I very much enjoy your website which is extremely informative and really gets down to the very basics of correct riding. Quite daunting sometimes!
I live in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and the instruction "Kreuz anspannen" comes up quite a lot in connection with collection and downward transitions. I understand it and carry it out more as a "bracing of the back" (inasmuch as I push down with my seat and to a certain extent resist the movement of the horse with my lower back) than as a "flexing of the loins" which I understand to mean to be more supple and giving in the lower back.
I checked the dictionary for "anspannen" and found to my disconcertion that it is translated as both "tense" and ""flex" which is contradictory to say the least.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this if you have the time. Otherwise keep up the good work!
This now has an article dedicated to it here.
In this article, I wrote that I think the difference between very good i.e. effective riders and those who are struggling with some aspect of their riding is the use (or lack) of the abdominal muscles. As these (combined with the concertina effect of the lumbar muscles) help to hold the pelvis in the vertical, neutral position. I also think this is the original meaning of the German ‘Kreuz anspannen’ which got translated to ‘Brace the back’ when the literal meaning is ‘Flex the loins’.
I can understand that when looking at words in isolation for translation that we can become somewhat side-tracked. I don't suppose many books will give the translation for ‘Kreuz Anspannen’. I have also heard the term ‘Kreuz Anziehen’ used which translates literally as "pull the back in".
You say you looked up the word ‘anspannen’. Did you also look up the word ‘Kreuz’?
It doesn't mean ‘Back’—that would be ‘Rücken’. ‘Kreuz’ specifically refers to the small of the back i.e. the lumbar/sacral area. So the term ‘Flex your loins’ takes on a much more significant meaning, don't you think? In medical terms ‘flex’ means ‘bend— just to complicate matters further! In the original German meaning of the phrase, the intimation is to flex AND release, flex and release in time with the horse's footfalls. It all boils down to timing; get it wrong and you prevent the horse doing what you're asking. You block the movement so it becomes harsh or leaden. Get it right; cloud nine, Seventh Heaven, smooth and flowing.
So you see in any instruction to ‘flex/brace/contain’ there is a tacit understanding (although it probably doesn’t get explained enough) that it should instantly followed by a RELEASE. So the aid becomes - once again in synchronisation of the horse's rhythm:
Wait (monitor reaction)
For as many times as is needed. A young horse or a retrainee may need many more requests than a more experienced, advanced horse.
This is one of those missing pieces of the puzzle that so few riders even ask about; probably because they are even unaware that there is something missing. Once the question is asked it usually means there is no going back as there are so many other questions that follow on.
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Classical Dressage Notebook