FEI dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch was selected to be a demo rider both in the 2009 USDF symposium with Jan Brink in Austin, TX, and the 2015 HDS Conrad Schumacher symposium in Cypress, TX. A bit of envy easily creeps in when we watch demo riders at clinics and symposiums– they are usually pretty astute riders with quiet hands, legs and seat! Of course she has a good seat, one might think, after all: she is an instructor. Seldom do we allow for the possibility that even professional riders constantly work on improving their seat, position, and effectiveness on the horse.
Vicky grew up on a dairy farm, riding western and bareback from the age of 3. “Many of my students think that having a stable and balanced seat comes naturally to me” says Vicky. “And while I often rode bareback as a child and this probably did allow me to develop natural balance on the horse I spend time checking in on my body’s alignment and mobility before riding every day and attribute a large part of my riding to this practice When attending trainer education workshops organized by Jill Hassler (founder of Equestrian Education Systems) Vicky was introduced to Eckart Meyners and the Balimo™ Equestrian Training program he and Jill Hassler co-founded. Eckart Meyners, retired professor of Sport Physiology and Body Movement, spent his professional life figuring out how to help athletes optimize their performance.
As a consequence of years of working with different athletes, Eckart Meyners developed the BalimoTM System. The core tennet of the program is the idea of ‘BALance In MOtion’ (BALIMO). This is a concept that immediately makes sense when applying it to riding – riding being, after all, balance in motion! “Many adult amateurs have tight bodies/muscles” Vicky says, “and are not very ambidextrous.” When teaching riders, Vicky therefore spends a lot of time working on improving their mobility as well as their dexterity.
“Having equal access to the body on both sides”
She calls it: “having equal access to the body on both sides.” The BalimoTM Training System encourages exercises that work on cross coordination and perception. One of the things she distinctly remembers and always keeps in the back of her mind: Mr. Meyners often spoke about what elite athletes have in common:
- Elite athletes tend to focus intently
- Elite athletes are almost all ambidextrous
Thus, the BalimoTM System offers more than just physical exercises to do – it also focuses on how students learn. “Eckart Meyners believed that students cannot listen and feel at the same time” Vicky explains. “When I teach students I prefer to work on their body’s ability to be optimally mobile and agile off the horse and then allow them to feel the difference this makes to their level of communication with the horse once they get back on.” The BalimoTM exercises are designed to improve riders’ body awareness, range of motion and dexterity but also to wake up the muscle-brain connection.
To this purpose Vicky encourages riders to incorporate attention tp dexterity into their daily lives. “It is not enough to work on dexterity while exercising” she says. “And in a riding lesson the focus should be on the relationship between horse and rider.” Vicky suggests to her students that they try to perform some task of daily living equally with both hands. This helps them become more aware of their one-sidedness as well as start working on being more ambidextrous.
“A lot of riders hold tightness in their back and hips,” she goes on to explain,” and the BalimoTM chair is uniquely designed to help with these issues.” If riders had time for only one exercise a day to improve their riding she suggests the ‘clock exercise.’
The face of the clock exercise
The BalimoTM chair can be used to achieve maximum range of motion, flexibility and improved coordination for the rider’s seat. The following exercise can be used to advance these objectives.
Sit in the middle of the chair with both hands resting on your thighs. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and should NOT leave the ground during the exercise. The height of the seat should be adjusted so that your hips are slightly above the knees and should allow the joints of the ankles, knees and hips to form right angles.
- Imagine that you are sitting in the middle of a clock. 12 o’clock is in the front of you, 6 o’clock behind you. At each hip is 3 and 9 o’clock, respectively.
- Drop the right hip joint toward the floor. Imagine this is 3 o’clock. Feel how your weight shifts on your right seat bone and your left buttock gets lifted. Do the same to the left. This would be 9 o’clock.
- Next, rotate your pelvis forward and down toward the ground. This would be 12 o’clock. Then rotate you pelvis back and down toward the ground, imagining you are hitting 6 o’clock.
- Repeat “finding time” with your pelvis until you feel a measure of improvement.
Notes: move slowly, gently and fluently. Repeat several times and try to reach the limiting plate on the chair, without using force. Breathe normally.
At the beginning, the rotating/tilting does not feel equal on both sides, nor back to front. Everyone has a favorite side.
Your opposite heel loses contact to the floor while tilting toward 3 or 9 o’clock. Both heels lose contact with the ground while rotating toward 6 o’clock.
You do not rotate/tilt directly from 3 to 9 but sidestep or skip with a rolling move of the pelvis.
You cannot reach the limiting plate without force.
The above referenced challenges are based on the same fundamental problem: the pelvis has become inflexible or blocked and has to be mobilized gently to regain its intended range of motion. We can only execute the movements we know. That means for learning new actions, we need external help. In this case we use the hands, which direct the pelvis and give the external impulse. Practice in front of a mirror and pay attention to move equally.
- Practice the above movements slowly and consciously. Rest for a few moments in the respective final positions. Do not demand too much of your body.
- Hold the seat with your hands on the right and left side. Initiate the movement only with your hands. Repeat the movement 5-6 times.
- The pelvis has to be totally relaxed and free. It only follows the tilting of the seat, initiated by your hands.
- Variation of the exercise: Continue holding the chair for this. Change your sitting position to the right side, so your left seat bone is located in the middle of the chair. Now deliberately bring your left set bone to 9 o’clock. Practice the same way on the other side. Back in the starting position, you will feel that the movement to both sides gets more even. Touch the pelvis just under your waist and feel that your moves are straight along the line 3 to 9 o’clock. Again, practice all these exercises in front of a mirror and pay attention to moving equally.
- Finally, to create variety and encourage even more flexibility, you can practice all these exercises by positioning the chair a little lower than in the basic suggested position.
To learn more about Vicky Busch or contact her please go to www.Buschsporthorses.com