• VOLUME 44 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
Hans Hollenbach - Seat Symposium and Classical Dressage Clinic
The clinic began with a general lecture to the group of participating riders and auditors, with opportunities for individuals to ask questions. Hans briefly touched on the different muscle groups that are greatly misinterpreted as to their usage; mainly the longissimus dorsi (the muscle group directly under the saddle). When Hans asked the audience if these were carrying muscles or locomotor muscles, the general consensus was that they were carrying muscles because the rider sits on them. This however, Hans pointed out, is false. They are locomotor muscles that the horse uses to move, not to carry a rider. It is actually the upper suspensory system or long neckband that carries the rider’s weight. Hans explained that this is very important for the rider to be aware of, firstly because a hard or insensitive seat will block the longissimus dorsi from moving properly, thus creating a leg mover. This, he explains, can also result in the horse holding or pressing its back down, forcing the hindquarters out and making it impossible to engage. Secondly, the long neck band runs from the horse’s poll over the withers to the tail. This is the tendon that carries you and therefore knowing how to stretch and strengthen it without causing damage is crucial to keeping your horse healthy and happy. Hans stressed that the importance of the seat symposium is to give the rider body awareness and control by retraining the body to balance, diagonalize and stretch. As Hans says often, “the rider, as well as the horse, must also be an athlete”.
Each rider had an individual session where Hans worked with them on their specific problems. There was a wide variety of horses and riders of all different levels and ages. This created an interesting array of stiffnesses and blockages that could be seen in each rider.
With the use of Eckhart Meyner’s 6-step method and the Balimo chair, Hans was able to show the strengths and weaknesses of the rider and the exercises needed to correct each difficulty.
The first thing Hans had all the riders do was walk down the centre of the arena on foot. It was surprising to see that just about all the riders weren’t diagonalizing properly. The left or right side (arm and leg) would move together rather than right leg with left arm and vice versa. Hans had them skipping and twisting to teach the left and right side of the brain to work together again. Sitting at a desk, in a car or any modern activity causes a physical deprivation to the body. The next time you’re in a public place watch some adults walk and you will see that few walk properly. Hans assured us that this is not a fault, just something that needs to be known and corrected.
Riders were then given a brief massage to the neck and shoulders and shown how to relax those muscles themselves. "It’s amazing how much tension builds up there from day-to-day life and the effect it can have on your riding," comments Hans. When the riders were asked to remount, it was clear that their seat was deeper and their hands were quieter. Tendons were plucked on the inside of the knee, armpit and the “big grippers”. Hans twisted and stretched the riders as they lay on a yoga mat, so as to open the chest cavity and increase mobility in the hips and back. After the body work, the rider would remount and we could all see the enhanced way of going in horse and rider.
A few of the non-riding auditors even commented that although they weren’t as well versed in riding as to be able to see an obvious change in the horse, the horses all looked happier by the end of their session.
Hans then seated the rider on the Balimo chair, called such because it creates an awareness of how to move the pelvis while the horse is moving. Balance in motion. The rider was asked to rock the pelvis forward and back, then side to side without moving the upper body. This showed how much movement there is in the pelvis and the amount of balance it takes to actually move properly. Once more when remounted the audience saw the improvement in the sitting trot, canter departs and overall extension in the horses' gaits. The horses could also be seen reaching more for the bit, relaxing the top line and any previous defensive posturing was gone.