This week's newsletter article is a guest post by one of our guest teachers in our courses, Catherine McCrum. Catherine is a Feldenkrais practitioner and Gestalt psychotherapist living and working in London. The Feldenkrais Method is a way of improving how you move and function in daily life with a particular focus on how your unconscious movement patterns and posture holds you back from doing what you want to do with ease and grace. She works with a wide variety of clients and students from athletes and performers to people with neurological difficulties. Her original training was as a ski coach and trainer which she finds very applicable to her relatively new love of riding and her horse.
Everything is connected in riding. Rhythm, balance, self carriage, straightness, suppleness/stiffness, back movement, rein contact, impulsion, collection (i.e. flexion of the haunches) are all interrelated and influence each other. Rider balance and horse balance, rider crookedness and horse crookedness, rider stiffness and horse stiffness affect each other in very direct ways. Any improvement in one area leads to improvements in all the other areas. Unfortunately, it works the other way around, too: a problem in one area will also have negative repercussions throughout the entire system.
What? How? and Why? are the three big questions that every rider asks herself constantly and thatoften seem to be very difficult to answer. What should I do? How should I do it? And why should I do it? The reason why this information seems so elusive is on the one hand that many good riders make these decisions on a purely intuitive level without being able to render the decision making process transparent or to explain it. - That was not really part of the traditional teaching paradigm, because it relied very much on the schoolmaster horses. In the old riding schools the trained schoolmaster horses were the true teachers. On the other hand, these decisions are often not that easy to make. Since we usually don’t have well trained Grand Prix horses as lesson horses nowadays, we have to find other solutions.
You can make the training easier and better understandable for the horse if you try to look at it from the horse’s point of view. Ask yourself what it is you are asking the horse to do in physical, biomechanical terms. Find out which elementary skills your horse needs to possess and which elementary types of movements he has to be able to do in order to perform a certain movement. Then try to build him a ladder of small learning steps that teach him those elementary skills that he is still lacking. Try to utilize the principle of the economy of motion whenever possible, i.e. lead the horse down a path where the movement or transition you want to ride appears to be the most energy conserving thing the horse could do under the circumstances.
One important aspect of horse training is that in teaching a new movement or a better posture the rider first has to improve the horse’s body awareness, coordination, and balancing ability. This includes teaching the horse to place his feet differently, to distribute his weight differently, and to use different muscle configurations than he has been up to now.
This only works, if the horse knows where his feet are, of course. This means creating neurological connections between the brain and these muscle groups, so that the horse learns how to find them and activate them.
The piaffe is one of the most beautiful movements to watch. It is one of the gymnastically most useful movements, and it is in some ways the gateway to Haute École, similarly to the way in whichthe shoulder-in is the gateway to Campaign School dressage. Training the piaffe is a rite of passage for the aspiring Grand Prix trainer in a similar way that flying changes are a rite of passage from Elementary School to Campaign School. At the same time, you don’t see good piaffes very often because training it is not that trivial. I often think the piaffe is like a delicate flower that can easily be crushed by too much intensity, too much rider activity, or too much force.
Here, I would like to give you a systematic overview over the principal methods that I have found useful in teaching the piaffe.
We introduce two exercises from the Arena GPS series (www.equestrian-mobile-guides.com) that help to prepare and improve the canter depart.
Both exercises are most effective when you ride trot - canter transitions. They are simple enough that you can ride them with a 1st or 2nd Level horse.