“Like a Champagne Bubble”. Students will often hear Mark say this about how to sit on their horses. What does this mean?
In a nutshell; “the rider will ideally put more weight in the stirrup and on their thighs instead of their seat bones so as to distribute their weight down the horse’s ribs instead of it being concentrated on their backs” Mark says. He adds that to allow energy to flow freely throughout the horse’s body the rider must not block it at any point including at their seat: a heavy seat in relation to the strength and development of the horse will block energy and connectedness between the horse’s front and hind ends.
In order for the horse to optimally utilize his body underneath the rider he needs to be able to release his back muscles while at the same time engaging those of his undercarriage. This allows his pelvis to coil which in turn supports his ability to step underneath himself and eventually lift himself off of his forehand. This mechanism of lifting and stretching the entire spine is defined as Bascule. By sitting like a Champagne Bubble the rider is supporting energy flow through the spine and allowing the horse to access the muscles he needs to lift the rider. Conversely if the rider’s seat blocks the energy flow through the spine the horse will have difficulty lifting his back and will instead be inclined to drop behind the withers – as the thoracic sling – the mechanism which keeps the thorax lifted up from the front legs will be driven downward. The horse thusly cannot help but be on his forehand.
This arresting of smooth energy flow by the rider’s seat will also impede the horse’s ability to find his hind feet through a process called proprioception: the perception of where one’s limbs are oriented in space. If we think of a water hose full of water and drive a pick up truck on to it, the water flow will stop or diminish to a trickle. For the horse, this same phenomenon happens if the rider is sitting too heavily on the back muscles. Any neurological messaging to the hind legs will be hindered at the point directly underneath the rider’s seat. If messaging is blocked the horse’s ability to determine where his hind feet are in space is inhibited. This inability to perceive where his hind feet are will take away his sense of control and can create a significant amount of anxiety.
Sitting “like a Champagne Bubble” is especially necessary in early under saddle work, in re-training a poorly ridden horse, or with a horse with conformational challenges. It is also infinitely helpful intermittently throughout the horse’s training as new exercises are introduced. In time he will be able to connect with and respond to the riders seat and not feel like he needs to ‘hold on’ and protect himself from too much pressure or discomfort. He will be able to move and articulate his back throughout progressive gymnasticizing exercises while maintaining a Basculed position.
In a horse educated in Art Form Dressage, the rider will be able to feel the flow of the muscles of the horse’s back through the saddle. This is often unfamiliar to students but a remarkable phenomenon to experience. Thinking of your seat as a Champagne Bubble can help this phenomenon evolve.