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Horse-riding & the Alexander Technique

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

"Alexander himself found when teaching his early students that the requirements of theatrical performance imposed a salutary discipline. He concluded that the Technique is best learnt if applied to, and measured against, the rigorous criteria of an established practical skill. We have found that for this purpose Horsemanship is ideal. Walter Carrington"

- Issue editorial Direction Vol 2, No 1 1973

Are you ever frustrated with yourself or your horse?

Does ease, lightness, smoothness and togetherness seem elusive? Trying harder or doing more hours in the saddle doesn't seem to help with your suppleness and ability to move freely with your horse's movement. Riding horses means we need balance, co-ordination, suppleness and mobility. Tension of any sort interferes with all and any of these things. Stiffness, unevenness, lack of balance, out of sorts - we notice this in our horses but in us it's too familiar. We are not aware that we grip with our knees, tighten in the stomach, hold our breath, sit to one side of the saddle. Perhaps some of these we do notice but can't change. These habits happen to various degrees depending on how long we have been riding. Riding is a long refined skill but whatever our level, our aim is to move freely with and not interfere with our horse's movement. Riding instruction is mainly about horse education. To systematically connect his mind and body while progressively developing his balance and gymnastic ability to move freely and easily on curved and straight lines, over obstacles, carrying a rider. Where is the help for a rider ? Instructors mean well when they tell us to sit still, not to move our hands and legs. But even trying harder and harder our legs still move or our head nods. We hear and understand the instructions but somehow our left hand still hangs on to the rein. No matter what we do the horse falls in to the left and seems stiff to the right. Does any of this sound familiar ? Perhaps none of this rings true but your horse has a history of lameness or a sore back. Having done all the right things, vet , saddle check, farrier, teeth, chiropractor, massage etc the problem re-occurrs. It maybe time to check out YOURSELF. Rider - crookdness, unevenness, tension, lack of balance, co-ordination, lack of ease and suppleness is often the source of horse unsoundness. Surprisingly, the everyday that we do often effect your horseriding skills. Stress, strain, tension, poor postural awareness, affect the ease of the way we move. Stress-filled lives plus bad furniture design contribute to many painful problems. The way we sit, stand, turn, pick up things is so deeply ingrained and taken for granted. So familiar are your tensions, crookedness, stiffness, that when put right it will feel quite wrong. The way we carry our handbag - always the same shoulder ? Our child - always the same hip ? How tense were you after the argument you had this morning ? Or the unresolved issue at work ? How about being stuck in traffic ? All these things effect our way of being on our horse. The Alexander Technique can help a rider develop suppleness, co-ordination, correct muscle tone, stability and sensitivity - these are the foundations of good balance and body control needed before you can find elegance and ease admired in the horse and the rider that moves as one. In an Alexander lesson or participation in an initial workshop, we work partly on the ground. A teacher uses gentle guiding hands as you sit, stand and walk. This helps you become aware of your habits of tension and how they interfere with your movement, co-ordination and posture. Paying particular attention to the balance of the head and it's relationship to our neck and back. Working also, in a saddle on a wooden horse, is a way of exploring your position with guidance from a teachers hands to help you release and ease out of tension without the complications of a moving horse. Being lunged on a school horse develops the awareness and observation skills that you started on the ground. This is a learning process that requires thoughtful participation, to achieve the best result. The aim is for riders to have an increased awareness of how to work on themselves so they can manage to change their own difficulties with greater efficiency. If you are using your body incorrectly, trying harder merely repeats and compounds your habits of mis-use. The Alexander Technique helps awareness of these patterns and teaches you how to eliminate excessive efforts, allowing you to move easily with natural balance, more energy and clearer thought. The Alexander Technique can be particularly useful for

  • riders wanting to improve their balance and have a clearer communication with their horse

  • riders who suffer from pain, either from injury or tension

  • instructors wishing to improve their knowledge and understanding of rider positions and application of aids

  • dressage riders

  • riders starting again after a gap wanting confidence and suppleness

  • riders who care about the horse's well-being

  • someone riding for the first time

By Marigold Smith, Member of AUSTAT (Aust. Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) Teacher of Horse Riding and the Alexander Technique. Wanting to share the enriching experience of 30 years riding and teaching in search of that unique horse and rider union. Marigold can be contacted at 20 Wallace Pde., HEALESVILLE Victoria 3777, Phone (03) 5962 1057

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