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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Core strength, "dinosaur tails"

Core strength is what creates "stillness" in the rider from the inside (and yes the horse!)and allows the suppleness which I discussed in my earlier post. Rigidity is what happens if you don't have enough core strength to balance on the moving horse (owners who moved up from their little TB and QHorses to giant moving warmbloods can attest!) Without core muscles to stabilize you, you have to seize up every other muscle in your body in a futile attempt to achieve a "still" and "deep" seat. The stillness is the attachment of your sitz bones to the saddle, the suppleness is in your hip joints which rotate around a good inch higher than your sitz bones which are the bottom of your pelvis. To find your hip joints push your fingers into the crease created by your upper leg folding up against your pelvis( this is called the groin),ok about 1/2 way between your pubic bone and the bony knobble that pokes out on the side of your leg (the one that gets sore if you lay on your side for too long on a hard surface!)you will feel your hip sockets. Note how free they are to move when you are sitting in the saddle on your sitz bones. Find these by sitting on your hands and rolling around a bit - hard bony knobbles which form the bottom of your pelvic bowl (the "outer bowl")

Entire classes are taught on just this topic with many ideas about how to best create a program of movement for the student that encourages symmetrical core stability. These are your "self carriage" muscles and without them your horse won't have them either. The psoas and iliopsoas are the two big players and the good news is you don't need to remember the names, only how to engage them! Following my Alexander training I often describe the "outer bowl": this is your pelvic bowl with the, all important seat bones on the bottom, a sacrum behind, illiac crests(hip bones) at the top and an open front with your pubic bone at the bottom of the front opening. It is lined with a sheet of muscle called the "inner bowl" and it is this tricky muscle that is the key! You can engage it by attempting to bring your top, front 'hip bones'(the ones you prop a bag of groceries on) together toward each other. You are not using your outer bowl muscles and "pinching your cheeks", quite the contrary, for riding you want relatively open and relaxed buttocks, and you are using your inner bowl or deep abdominal muscles to move your pelvic bowl with it's sitz bone bottoms. It is this motion of pelvic bowl/sitz bones that enables you to first follow and then direct your horse - this is the key to a "good seat". there are lots of other ways to help you to identify and strengthen these muscles, and I have included below a link to yet another tool.

I must also point out that the outer bowl has a tail and if you pretend that it is a nice long dinosaur tail(instead of the little vestige of a stub that you actually have) Your "dino tail" hangs down to the ground a couple of feet behind you and helps you to maintain a level balance with your pelvis.

I have, not often enough, told students to practice standing on one leg to improve their core strength, or to use my Balimo chair (in my tackroom under my desk). Now I have found a new piece of equipment in my favorite store, Costco! (I took my shoes off and played on the demo for a good 15 min before shelling out the $95.00 for this little gem) click here to link to the website. I will bring this out to the barn when Alexander training is over and you can play around with it but I encourage anyone who wants to improve their balance for any reason, to go run to Costco and play for a while - just the one leg at a time standing is a challenge, and using the elastic stabilizer hand pulls is perfect for riders as it encourages you to keep your arms down by your hips - a phrase often heard by all of you "elbows on the front of your hips and ride him/her forward through them with your seat and leg". With core strength you can be supple and quiet while directing the dance! Simple not easy. j

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