GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Every subject has its own specialised vocabulary. This is not an attempt to be elitist: the vocabulary has arisen through our need to delineate various ideas more clearly than they are delineated within our conventional use of language. Many of these terms are illustrated in the ‘Ride With Your Mind’ books and also in ‘For the Good of the Rider’. If you are unfamiliar with this work, you may find that some of the definitions given here need a more detailed explanation before you can undertand them.
alignment: the traditional shoulder/hip/heel vertical line. For ‘hip’ read the greater trochanter of the femur, ie. the boney knobble at the top outside of the thigh, right on the line where your thigh becomes your pelvis. For ‘heel’ read the boney knobble on the side of the ankle.
asymmetries: neither rider nor horse are symmetrical. We all have our inherent asymmetry, and have to learn how to diagnose and work with it. Our quest is for functional symmetry, in which both sides of the body may need to do different things and feel different to get the net effect of symmetry.
back corners: the bit of backside which is furthest back on the saddle when the rider is viewed from the side. When the rider has a square bum, these really do look like corners.
balance point at the top of the rise: each rise must reach the point at which the rider could remain in balance over her feet without falling backwards or forwards.
bearing down: the action of the abdominal and back muscles which enables you to clear your throat. Good riders use this same muscle use the whole time, but do not know that they do so. It requires diaphragmatic breathing. When the horse is working well, he too is bearing down.
boards: a sophisticated way of working with asymmetries. Instead of dividing the body into halves, we divide it into thirds, taking lines which follow the line of braces but which continue right down to the bottom of the torso. It is as if a board joined the rider’s front to her back along each of these lines. Keeping her spine vertical is very much easier when those boards are firm.
break dance: an asymmetrical pattern in which the rib cage is displaced just as it is in this dance form. The rider’s shoulders are displaced to one side, but instead of showing the usual ‘C’ shaped curve (the lateral ‘C’ curve), the spine shows an ‘S’ shaped curve.
‘C’ shaped: the shape of the front of the rider’s body when it caves in. The rider’s back is rounded, and her seat bones point forwards.
completing the circuit: concerns the flow of energy around an imaginary circuit which begins at the horse’s hind legs, goes over his croup, and along the long back muscles which lie under the panels of the saddle. It continues up the crest of his neck to the poll and the mouth where it is received into the rein and the rider’s hand. It then flows along her arm, into her back, and into the horse’s back to refuel the circuit. There are many places in both the horse’s and the rider’s bodies where this energy flow can become blocked, or where the energy can be dissipated or dispersed. The horse is only correctly ‘on the bit’ or ‘working over his back’ when this circuit is complete. Only then can the rider perform correct half halts.
correct bend: an elusive concept, often confused with a jack-knife. When the bend is correct, there is no ‘break’ at the wither. There is the illusion of a uniform curve from poll to tail, although this is not actually the case. In reality, the rib cage bulge is symmetrical, and both long back muscles can be felt equally clearly.
diaphragmatic breathing: the breathing pattern used by people who sing or play a wind instrument, and also by good riders who are bearing down. In contrast to upper chest breathing, it brings the breath right down into the abdomen.
edges: the back edge, front edge, right edge and left edge define the base of the pelvis. The front edge runs cross ways just behind the public bone, and the back edge runs cross ways joining the two seat bones. These are imaginary lines. The right edge and left edge are the boney rami, which run each side of the pelvic floor. The shape they create is a rhombus ie. a triangle with one point cut off. It is almost the same shape as the gusset of your pants.
extension pattern: this is shown by both riders and horses when they lengthen the muscles of the abdomen and chest, and also the front/underside of the neck. The rider in extension pattern leans back, lifts her chest and chin, and usually ends up pulling on the reins and water skiing. The horse in extension pattern comes above the bit and pulls himself along with his front legs. He then lengthens his underside in each step, and uses his forelegs to pull himself along. In the ideal movement pattern he lengthens his topside, reaching over his back and into the rein whilst pushing himself along from his hind legs. Horse and rider often mirror each other in this pattern, and either one can trigger it in the other. Extension pattern is the opposite of flexion pattern.
first tool kit: the rider’s body, and how she affects the horse simply by how she sits on him. Key factors in this are her alignment, her muscle tone, and her ability to match the forces which the horse’s movement exerts on her body.
flexion pattern: this is the opposite of extension pattern. The horse lengthens his top line, and raises his back. He concurrently shortens his abdominal muscles, so instead of hanging down, they are used to support his back. He can then push himself along from his hind legs, bring them more underneath him, and flex his hocks. (To understand this in practice, stand up, hollow your back and attempt to hug one knee. Then take the hollow out of your back and realise that you can bring your knee much closer to your chest.) The rider in flexion pattern remains vertical and does not allow the muscles of her front to lengthen. She also has her front tendons popped up.
front tendons: the tendons of the quadriceps muscle group which form the front of the thigh. If your put your fingers in the angle between your thigh and your torso and then lift your knee, you can feel these tendons stick up. They need to do this when you are riding.
greater trochanter of the femur: the boney knobble at the top outside of the thigh. 11 muscles attach into this, and it is a very important landmark. Also known as the stabiliser.
growing tall: this happens when the rider lifts her ribs up away from her hips. Although many riders think this is the right thing to do, it stops them from having the stable, centred stance of a martial artist. It hollows the rider’s back, makes her breathe only in her upper chest, and stops her from bearing down. It also puts her into extension pattern. half halt: the Mecca of riding! It happens in one down beat, and sits the horse down. It has nothing to do with leaning back, growing tall, water-skiing, or pulling on the reins. Many people attempt to ride half halts when they do not yet have the circuit complete. Without this, the half halt cannot ‘go through’. It is better not to attempt to ride half halts until they start happening by accident, as a by-product of the rider’s position corrections.
half haul: this is what actually happens to most people when they attempt a half halt!
horse taking the rider: this happens when the rider has lost control of the tempo. It is similar to riding a bicycle, going down hill, and finding that you can no longer pedal fast enough to keep up!
isometric muscle use: in this the muscle contracts but does not shorten. The muscle works at high muscle tone, and this gives the rider stability and body control. To understand this, think of the difference between the movement of a dancer or a gymnast – who both have high tone – and that of a drunk, who has extremely low tone. Riding is a dynamic isometric skill, in which the rider gains stability by pitting opposing muscle groups against each other. Isometric contraction happens when you push against a resistance you cannot move, eg. if you attempt to push a wardrobe. As another example, sit in a chair and attempt to lift one knee whilst you simultaneously put one hand on that knee and hold it down. You will use your front thigh muscles isometrically and will also pop your front tendons.
jack knife: a turn in which the horse’s wither falls to the outside as the rider brings his nose to the inside. Many riders mistake a jack knife for a correct bend.
lace up across the back: An image which helps riders to ‘switch on’ the muscles of the lower back, as if you were laced into a corset which pulled both sides of the back in towards the middle. It is a feeling which makes you narrower, and is another way of talking about the pinch.
lateral ‘C’ curve: an asymmetrical pattern in which the rider’s upper body curves to the side. This usually happens on one rein, and her head is displaced to the inside of the circle. She has a lower inside shoulder and creases in the region of her waist band. Either seat bone may have become heavier, whilst the other becomes lighter or disappears.
leaks: are energy leaks. They happen in the low muscle tone riders whose plunger is up, and they severely limit her power and effectiveness. A skilled teacher can actually see if the rider has leaks, or if she is watertight.
left brain hemisphere: the side of the brain which understands language, and processes information linearly. Thus it adds letters together to make words, and puts words together to make sentences.
lengthening the top side: the movement pattern in which the horse stretches along his topline with every step he takes. Since his underneath (ie. his flexor muscles) stays short, this is the same as flexion pattern.
lengthening the underside: the movement pattern in which the horse pulls himself along with his front legs and lengthens the underside of his body in each step. This is the same as extension pattern.
leverage: when the rider sits well, the thigh is used as a lever. The front thigh muscles work in the same way that they do if you stand in an ‘on horse’ position. Doing this will soon make the muscles hurt because of the way in which they are counterbalancing your body weight. Using your front thigh muscles well when you ride helps you to keep your weight out of the horse’s man-trap and to create the suction which can lift his back.
long back muscle: the muscle which lies beneath the panel of the saddle on each side of the horse’s spine.
lumbar spine: the part of the spine between the ribs and the hips. Although many riders ‘give’ here in sitting trot, the best riders do not ‘wiggle in the middle’. Instead they stay ‘with’ the horse by giving in the hip joints. The lumbar spine is not designed to be used as a joint. Bearing down and pushing down the springs at the back help to hold it stable.
man-trap: the hollow of the horse’s back. If the rider presses her weight presses down into the mantrap, the horse’s back will become hollow. By using her thigh to create leverage, the rider counterbalances the weight of her upper body, and stops her weight from falling into the man-trap. By doing this she can generate suction and can actually lift his back.
matching the forces which the horse’s movement exerts on your body: this is the fundamental challenge of riding. Only then can you stay ‘with’ the horse in each step. If you do not do this you will bump backwards in sitting trot and/or pull back on the reins in an attempt to stabilise yourself. Matching those forces is not the same as relaxing. It is because of the need to do this that riding is a dynamic isometric skill, requiring high muscle tone.
muscle tone: the texture of the body ie. the firmness of the muscles. On average, men have 35% higher muscle tone than women, and this makes their muscles less ‘flobby’, and more firm. The ideal texture is like putty, as opposed to jelly. Having naturally high tone makes the rider much more stable, and makes riding much easier. Low tone riders improve a lot as they increase their tone, and discover how to ‘switch on’ their muscles isometrically.
narrowness, or narrowing in: the quality of becoming narrower from side to side, and another term for pinch. The increased muscle tone of lacing up across the back helps in this, as does working with the boards. In effect, humans are too wide for horses, and we have to narrow in so that the neck of the femur can lie across the horse’s long back muscle on each side. Usually, only one of these is in place, whilst the other one has fallen off the back muscle. This goes a long way to explaining why it is that riders ride much better on one rein than they do on the other. neck of the femur: the thigh bones come up to the greater trochanter, and then turn inwards, running almost horizontally into the hip joint. This short horizontal length of bone is the neck of the femur, and ideally it lies across the horse’s long back muscle on each side. This can only be achieved when the rider has become good at narrowing in.
neutral spine: the ideal way of sitting in which the rider’s spinal curves are balanced, and her seat bones point down. She is neither hollow backed, which makes them point backwards, nor round backed, which makes them point forwards. In this position her spine is best placed to withstand the forces acting on it, and she can stabilise her lumbar spine. Many riders who have back pain become pain free once they come into neutral spine.
pinch: another term for narrowing in. I use this term less than I used to, since the word has been traditionally used by Americans for another function, and this caused confusion. It is essentially the same as narrowing in and lacing up across the back.
plugging in: reducing the amount of movement in each seat bone so that you do not shove with your backside. The predominant seat bone movement becomes a backward stroke and not a forward stroke. It matches the amount of movement in the horse’s long back muscle.
plunger down: an image which helps people to lower their centre of gravity. Imagine your body like a worming syringe or a cafetiere coffee maker in which you can push down the plunger. When people have their plunger down they close their leaks and become watertight.
popping tendons: when you stick out the tendons at the front of the thigh, behind the knee, and around the ankle you have a way to increase the muscle tone of the thigh and calf. This helps to stabilise the lower leg.
push down the springs at the back: an image which helps riders to stabilise the lumbar spine and keep their back edge down. Think of your body like a card board box, and think of the back edges of that box, which would run from the back of your arm pits to the back corners of your backside. These corners are actually the gluteal muscles. Imagine them like two big springs, and think of pushing down those springs on each ‘down’ beat. If you do not push them down, they will ‘boing’ you up, and you will loose your sitting.
pushing a baby buggy: the attitude of the hand when the rider is pushing it forward instead of pulling back.
pushing forward from your back: or beginning your bear down in your back. Using the lower back muscles isometrically, so that they help the rider to generate the forward force which keeps her ‘with’ the horse, and able to match the forces which his movement exerts on her body.
quick in the down: in each down beat, the rider needs to get down into the saddle quickly. When she bumps, this happens because her momentum keeps her going up even though the horse is now going down. She needs to be able to turn ‘up’ into ‘down’ at just the right moment, otherwise she comes down too late. Pushing down the springs at the back helps in this.
rib cage bulge (horse’s): horses like to carry their rib cage to one side, and this generates their asymmetry. Being able to position the horse’s rib cage symmetrically underneath you is an important skill. It requires the neck of the femur to be lying across the horse’s long back muscle on each side.
rider taking the horse: the rider is in control of tempo. This is like riding a bicycle, pushing the pedals round, and being in control of the speed at which the wheels go round. In a similar way, the rider controls the speed of the horse’s legs.
right brain hemisphere: the side of the brain which does not have access to language. It processes information as a whole, and is used in solving spatial and visual problems, eg. putting on a cardigan, riding, recognising faces. It thinks by using visual images, and ‘feelages’.
second tool kit: working with the school movements, using them to set gymnastic challenges. This is most beneficial when the rider’s first tool kit is working well.
square bum: the shape of a good rider’s back side, much more easily achieved by men then women. The buttocks look square rather than round, and the back corners are obviously square.
stabilisers: another name for the greater trochanters of the femur. The stabilisers act like the stabiliser wheels in a child’s bicycle. When they are down the rider will have a square bum and will have the necks of the femurs lying across the horse’s long back muscles. She will have a much larger sitting surface than she will if they are up off from the saddle.
stuffing: another word for muscle tone. High tone makes the horse like a brand new stuffed toy horse, low tone makes him like an elderly one which has seen better days. The high tone horse is ‘bursting out of his skin’. Being highly stuffed gives the rider the high tone of Superman, instead of the low tone of Clark Kent. A highly toned rider sits very still, and we commonly attribute her lack of wobbles, wiggles and bumps to her level of relaxation and not to her high muscle tone.
suction: the ability to lift the horse’s back by using the thigh as a lever, and being sure that you push his back down by falling back down the man-trap.
supporting your own body weight: sitting lightly, and using the thigh as a lever so that you do not become dead weight down the horse’s man-trap.
timing: the need to give certain aids eg. half halts at a particular moment.
turning like a bus: a correct turn in which the rider controls the horse’s forehand and he does not jack knife. The turn is reminiscent of a turn about the haunches. Busses do not articulate like lorries, hence thinking like this helps to stop the jack knife!
water skiing: a description of the rider who leans back, and pulls on the reins whilst pushing into the stirrups, as if she were being towed along by a motor boat. She will probably also grows tall, lengthening her front to show extension pattern.
watertight: a description of the rider who has closed her leaks and has her plunger down.