badly-designed saddle, but also to your not knowing how to sit properly. The lower leg swings, and the upper body will pivot or "pinwheel" forward, to whatever extent you grip the horse's body with your knees. You must not grip with the knee -- you must not grip anywhere actually. The points of greatest frictional contact are the seat -- which is composed not only of the seat-bones but the fatty/muscular part of the buttocks and the fatty/muscular inner thigh. These fatty/muscular parts are very important as acting to spread your weight over a greater area. The point of greatest frictional contact in the leg itself -- also the point where leg aids are properly to be given -- is the widest part of the calf. This is BELOW the knee bones. If your horse bucks or shies, I want you to take ahold of him -- if necessary in order to steady yourself -- with that part of your leg rather than with your knees. However, other than that, I don't want you gripping him at all -- you caress, you stay touching, but you do not grip.

d) If you have been relying on your so-called "western" saddle to maintain you in a position that an external observer has approved of, you have been cheating yourself and your horse. What "holds" a good rider on horseback is her balance, which is to say, her ability to feel the horse below and behind her, so that she feels where his feet are, feels which haunch he's powering with at any given time, feels what he is going to do before he does it. Riders who grip never learn balance -- therefore I say to you, stop riding bareback. In order to develop balance, you need stirrups and a saddle. You put your feet in the stirrups -- lightly, with no effort to demonstrate to any external observer that you can keep your toes up or your heels down, and with no effort to "put" your leg in any particular position. Find, instead, the position your leg wants to be in (I am assuming you are now sitting in a properly designed saddle). Then, permit the motions that the horse makes in walk and trot to "shake" your leg down -- it will fall of its own weight -- but it cannot "shake down" if you grip. At any point if you feel yourself stamping down into the stirrups -- stop yourself and return to a light contact between the balls of your feet and the stirrup treads. If at any time you feel like you're slipping over more into one stirrup than the other -- stop and start over again at a slower pace or gait. Do this again and again until you can perfectly maintain your balance -- square between the stirrups, sitting square in the middle of the horse -- at the sitting trot and through any kind of figure or turn. The stirrups are there to help prevent you from falling off -- they're safety steps -- you have your feet in them but you do not rely on them. Only after good balance is in evidence with the student using a saddle do I permit students to ride without a saddle.

e) Prepubescent -- boys and girls' bodies are both more similar to boys' bodies until the girl matures. It is the woman's body that changes with maturation more than the man's. No child should EVER be encouraged or allowed to hollow their lower back, or poke their butt out to the back when riding. Cease to patronise instructors who advise any student -- man, woman, or child -- to "push their belly forward" -- these people have no clue as to how the human body works, or historically where this very destructive advice comes from.

f) Pregnancy -- it tends to spread the pelvis wider. But so does riding by itself.

g) Suggestions or "tips" for riding better -- I try not to give 'em, because, as you can see, I regard riding as a "whole" thing. You cannot ride better by focusing on bodyparts one by one -- doing this will make you stiff and mechanical, clumsy, and "posed"; it kills feel. You ride by balance and by feel; excellent functionality and attractive appearance are SIDE EFFECTS OF FEEL.

When you have considered these points, perhaps you will like to write back and ask questions that address the experience of riding from the perspective of its wholeness.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb


Joined: Wed Apr 4th, 2007
Location: Stony Plain, Alberta Canada
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 Posted: Thu Apr 5th, 2007 08:50 pm
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Thank you Dr Deb

Thank you very much for the response.  I feel perhaps I mis-represented myself some.  I am new to riding lessons, untill 6 months ago never had a "coach" or instructor and was educated primarily by clinics and 4-H where we primarily focused on the horse and how we can be the best we can for/with them.  Not a lesson goes by now that we don't talk about joy from our horse- or lack of and what we need to do about that.   I am not in any sort of competition, and care for the upmost to my horses comfort.  I do not pinch with my legs - when I do ride bareback all that is left on his hide are my butt marks, never any leg marks and I agree that it is all from the seat. 

I do not fight my body, years as a dancer and varsity wrestler left me with more than enough scars for 'punishing' myself for what I am not or can't be. I ride because I love it, and it feels good.  That being said, I am constantly looking to improve- as much or more for my horses benefits than my own.  It took me 10 months to read Bill Dorrance's book (and I am ready to start it again) and I am only now gaining the capability to grasp bits of True Unity ( I do hope it is okay to mention them, I think it is in the rules).  This is my constant quest, to improve in EVERY aspect. Just right now, I am really concentrating on my riding.  Staying out of my horses way, softness vs bracing, and patiently setting things up and waiting. 

I own a wonderful 13 year old welsh/paint gelding whom I have had for 12 years, He is a joy and I have never worried about getting this or that done with him, except when there are cattle to be moved.  Right now, they are living at my farm in a large pasture with water, grass, hay, oats, mineral and good care from my dad since I moved 500 miles away in July and only bought a place of our own last month.  I am getting married in a week, which has taken up a lot of my time and brain , as soon as the snow melts we are putting up fences and I will bring my joys up here.  While I am away from them for the time being though, it makes it hard to practice the grander ideas, I do still read and ponder and think about these things.  I have been under this paradigm shift for several years and it is a long process- and sometimes it is just easier if I can think "what can I do physically to make myself better"?.  I look forward to nothing more right now (except maybe my wedding, ha ha) than sitting in the corral or pasture, with them and my dog and my cat (we make for a funny crew) and reading, learning and observing my horses and asking them what they think.  How does one start to know where to start, and sort out what to believe?  Again, I have always tried to follow my heart and do what feels right (ahh, elusive feel!).  I very much respect what Equine Studies has to offer.  Dr Deb, how do you go about learning in the abscence of horses? There are three clinics I intend on auditing this summer, they are with folks listed on your list of ESI friends.  But in the meantime? 

The part I miss the most of my horses is all the time I spent with them not riding.  I really enjoy it.  A girl at the barn asked me who I ride for, and I didn't get what she meant- I said 'Myself', always myself.  She meant coach, I think.  I avoid her when I can. 

I had bever heard that riding will also widen a women't pelvis.  Could you explain that a bit more?

Again, thank you so much and I apologize for the long-windedness of my letter.  I very much look forward to your response.

Abbey Marie


Joined: Thu Mar 22nd, 2007
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 Posted: Fri Apr 6th, 2007 01:18 am
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I can only speak from personal experience, but the way my pelvis interfaced the saddle changed after I had my son.  I had to get a saddle with a steeper rise in the pommel because the flatter rise on my previous dressage saddle was rubbing.  I can't really explain why, but I also noticed that even though I eventually returned to my pre-baby weight, my pants also fit differently in the crotch seam.   I am guessing that when my ligiments relaxed to pass the baby (98th percential head for a 41 week gestation-owwwwweeeeee)  they didn't snap back exactly the same as they were before.

I have no idea if this is common for everyone though.



Joined: Sat Jun 2nd, 2007
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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 Posted: Sun Jun 3rd, 2007 06:50 am
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Someone posted this anatomical website on another forum - after reading this thread and re-reading Built Best to Ride again I thought it could be useful here.

In particular, for the discussion of the Sartorius vs. Aductors and Hamstrings - you get to see the movements of each muscle on the individual page.


(requires Flash)


Joined: Wed Mar 21st, 2007
Location: Keaau, Hawaii USA
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 Posted: Sun Jun 3rd, 2007 08:28 am
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Kallisti, many thanks for that link.  It's much too vast for me to cover tonight, but I'm looking forward to perusing it at depth tomorrow.  Lots of good, educational stuff!



Joined: Fri Mar 23rd, 2007
Location: Vale View, Australia
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 Posted: Thu Jun 7th, 2007 12:39 am
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Kallisti wrote: ... this anatomical website on another forum...

Dr Deb ... could this be a way to run anatomy styled courses for equines? 

One step further would be to see interactive software which would allow a person to change the positions and alignments of individual equine structures (within reason) and allow an understanding of the impact that the changes would make.  This would be such a bonus for breeders.   (Easy to talk about; creating the software on the other hand could be interesting/challenging for those with a talent in this area).

Annie F

Joined: Wed May 2nd, 2007
Location: Princeton, New Jersey USA
Posts: 62
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 Posted: Sun Jun 10th, 2007 10:47 am
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Thanks SO much for posting the anatomy website--it's great!  It is so cool and helpful to see the individual muscles and how they work!  I'm someone who learns much better from concrete information than from metaphors--e.g. a few months ago I was looking at some information about "The Atlas of Dressage," a new book by Dr. Nancy Nicholson on gaits, transitions, and riding dressage.  She says you have to relax your gluteus maximus (at least that's one muscle I already know how to locate ;-), and when I did it it made a huge difference (I was deeper in the saddle, could move more with my horse, and it even made my toes point a little more forward, without any straining to do so). 

She also talks about not using the "gripper muscles" and riding with a "spiral seat" where to keep your core body stable you avoid tightening up muscles that would keep you from opening your hip angle and being able to move with the horse.  She identifies which muscles these are, but being able to see them and how they work on the website is SO helpful.  Similarly, Dr. Deb mentions using the sartoris muscle to get the leg closer to the horse, and while I've learned where this muscle is and what it does, actually seeing it "in action" really helps me understand how to use it.  Thanks!

Annie F

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