11 Convention Education Takeaways


Reprinted from the February 2017 USDF Connection magazine

Add these USDF convention presenters’ tips to your riding, training, and fitness toolboxes.

  1. Driving, sitting, and running are enemies of good riding posture because they shorten and tighten the iliopsoas muscles (“hip flexors”). A good dressage seat requires both a stable core (from pelvis and spine up to the rib cage) and an engaged “thuttock”—the thigh/buttock connection, where the hamstrings meet the glutes—to anchor the psoas open and to open the hip angle. – Pilates instructor Janice Dulak
  2. Everything in the horse’s body is interconnected. Too much time spent riding in extended gaits can lead to problems in the poll or even temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. Problems in the horse’s sacrum can also affect the poll. –Equine bodyworker and Masterson Method practitioner Coralie Hughes
  3. When you set a riding or life goal (and you should), phrase it in the past tense as if you’ve already achieved it. If you use the future tense, it keeps your goal in the future. Include specifics and your intention (why you want to achieve it) in your goal statement. –Life coach Jen Verharen
  4. Do you suffer from show nerves? Know that there is no physiological difference between excitement and fear. The only difference is what you label the feeling. –Sport psychologist Dr. Sandy Venneman
  5. In riding lateral movements such as half-pass, your core muscles not only hold your body in position over the horse’s inside shoulder; they actually pull the horse in the desired direction. In other words, you are not “pushing him over” as many texts describe. –Biomechanics expert Dr. Hilary Clayton
  6. Learn to notice your horse’s responses to your aids. If you aid, he responds, and you don’t release the aid—say, the leg or the rein—you’re actually training him to stop responding. –Dr. Sandy Venneman
  7. “Carrot stretches” are fine, but don’t forcibly pull on your horse’s legs or other body parts in an effort to stretch them. If you and not the horse are controlling the stretch, you could turn a muscle microtear into a macrotear. If you want to smooth the skin beneath the girth before you mount, lift the horse’s knees but don’t pull the legs out. – Coralie Hughes
  8. Accomplishing a goal represents change, and change can be scary; that’s why sometimes we self-sabotage. To reach a goal, you may need to experience the fear. Unless the fear is physical and realistic (such as of getting bucked off an unruly horse), interpret it as a green light instead of a red light. –Jen Verharen
  9. Don’t use “can’t” or “never” in your self-talk. If you “can’t ride a correct shoulder-in,” reframe the statement as a challenge: “I will improve my shoulder-in” or even “I find it challenging to ride shoulder-in.” –Dr. Sandy Venneman
  10. Which of your legs is stronger? If you’re righthanded, your left leg is probably the stronger and more stable, and your right leg is more supple. And in a study of riders, all of whom were right-handed, even when riders thought they were sitting evenly over both seat bones, most carried more weight over the left seat bone. –Dr. Hilary Clayton
  11. Most skilled trainers use what psychologists call shaping: rewarding successive approximations toward a desired behavior. The trick is in recognizing and immediately rewarding the attempts as they progress. –Dr. Sandy Venneman

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