Philosophy, methods, current influences

It's the rider. Simple, Elegant, Us. Thousands of competent teachers can tell the rider what the horse should be doing differently but few can tell the rider how to tell the horse! My particular talent lies here, with the rider, since it is she who leads the dance. The horse is a beautiful living breathing bio-feedback machine and it is with him that my first loyalty lies - he shows me how the rider feels to him. I return the favor by helping the rider to communicate with clarity.

I strive to keep the work as simple as possible and as detailed as necessary to achieve the rider’s goal of competitive success or personal enrichment. If you can learn to feel your own feet in the ground you can learn to feel his and he will follow you. So after a lifetime spent with horses, the last 25 yrs of dressage study, it has occured to me that dressage is really very simple. Not easy but simple.

Horses and students are individuals and certain matches of temperament and physical attributes make the journey together a bit faster but it is my life work to make the journey rewarding for both. I ride all of my “program students” horses regularly to check my eye with the "feel" of the horse. Custom training programs or school horse lessons available.

My primary current influences: I have been a student of the Alexander Method since 2008 I was first introduced to Alexander's work by Mary Wanless who has been a major influence in my career as a teacher.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Coaching vs riding technique, Alexander work and saddle fitting

I would estimate that "dressage", at least the kind with self carriage and throughness, is 99% rider effectiveness and 1% horse. Certainly, if you want to be competitive, you have to have a suitable horse but if you don't ride him well you won't win in todays competitive arenas. And even if you never care to compete(certainly understandable), it is hugely more fun to ride well:->.

There are a lot of approaches to teaching dressage: "Coaching" i.e., 'get your horse to do "Z"', is the most common. This assumes that the rider is riding/communicating at a high level. If it becomes apparent that the rider is not.... then if you're lucky, a "teaching riding" i.e.,'sit deep, heels down, sit tall, look up, shorten your reins' type of lesson will ensue. All of which can be excellent suggestions and sometimes work well IF the rider doesn't have a more fundamental issue in her body that is preventing her from being able to comply. There are some master coaches who use precise horse exercises to teach the rider how to ride and firmly hold that the instructor should not be sharing the details or biomechanics with the rider, Conrad Schumacher is one of these. Other masters use only rider exercises, Eckart Meyners, Mary Wanless, Sandy Howard, Sally Swift all teach the rider directly and the majority of the rest use some combination. What distiguishes the "masters" from the majority of trainers that I see is that they do know that it is the rider and they have a plan to address that. My concern is with those who do not either understand the basic problem is the rider or have no idea how to address it. To expect the horse to leap up and offer the correct movement just because the coach on the ground keeps asking for it is silly and rather rude. So how do I choose to teach riding skills so that I get correct results when I start "coaching" again? I start by explaining to the rider what we want the horse to do and why using simple biomechanics and the training scale. Once the rider and I agree then I use an easy mirroring exercise e.g., the horse is tight and hovering over the ground so I help the rider to "ground", have them walk off and watch the mirroring by the horse. The riders almost always feel it so then we have a basis for communication. We feel the horse and decide on what would work better, then we help the rider to feel that change in her body. Simple, but not always easy. 1. improve her awareness of what she is doing, 2. why it isn't working the way she wants, 3.what to do about it. Simple steps if you have a good guide/teacher. I have mentioned above some masters that I have directly or indirectly studied with and in particular Mary Wanless has used Alexander work.

The "Alexander technique" knows nothing about riding horses (nor ballet or singing for that matter and it has been used in these fields for many years. Alexander work, on one of it's levels, is a "users guide to your body". Just the simple understanding of how our bodies were biomechanically designed to function is hugely useful, regardless of what you want to actually do! Every day I see the rider make a tiny change and I am still astounded at how quickly the horse can hear you and mirror the change. Pretty soon (sometime hours) you get pretty clever and when the "coach" says more bend, they see more bend. I have a number of students who are to this place and it is sooo easy to teach "dressage" to them! Knowing how the horse moves most efficiently, is a much better understood body of knowledge than how the human moves best (odd really there are a heck of lot more humans than horses).

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