As many of us already know, in the sport of dressage the muscles of a horse and a rider must work together almost like linked chains. If executed correctly, these muscles will form lines that will pull along several tracks within the body. Having these lines present in the riders’ minds, especially while riding, will undoubtedly enhance ease and control for both the rider and the horse. Two of the most talked about lines are the ones that can potentially bring balance to the front and the back of the body. These lines are called the superficial front line (SFL) and the superficial back line (SBL).
Aside from the superficial front and back lines, riders should also take into consideration lateral lines (LL). These are the lines that run down the sides of the body, starting at the ear and ending at the outer arch of the foot. The lateral lines meet SBL and SFL along the lines of a rider’s suspenders. Without having stability of these four lines, riders will not have ability to stack their midlines over the horse, therefore compromising posture, steering, and overall riding execution. But when riders do in fact activate and manage to control all four lines, they begin to share a powerful muscle-chain-to-muscle-chain connection that can easily lead the team to success. This muscle-chain-to-muscle-chain connection can be tricky to acquire, but with the help of repetitive isometric exercises and practice, it can definitely be achieved. Here’s how:
Step 1: Find a firm chair and sit on it. Make sure your seat bones are pointing down, your feet are flat on the floor, and your legs are slightly apart. Observe the symmetrical V shape that forms between your inner thighs.
Step 2: Place the edge of your hands on one of the suspender line boards. Make the outer third of your body shift towards your midline by slightly rotating your body to advance that specific board. Keep in mind that the board that joins the back and front of each suspender line divides your torso into three parts: right, middle, and left. Firm up your body and move it over.
Step 3: Come back to a neutral position.
Step 4: Repeat Step 2 and observe how the symmetrical V shape that forms between your inner thighs changes. The side of the thigh that has advanced in Step 2 becomes larger and stronger, while the other side becomes shorter and weaker.
Step 5: Continue to perform this exercise while riding in walk. As you repeat, make sure that as you are bringing one board closer and closer to the horse’s midline, you are also letting the other one get away from it. Depending on your horse’s personality, he may respond differently to steering, but for now, let that be the case.
Step 6: Once your awareness of each board has improved, go ahead and practice with both boards on. Always remember to put on the board of the weaker side first, and keep it in place. Then proceed to put on the other board. Your middle third will be squashed by each board and will be made narrower. By making your middle third narrow you will allow each board to line up with the inside edge of the horse’s back muscle, which is the main goal.
As you continue to exercise and master the skill of this position, you will become accustomed to the unnatural sensation of your posture. At the end of the day, grabbing such control over your lateral lines is the kind of stabilization you need to get to if you want to be able to effectively ride both sides of your horse.
Dr. Cesar Parra owns and operates Piaffe Performance, a premier dressage training facility in Whitehouse Station, NJ. For more information, please visit his professional website.