Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Charles de Kunffy Clinic report

The president of our local GMO, Gail Carpency, went to watch Charles de Kunffy at Hassler dressage. She prepared a wonderful clinic report for our LVDA newsletter (Charles de Kunffy: The Man in White, page 5). It's an exceptional article so I'll reprint an excerpt here:

On Rider Position 
  The hip of the rider should be above the seat bone, which prevents the hollowing of the rider's back. 

The rider should have “silent” arms, wrists and elbows and closed fingers.  The elbow must act as your seat bone.  If you tap your horse forward, the elbows must pull you down into the saddle preventing the rider's hands or torso from lurching forward.  If your elbow goes forward, it hangs on the horse's mouth without the rider's seat.  The arm must be part of the seat--the elbow back against the rider's side so it can become part of the torso.  The rider's toe should be positioned behind the knee.  The foot's heel should be out and the toe pointing in.  

Charles demonstrated how to attain a correct leg position by performing three circles with the rider's leg.  First, he pulled the rider's leg out from the saddle and circled the leg within the hip socket until the hip to knee was fairly vertical.  Then, he proceeded to circle the leg at the knee until the leg contacted the barrel of the horse.  Lastly, he circled the foot at the ankle joint and positioned the heel out and the toe in. Encourage the horse forward with a tap of the toe not the heel. 

  Charles's next focus was on the alignment of the upper body.  He told most of the riders to lean behind the vertical as much as 10-20 degrees but keep the lower back flat not arched.  This leaning of the torso a bit behind the vertical allows the rider to keep their seat in the saddle.  “Authority is in the seat, not in the reins.  Reins should never confine of shape the neck.”  

The Horse Says, “Charles is Right.” This was my favorite gem of Charles'.  Charles would tell the rider to lean back 20 degrees, which caused the rider to push down more into the saddle's seat so they were sitting into the horse.  The horse responded by coming on the bit and bringing its back up. When the horse would come on the bit, Charles would state to the spectators, “See, the horse says, Charles is Right.”  It always got a laugh! 

As Charles said, “Dressage is a contact sport (contact with the saddle), you have to be sitting and massaging the saddle”.  Charles explained that the leg energizes the horse; the seat modifies and informs the horse; and the rein verifies when the horse is correct by yielding (giving). 

To see the full article, go to:


  1. "The elbow must act as your seat bone. If you tap your horse forward, the elbows must pull you down into the saddle preventing the rider's hands or torso from lurching forward. If your elbow goes forward, it hangs on the horse's mouth without the rider's seat. "

    I don't quite understand what he's getting at here. Anybody have any insight?

  2. I think it is kind of like saying that your "arms should be heavy" -- think of the elbow point as an extension of the seatbone? I am guessing this helps to position your upper body and head/neck directly over your seatbone, and also to center your body over the horse's center of gravity. Moving your elbow's forward would destroy this alignment. I have to think the elbow has a range of motion though.

  3. One thing it will do is lift the chest. I think that is an important part of the seat and seat bones. The hard part is not hollowing the back and leaning forward.

  4. The elbow kind of acts as an anchor. Letting them "float" instead of settling at your hips disturbs your balance and it's far too easy for your body to follow. I'm not quite sure if they "pull you down" in the saddle as he suggests, but they stabilize you if you concentrate on keeping them close at your side.

    With the elbows kind of set there, you can still give with your hand and forearm while your body says put, "rooted" in the saddle where it belongs.

    Hope that helps a little.

    Once more an effective lesson on how much our positions and seat influence the horse.

  5. Stacey, Jean, thanks for the explanation. That helps!

  6. I wish I could see an example of what he means about the elbows. When I try to visualize it I 'feel' as if I'm restricting my hand/elbow from following the movement of the horse's head & neck.

    I completely understand the 'feel' of the legs but I have a really hard time maintaining that sort of leg alignment at a trot or canter.

    I'm not sure I can imagine tapping the horse with my toe instead of legs are naturally crooked and my toes point out; to twist my ankle to that point would be quite painful

  7. I went to the clinic with Charles and was fascinated with his teachings. Furthermore, I loved that everything my trainer has been teaching me all these years was exactly what he was saying at the clinic. If you are interested in his teachings, my trainer has worked with Charles and JJ Tate and strongly promotes his values and understanding of the horse.

  8. A very insightful description, but I cannot do the toes in. I feel that forcing my toes in locks my ankles and may cause me to pinch with my knees. I think that it is partly my conformation, partly that toes-in is really not natural for the human skeleton. Good runners will slightly toe out, for example. I have had my toes torqued and twisted by enough instructors at this point that I have adopted a "no thanks" policy when someone offers "toes-in". I like the rest of Mr. de Kunffy's description, especially the hips over seatbones part.


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