The "HOW" of Learning Rider Feel - Part 3 of 4

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Guest post by Catherine McCrum - Part 3

Recently I was out on a hack with a friend. She was asking about Feldenkrais and how it applied to riding. She had observed me having lessons with my trainer and was struck by my ability to easily move my body in a particular direction or with a certain quality.

I explained that Feldenkrais lessons improve the quality of our action and that we can apply the experience of moving better to our riding. She looked puzzled.

‘Take the other day when you were jumping,’ I said, ‘and you complained you had no idea what your lower leg was doing until you saw a video of yourself afterwards. Feldenkrais lessons give you the opportunity to develop awareness of how each part of your body is co-ordinating in relationship to other parts. When you lost awareness of how your lower leg was moving, it was as a consequence of not understanding how to balance yourself optimally in your whole body. It’s not enough just to correct your leg - you need to improve your sensory understanding of how all the parts of you - your hip joints, pelvis and spine, even your head and eyes - relate, connect and influence each other.

‘Shouldn’t I just stretch my legs? My calves are so tight.’ she replied.

‘Flexibility is important, but being flexible doesn’t necessarily improve your riding. If you want to do anything well, you need to improve your sensory understanding of how to balance yourself in motion, to know instantly how to co-ordinate your body at the right time, and to feel accurately where you are in space at any given moment. When we get back, let’s do a lesson and maybe I can show you what I mean,’ I suggested.

I asked my friend to sit on the edge of a firm chair and requested that she pay close attention to the contact of her feet on the floor, to which parts of each foot were bearing her weight and to compare how they differed from each other.

‘That’s weird!’ she exclaimed. ‘I never realised I had more weight on the outside of my left foot than on the inside. And my right foot feels completely different. It’s as though that foot is just one clump of bone, whereas on the left I can feel more parts.’ She laughed. ‘Maybe I have more bones in my left foot.’

I explained it was her ability to feel these small differences that might give her the opportunity to learn how to move in a different way so she could ride in the way she wanted to.

Then I asked her to lift the inside of her left foot away from the floor and return it several times, at all times observing how this movement of her foot ‘traveled’ through her ankle, the way her tibia turned, and how this turning affected her left leg and hip joint. I suggested she do this slowly and mindfully so she could give herself time to sense, as accurately as possible, the quality of this movement through her whole leg.

‘Wow! When I do that, my left knee falls out a little bit and I can feel my leg turns out in the hip joint.’ She paused and did the movement a few more times. ‘Now I come to think of it, the left side of my pelvis feels farther behind my right. No wonder my horse struggles to stay straight.’

I suggested she continue to play with this simple movement of her foot while scanning internally how her torso - her spine, chest and shoulders - responded.

‘Ok,’ she said. ‘Now I can feel that when I lift my left foot just a tiny amount, my left shoulder goes backward.’

‘And your right shoulder?’

‘That goes forward.’ She paused and looked thoughtful. ‘So, are you saying that when instructors have told me to straighten my shoulders, it would be impossible for me to maintain the correction unless I change something in my left foot?’

‘Yes’ I replied. ‘Your shoulders are the symptom, not the problem. And each symptom is situated in a whole pattern of movement. When you bring the whole of this pattern into your awareness, you give yourself the opportunity to change it.’

I went on to explain that if she learned how to move and her feet, ankles and lower legs in all the directions that the bones and joints allowed, this would impact her ability to co-ordinate her hip joints, pelvis and spine. This, in turn, would help her make the subtle adjustments necessary to aid her horse to move in any direction with ease. She would develop a dynamic seat.

‘So, Feldenkrais is about learning? Not about exercising, strengthening or stretching your muscles?’ she asked.

‘Yes. Really, it’s a method in which you learn about yourself, a process of developing self-awareness.  Put simply, you learn to sense the unconscious movement patterns which limit your ability to move how you would like to, so that you can understand how to inhibit them and therefore have a repertoire of better options available to you.’

‘ Hmm…So it’s nothing like traditional knowledge-based learning in which you analyse your mistakes?’ 

‘No.  For example, we Feldenkrais practitioners like to say: “More will, less skill”.  Which implies that the more you try to change, to force improvements and to correct yourself, the more you end up reinforcing your faulty patterns.'


‘And correcting myself like that has always felt like such hard work,’ she said. ‘And it never sticks.’ 

‘Yes,’ I replied. ’And if you’re working that hard, it’s very difficult to develop the “feel” you see in great riders and performers. “Feel” is really a word for having the amazing awareness which enables those riders to know exactly how to move with precisely the right amount of effort and quality for the situation in hand.’

‘So, what you’re saying is Feldenkrais is about learning to do less, so that you can feel what you’re doing that isn’t helping you? Then you can develop better ways of moving that allow you to do what you want with ease?’

I laughed. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head! I think I should get you to explain the method in future.’

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.