The "HOW" of Learning Rider Feel - Part 2 of 4

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Guest post by Catherine McCrum - Part 2

In my last blog I described how I got to a pretty low point in my horse-owning journey. Before Shana’s email dropped into my inbox, I had felt compelled to have lessons with one of the yard staff because it seemed easier to fall in line with their wishes rather than to be on the receiving end of their sniping or criticisms whenever the classical trainer that I wanted to work with came onto the yard. 

I had also surreptitiously signed up to a couple of online trainings with people who seemed to have a similar philosophy to my own, but I was not having any success in translating their teachings into my riding. I was at the point where I would sail down the school on the right rein, trying to apply what I’d learnt online about steering, but with no positive result whatsoever. I was frequently to be spotted stuck in the corner of the school while my horse ate the hedge. Amusing though this was - and I do have the capacity to laugh at myself - this only served to contribute further to my feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment.

So there I was taking lessons with someone who wanted me to ride in a way I totally disagreed with, a horse who was like a giant cruise liner which I had absolute no ability to steer, and having to yell at other riders: ‘I’m trying to get out of your way but I can’t turn!’ I felt despondent. This was not how I had imagined it would be to own my first horse.

Then a post popped up on Facebook about straightness/crookedness and the horse’s stiff side and hollow side. Nobody had ever described my horse in this way. I downloaded the free PDF and read the list of crookedness symptoms. Every single one on the list applied to my horse. I immediately signed up to the Artistic Dressage group.

It was January 2018 and the Straightness beta course was about to start. I got two promotional emails from Shana in which she described her early riding journey and the humiliation that she had suffered. It was such a relief to hear that other people felt like me. Shana’s descriptions of what not to do - hire a great trainer to train your horse, or ride in a way that goes against your heart and your beliefs, and many more great pieces of advice - totally resonated with my experience. I felt like someone was finally speaking my language. She talked about ‘rider feel’ and how she and Thomas had developed their courses specifically so people could understand the what, why and how of riding in order to develop this elusive ‘feel’ and become effective and competent riders.

I explored the free material on the course and discovered that each exercise or arena pattern Thomas described could have been a Feldenkrais lesson for horses. His principle of experimenting with a pattern and seeing how your horse responds is exactly how I teach my own students to identify their asymmetries - their habitual muscular contractions - and develop the smoothness and balance that denotes beautifully coordinated action. Thomas’s homeopathic doses were just like the Feldenkrais principle of ‘less is more’. But what really resonated was the Ritters’ principle that, through their courses, you could become your own teacher. The words of Moshe Feldenkrais: ‘You will become your own teacher’, originally drew me into training as a Feldenkrais practitioner.

I felt both excited and inspired. I really wanted to work with these people. I tried out Thomas’s stirrup stepping exercise to balance and steer my horse. Within minutes I was able to turn my horse easily in any direction. It was extraordinary. Just through breaking the movements of the horse down into bite-sized and understandable chunks, I had cured our steering problem. I, who had no ‘rider feel’, who was doing the wrong thing by my horse and making him unhappy, had done something to help him balance and feel better.

This revelation was just like my experience when I first did Feldenkrais – the recognition that, through guided movement explorations, I would be able to move with ease and fluidity. I could develop awareness of what I was doing so I could more efficiently move in any way that I wanted to. This is what I teach my own students every day of my working life.

I got to thinking about approaching the Ritters with my ‘Ritterisation for humans’ lessons. I wanted to offer movement lessons that would enable people to ride Thomas’s arena patterns more easily - Feldenkrais lessons that would help the Ritters’ students develop a greater degree of sensitivity and awareness, and easily take this into their riding. So I emailed Shana and told her about myself, about my work as a Feldenkrais practitioner, and outlined how my skills might contribute to their trainings.

And that was the start of our collaboration.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series to read about what Catherine did next…

About Catherine: Catherine McCrum now participates as an Assistant Teacher in our Artistic Dressage Online Courses Program. She is an accredited Feldenkrais practitioner and has been teaching sport, fitness and movement since 1986 as first a ski instructor/coach and then as a Personal Trainer. In 2002 she finished her Feldenkrais training. She is also a rider and is joining us in this course to help you learn how to recognize how the way you use your body can be interfering with your ability to progress in your riding. She is also a Gestalt psychotherapist with a particular interest in working with developing awareness of how her clients embody their emotional and psychological patterns.