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


Suppleness is one of the must have basics on the Dressage training scale and it seems to be the least understood. The steps of the 'Training scale' are all interelated and if the horse isn't laterally and longitudinally Supple, he can't be Through, which is to say the rider has little influence over the hind legs, so there can be no 'Forward', no 'Rhythm' no 'Contact'... no dressage.

Alright! We agree that suppleness is necessary. How do we get it? Much of the time I see riders attempting to "supple" their horses by bending the neck, often in extreme ways. This results in the neck disconnecting from the body and any forward that is achieved is lost out the shoulder, or shoots off the top of the overflexed neck while the withers fall onto a heavy forehand. Much more often the horses loin is a better place to look for restrictions as it is closer to the engine of the hind legs and the connection of haunch to spine. Next time you want to bend the neck off, try a haunches in, or on a younger horse a simple leg yield or turn on the shoulder.

In my overview I discussed the horse as a mirror for his rider and so it follows that if we want to supple any part of the horse, it is most useful to be supple in that place in our own bodies! I have spent much of my teaching career thinking that the rider only needed supple hips and not a supple spine but I have been mistaken. "Stillness", a worthy riding goal for all disciplines is only possible if you are supple to the forces upon you. Be a palm tree not an oak. It is possible to lack suppleness and ride, just as we see thousands of not very supple or through horses at the FEI but it isn't what we want to see and certainly not what we want to feel.

What do I mean by a "supple back"? This lovely rider (click to go to video clip)shows this spinal movement very well. Note the wave like action of her back, which I see as a snake coming up out of a charmer's basket, except in this case the "basket" is a moving stallion!
She is clearly accomplishing the goal of a supple backed horse who is allowing her to swing his hind leg power through his spine to her hands which then direct his energy back through her spine to his spine and back to his hind legs "the circle of aids" is only possible if both horse and rider have supple backs. I sometimes refer to this "circle of aids" as "the conveyor belt". Our hip action flexes and reaches back then drops on the conveyor belt engaging the hind leg energy and then with hip extension, rolls the conveyor belt forward, along the spine through to the hands where supple elbows return the energy to our flexing hips and his.

Collection is merely asking the conveyor belt to elevate at the withers. Simple, not easy.

Yes, it is a lovely stallion, but imagine him now with a stiff backed rider, his front legs flinging forth, back held tight, hind legs disconnected ....well you get the picture.

Ride like a snake! janet

1 comment:

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