Along with husband Daniel Bremner, dressage rider and trainer Lucy Cartwright has not been resting on her laurels recently, placing top ten in the FEI PSG at Hunters Equestrian with Holme Grove Bernini. She’s often in the ribbons with a string of rides, including Frederico and Grandio. Here, she shares some tips for improving feel when training, by focussing on one’s hips and harmonic movement with the horse.
Daniel and I are very focussed on holistic training and
riding, from the way in which we manage our horses and the breakdown of
exercise we do with them, to the type of schooling we undertake. We know from
our own riding and the training we undertake with elite riders, as well as our
work with clients, that the rider’s hips are key in flatwork – strong, mobile
hips can really help create stability and strength in our lower body. This
region of the body is very important for dressage riders of course, but anyone
focussing on flatwork training, even with a view to competing in other
disciplines, will find that effective hips help us increase our flexibility,
and gain control of our seat. Those imperceptible cues given to the horse in
the more advanced movements may be invisible to spectators, but are being
translated loud and clear to the horse through the rider’s hips and seat.
The hips shouldn’t be overlooked or considered to just affect the lower parts of our bodies, e.g. how we hold our thighs, and how mobile our lower joints are – they also influence the mobility of the pelvis (and how well we can sit to a trot!), as well as our upper back and torso, especially in terms of and the quietness of our shoulders and hands.
Feel isn’t just about rein contact!
As the horse’s body moves, our hips rise and rotate with its motion, our legs absorbing the movement as the pelvic area softens and also absorbs the movement. Ideally, as the horse's hip raises, our same hip also raises, while the upper body adjusts. I have some lovely youngsters coming up through the levels, and I find that my goal for a good sitting trot with them is to rotate the pelvis downwards, so one extends the lumbar spine and really ‘goes with the movement’. The phrase that we often use with our clients, ‘feel’, really does radiate from the hips and the seat, as this tells us so much about how the horse is moving, and about their natural propensity to move their back and utilise their natural paces. Feel isn’t just about rein contact!
So, what can fixed or stiff rider hips lead to? Apart from making the overall picture more rigid and less harmonious, it can directly affect things like correct canter strike-offs, as well as lateral ‘drifting’, e.g. on a circle. Again, with youngsters it’s important to let them use their bodies effectively and not to restrict them. I find that core strength, e.g. in the rider’s stomach and lower back, directly affects hip mobility, in that a strong core allows the hips to relax and do their job, rather than tightening to keep balance. Having flexible hip flexor muscles is of course key – unfortunately, long hours spent sitting in cars and at desks can cause hip flexor muscles to shorten and tighten, which is why I find that many clients have issues in this area.
Yoga, pilates and pre-and-post-ride stretching are all beneficial for improving hip flexibility.
Jennifer Miller’s article for the United States Equestrian
up’, has some excellent advice and exercise tips, and quotes Jennifer
Kotylo, Pilates and Equilates instructor, who says that most people have the
innate ability to have good range of motion, but they don’t use it day to day.
“Move it or lose it! If the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, or
connective-tissue fibres, surrounding the hip area don’t get used, they
‘forget’ how to work properly,” she advises.
In addition to yoga, pilates and pre-and-post-ride stretching, any regular exercise like walking, swimming and cycling will help our riding fitness. Work with an instructor to focus on any areas of tension, and remember to equip yourself with some comfy, supportive riding underwear - the Derriere Equestrian range, featuring the DE Performance Padded Shorty and the Performance Seamless Shorty, is designed for both men and women. Personally, I forget I am wearing them, meaning I can pay attention to how my horse is reacting to me, without the distractions of discomfort.
formerly based with Carl Hester and a leading trainer within her own right
along with husband Daniel Bremner, found success at Junior and Young Rider
levels (twice winning the Under 25’s National Championship). She is also a
former Champion at the Badminton Young Horse Finals where she rode Valegro, and
a former Summer British Dressage National Champion.
With husband Daniel, Lucy offers a range of dressage services at their base DL Dressage, including training livery, competition livery, sales preparation, training of both horse and rider and clinics throughout the British Isles.