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The power of the belly button

Mim coleman


Mim and Tiny strutting their stuff.

© Jess van der Vlist



We look back on a blog by Tasmanian dressage rider Mim Coleman. With winter well and truly here, we think this article provides some very topical reading...


By Mim Coleman


Hellooooo there! I don’t know about you but I am over the cold weather. So before you start reading find a warm spot and feel free to ditch the peppermint tea for a hot toddy.


Hip hip hooray the shortest day has been and gone!!! It feels like an eternity has passed to reach this milestone. It has been bitterly cold and dragging my body out of a warm bed into jodhpurs and enough layers to impersonate the Michelin Man is not conducive to maintaining high mojo levels.


The short days also present challenges, I am sure like me, that you are out and about in the dark in the morning and the evening riding, feeding out, mucking out, teaching, etc etc. For Tiny and I the winter months are great for fine tuning our work and focusing on the areas that require attention. But sheesh that can be difficult when a training session is limited to 15 minutes and you spend 10 of that warming up in walk. When I am feeling under time pressure I like to play some simple “games” with Tiny. There are 2 key “games” that we play that have positive flow-on effects to all of the other work that we do.


Game 1 – Belly Button Whispering


Having attended Pilates’ sessions for years the ONE thing I took away from the twice weekly sessions was this; to engage your core imagine that you are pulling your belly button towards your spine. Can you do it? Don’t hold your breath, simply suck that belly in girlfriend! Try it and the more you practice whilst you are sitting at your desk, walking the dog, lifting bags of feed the stronger and more aware you will become. I have no doubt there is a much more detailed list of instructions on how to engage your core but I like to keep things simple; my brain works well with bite sized details.


So the game goes like this: in walk on a loose rein I ask Tiny to halt just by engaging my core. It’s a fantastic reminder of how sensitive the horse is to miniscule movements in the rider’s body. Ensuring that you have good posture in the saddle, without touching the reins squeeze your belly button towards your spine and focus on how the muscles in your body respond. The first request does take a few steps before Tiny realises the aid, but I don’t release the aid until he halts. Then once he has halted I disengage by belly button. Ever wondered why the professionals make it all look so easy? Because they have effective control over every muscle in their body and they know how to influence the horse with a little squeeze here and a release there. Do you notice any other muscles coming into play when you do this, perhaps the lower back, perhaps a deeper seat, perhaps an opening of the hips?


Playing the game will heightened your awareness and opens your mind to how you are affecting the outcome of the communication you are providing. It flows on to every other aspect of my dressage training. Canter walk transitions - belly button, medium trot to collected trot – belly button, extended canter to collected canter – belly button, half-halt – belly button. The belly button is one aspect of your seat aids.


We have been blessed with Tanja Mitton visiting our stables. Haven’t heard of her? Well jump on to Google and find her; Tanja is a master of these concepts and delivers amazing results for riders.


Game 2 – Look coach, no hands!


This game is a fantastic reminder that we don’t need to turn the horse with the reins. We can turn the horse just by looking to where it is we want to go. Again in walk Tiny and I will walk around the arena and without touching the reins I will ride from marker to maker. We will ride short diagonals, long diagonals, serpentines and loops. I love to challenge us and switch back to where we started and change directions without warning. 




What about trot and canter? Absolutely no problem. Then to make things even more interesting I ride upward and downward transitions without touching the reins. How? With the Power of the Belly Button.


After playing these 2 games Tiny is so much more in tune with me, he responds to the lightest of aids and I’m not working hard keeping it all together.


So if you are time constrained or just simply not in the mood for a discussion about canter transitions or convincing your equine partner that they can move their shoulders off the track, play some games and fine tune your communication skills. Like a Pantene commercial, it won’t happen overnight but it will happen.


Oooh look is that summer on its way?


Live your joy.






Vol 15, Chapter, 6, Paragraph 25


M: Good morning Tiny are you ready for some dressage?

T: Do I have to take my rugs off?

M: It is helpful.

T: But there is ice in my water trough! I’m sure it is in my contract that rugs stay on when the water trough freezes over.

M: Oh well I guess there will be no sugar for you today.

T: Oh did you say DRESSAGE?  Why are these rugs still on?




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