“Ask the Experts: Uberstreichen” (Dressage Today, November 2012)

Literally translated from the German, “uber” means “over”, and “streichen” means “to stroke or pet”.  Put simply, uberstreichen is a slacking of the reins by moving both hands forward along the horse’s neck for several strides, demonstrating that the horse is in self carriage. During this release, the tempo, balance and outline should not change. It can also be a test of diagonal connection and bend by releasing just the inside rein for several strides while on a curved line, the goal being that the bend and balance remain the same during the release.  In both cases, the reins are softly taken back up afterward.

Uberstreichen differs from the exercise “allowing the horse to chew the reins forward and downward”, which involves opening the fingers and encouraging the horse to lower and stretch his neck out into the bit.

Both exercises are important in dressage training, and I encourage riders to make frequent use of them in every training session.  While the former helps to increase balance, confidence and collection, the latter improves the horse’s physical and mental relaxation.

 

We can use uberstreichen to test not only the horse’s longitudinal balance, but also his straightness and confidence, as well as the rider’s own balance, symmetry, and independent use of the aids.

For example, if, during uberstreichen, the horse falls to the forehand and/or changes the rhythm or tempo, it tells the rider that the horse was not properly balanced before the release. That is, perhaps the horse lacks engagement or activity, pushes the hind legs out behind, or the rider habitually holds him together with the reins.  Any of these can cause the loss of balance, and indicate to the rider that the basic work needs improvement.

If the horse drifts to one side or assumes a crooked position during uberstreichen, it tells the rider that she needs to improve straightness by aligning the horse’s shoulders and hips, which in itself will improve the balance and allow the horse to come more “through” from behind.

If the horse stiffens or hollows his back during uberstreichen, it shows the rider that she may not have the horse correctly connected from back to front, that is, directed from an effective seat and leg toward a soft, receiving hand. It can also mean that the rider needs to improve the quality of the half- halts, when applied before the release.

Half-halts serve to improve the horse’s balance, and act as a “call to attention”, preparing him for upcoming turns, figures, changes of gait, etc.  To perform a half-halt, the rider grows taller in the saddle, firming her middle position, or “core”.  She lightly closes her legs or activates him a bit more with them if necessary, and closes her fingers around the reins.  This is immediately followed by a relaxing of the aids, which is the final phase of the half halt.  The entire action lasts but a few seconds, and if the rider uses the aids in the right proportion and with a timely release, the horse’s balance momentarily shifts toward his hind quarters.  If, however, the half-halt lacks forward intent or the rider dominates with the hand or sustains the aids too long, it will have the opposite effect of hollowing the back and disengaging the hind legs. (Half-halts take time and practice to master!)

That being said, it is not necessary to ride a half-halt each time before performing uberstreichen, especially if the rider feels that the horse is already in self-carriage. The rider simply uses it as further proof of the horse’s balance, and/or to reward the horse.

 

Uberstreichen is an excellent opportunity for riders to test their own body balance and symmetry in the saddle. It encourages an independent seat and often cures riders who habitually hang on the reins for support.  Can the rider, during the release, continue to sit in the middle of the saddle with long, relaxed, draped legs, supple lower back and hips, elongated upper body and stable torso? The release creates more confidence in the rider by encouraging body-balance, as well as moves the focus from the horse’s mouth to the feeling of the horse’s body swinging underneath her. This can be life-changing for some riders.

Additionally, uberstreichen is a wonderful tool to increase confidence in the horse.  Even a younger horse can benefit, although it is typically used for horses which are a bit further along and already have a concept of self-carriage.  Generally, horses dislike being out of balance, as it results in stress and tension.  At liberty, horses are well-balanced on their own, but when we add the weight of the rider, this balance changes and poses difficulties for the horse. The rider’s job, through correct and systematic development of his muscles and mind, is to not only re-establish the horse’s balance under saddle, but also to improve upon it, thus lightening the forehand over time.  Uberstreichen, when included in the training program, gives the horse momentary rewards where he can carry his rider in balance, which in turn instills confidence.  A balanced horse is a happy horse, in-tune with his rider.

 

When do we use uberstreichen? The answer is: often! As good, conscientious riding employs countless transitions, uberstreichen may be used in conjunction with them. For example:

-After half-halts, to check their effectiveness.

-After downward transitions, such as from medium trot or canter back to collection.

-After transitions within a gait, such as from collected canter to very collected canter or from collected trot to half steps.

-During very collected exercises such as piaffe or canter pirouettes.

-Anytime the rider wants to test the horse’s balance or when he/she wishes to reward the horse for achieving it.

 

In essence, uberstreichen is a wonderful tool, giving the rider valuable feedback and improving communication and harmony.

Use it often and enjoy the results!

One Response to ““Ask the Experts: Uberstreichen” (Dressage Today, November 2012)

  • This is so concise and helpful. It is a wonderful tool. I also find it, as with many other dressage concepts, to apply well as a metaphor in life.

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