The seat is always important in our riding. It plays an important role in everything we do, but in the canter, it is even more important than in the walk and trot. Due to the bigger movement in the canter, the rider’s seat gets challenged more than in the walk and trot, and the horse often needs more support from the rider’s seat in the canter in order to keep their balance.
The circle of aids is an important concept in the rider’s training. It refers to the flow of energy within the horse and to the way the rider’s aids stimulate and channel this flow.
The circle of aids typically begins with a driving calf aid that brings the horse’s hind legs closer to the center of gravity and into the sphere of influence of the seat. If the hind legs are too far out behind, they are out of reach for the seat and the horse’s back drops. Trying to apply any seat aid at that moment will make the situation worse. It will cause the back to drop - and hurt - even more, and the hind legs will then actually be prevented from stepping under by the weight aid.
So what IS Feldenkrais? And how can YOU use it in YOUR riding? Very simply Feldenkrais lessons refine your ability to ‘listen’ to the information from your senses that lets you know the quality of your balance, breathing, posture and movement. It is this ability to pay attention to the subtle nuances of your sensory feedback mechanism that makes the difference between the effortless co-ordination of great riders and expending too much energy for the job in hand.
As a rider, it can help you to recognise and inhibit the unhelpful muscular efforts that interfere with your performance. You will become more discerning and improve your sensitivity, so you can respond quickly and easily to your horse. You will become quicker at identifying how to adjust any part of your body so you can ride how you’ve always wanted to. If you want to experience this now try this short Feldenkrais lesson…
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.
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.
There’s nothing like the feeling when everything comes together and you are totally at one with your mind and body. When I’m in that state, where the lightest of intentions turns into effortless action, it’s the most exhilarating feeling imaginable. Some people call it being in a state of flow, but I think of it as being ‘in the zone’. When I’m in the zone, I feel completely in balance, I feel strong yet light and, most importantly, I have this immense sense of freedom that allows me to be totally spontaneous.
A member asked a question about core stability on the Artistic Dressage page. I was struck by the huge variety in understanding of what the core is, which got me thinking about how you might access your core in a way that could be effective in riding, as well as in daily life. So in my ride today I decided to pay very close attention to how I keep myself in balance and report my findings back here. I’m not the greatest or most experienced rider, however many years of teaching Feldenkrais, movement and sport has given me a relatively refined sense of how I’m moving at any point in time.
As riders and teachers our particular approach, our techniques and methodology, our focus is very much a result of our own personal journey. It is shaped by the difficulties that we had to overcome, our own weaknesses, our discoveries, our teachers, the horses we have ridden, the books we have read, the other riders we have interacted with, and also by the students we have taught.
Occasionally, our personal journey leads us to discoveries that are real game changers for us. To others, they may be insignificant, but to us the world will never be the same afterwards. We can almost divide our riding career in pre-discovery and post-discovery. That’s how much these discoveries helped us improve our own riding. These game-changing discoveries will be different for everyone. In this blog post, I want to share some of my lightbulb moments that have helped me move to a higher level of understanding and practical skill. Perhaps they will be helpful for you as well, and maybe you can think of your own momentous discoveries and share them with us.
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.
Only a supple, relaxed seat allows you to apply correct, fine aids. Any weakness, crookedness, or imbalance will have negative repercussions for the training of the horse or the communication between horse and rider and lead to problems. A friend of mine said the other day: “Horses have made themselves available to us.” They accompany us, are partners, and don’t carry grudges. Even after we have made mistakes they give us the great opportunity to further our development - mentally as well as physically. When we learn to become aware of our senses, to feel, to see, and to hear, our horses provide us with the great opportunity to achieve physical and mental balance. They teach us to find ourselves by observing our own behavior, our thoughts, and emotions.
I vividly remember one riding lesson that I had in my early days. My teacher told me: “Your horse needs to be more on the bit.” I was painfully aware of this because on the one hand it was hard to overlook, and on the other hand it was the one problem I was struggling with more than anything else. I would have loved to ride the horse more on the bit. But I didn’t know how. I wasn’t riding the horse inverted on purpose. I needed more practical, actionable information in order to be able to do a better job. Over the years I researched this subject in depth because it was so difficult for me for a long time and discovered many factors that are involved in riding the horse on the bit.
In one of our Facebook groups someone asked a question about elbows and hand position. She had been told by a trainer that she should keep her hands forward, close to the withers of the horse. Since she is not very tall, she has to round her shoulders or tip forward with her torso in order to put her hands where the trainer wants them to be. That compromises the integrity and the effectiveness of the seat, of course.
There are 5 mistakes that happen very frequently and that make it almost impossible for the horse to perform the leg yield correctly. Many riders struggle with the leg yield, especially in the trot. So I decided to discuss the subject in a newsletter article in the hopes that it will be of interest to others as well. You can apply this discussion also to the “real” lateral movements. Most of the points I address are universal and tend to occur in all lateral movements.
Everybody has heard the instruction “Shorten the reins!” countless times. And many riders get in trouble when they try to execute it because they take it literally, and their teacher doesn’t elaborate on the how and why. So they shorten the reins from front to back, and many horses resist more or less vigorously against their hand. This is one of those cases where the instruction maybe perfectly correct, but too incomplete to makes sense to many students. "Shorten the reins" is one of those instructions that need to be translated into practical action steps because it has to start from behind. Otherwise, you can get into an ugly fight with your horse.
One of the issues that our members in the Artistic Dressage Community on Facebook wanted to learn more about is the Half Halt. It is one of those terms that everybody seems to USE (sometimes for no other reason than that it makes the user sound knowledgeable) but nobody seems to EXPLAIN. That’s why it is shrouded in mystery for many riders. But it doesn’t need to be. The theory behind it is actually quite straightforward.