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Biomechanical Riding & Dressage:A Rider's Atlas by Dr. Nancy Nicholson

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     Biomechanical riding is about a strategy for riding horses. It is about approaching riding with a plan for cooperative interaction between you and your horse. The strategy integrates principles or concepts with their execution or technique of riding. This Atlas is explanatory concerning relations between rider and horse. It is a connecting book about the intersection of principle and technique in several literatures and is not a replacement for your other books.
     Riding biomechanically has the curious experiential property of simultaneous, intensely private connection to a horse while creating external features of that intimate experience that can be shared with others. This Atlas, with visual aids and discussions of concepts associated with those images, contains suggestions about ways communication between rider and horse operates. Aids using weight and touch are emphasized over other forms because of their association with processes of rider experience and with content of a gymnastic curriculum for dressage. It is up to each rider to decide how to use Atlas information in his or her own training programs.
     Connections to physical and mental mechanisms of coordination patterns underlying athletic development of dressage movements are the inspiration for this book. Confidence emerges as execution of fundamental coordination patterns enables learning the feel of how a rider's body interacts with a horse. These patterns become embedded in the "circle of aids" that unifies horse and rider.
     The Atlas is a guide to the developmental strategy of dressage focused on its principal physical demands on horses and riders. As an example, moving against gravity in specific gaits requires attention, confidence and relaxation as a foundation for forward riding in straightness with regular tempo and rhythm. Riding techniques for gaits depend on knowing specific patterns underlying their generation and for transitions between them. With horses, this involves flexible balancing during long periods that their legs spend in contact with the ground (duty factors of stance phase). Muscular effort during movement involves having one or more legs braking, supporting, then propelling during a stride of walk, trot or canter. Riders need to transmit kinesthetic knowledge to horses via the aids as well as to refrain from interfering with the mechanics of a stride. Kinesthetic knowledge depends on rider ability to maintain the human center of mass in unity with the horse's center in dynamic fashion. In a real sense, skilled relaxation, friction against footing and gravity's demands frame the performance of both horse and rider, requiring integration of minds and bodies.
     Lengthy contact time with the ground distinguishes the equestrian discipline of dressage from racing disciplines where horses have quicker stride rates and cover relatively more distance in suspension. The central set of biomechanical principles for dressage describes the way horses manage to balance their own weight along with the weight of their riders as they maneuver. While covering ground in suspension is important, especially in extended trot or canter, horses developing toward the High School reduce the "air time" of their gaits as a proportion of the time they keep at least one foot on the ground (Ch.4-70, Ch.4-98).
     Central to developing the "library of skills" which support activities of dressage mounts and their riders are changes within and between gaits, or transitions. Transitions require sustained fluent motion in deliberate tempo, accurate timing of leg movements, stability during balance on grounded limbs while achieving specific leg positions in the air. As the High School is approached, these demands for coordination and balance increase for both partners. Dressage transitions, as you might understand from their requirements, involve strains on the whole horse. These strains are documented in the equine veterinary literature: parallel studies on horse transitions have even been used to investigate gaits in ghost crabs!
     Biomechanically, transitions argue for primacy of particular gaits for dressage. Gaits are based on timing of leg movements: they establish types of walk, trot and canter for the discipline. Walk movements overlap other gait patterns, making it "first among equals" as a foundation for gymnastic training. Finally, if transitions are carefully practiced, their brief moments of strain provide incremental progress toward strength, flexibility and balance.

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