Christine English jumping her own horse in the unusual "Total Contact Saddle"

Christine English, MSTAT, Alexander Technique Teacher

Very often I feel that riders are looking for qualities in their horses which are missing in themselves! Calm, soft, straight, well balanced and sound spring to mind! Yet how many riders suffer with some form of back, neck or shoulder ache, pain or stiffness? How many people describe themselves as "stressed" as they struggle to cope with the demands of everyday living? Such physical, mental and emotional imbalances leave us less able to ride to our full potential and negatively impact on our horses.

The greatest block to effortless poise on or off a horse is very often excess tension within ourselves. As Erik Herbermann says “excess tension is the biggest enemy of every rider". Yet strangely it is possible to not accurately feel whether we are using too much muscular effort! This is because the way we habitually use our bodies in daily life and when riding may well feel normal and right to us. Once a way of sitting, standing, walking, working and riding has become a habit it can easily trap us into constantly being a certain way. Frequently this does involve using excess tension. Although we no longer register this as such, we do notice our body complaining with aches and pains. We can feel 'stressed', and exhausted and that's before we've even got on our horse!

Alexander Technique lessons can be life changing because if you do not know what you are doing that is unhelpful, it is pretty impossible to stop doing it! Or, if you have some awareness that you would like to make changes, the problem can be how to go about it. Often methods employed involve 'doing' all sorts of things to try and correct bits of us, however, the solution is often found in the elusive doing less. This can be very challenging for our busy selves who instinctively feel if something is not working then we need to try harder!

To use a common example - I often find the Alexander Technique to be associated with the idea of 'good posture'. However, in my experience, when people hear the word 'posture' they immediately think they need to pull themselves up straighter and pin their shoulders back. This commonly held belief is super unhelpful and will restrict someone's ability to balance and breathe! A similar thing can happen to riders who are keen to improve their riding 'position' and go about this in a similar way. I liken this to poor dressage when the horse is held in a fixed rigid outline. An inexperienced observer may be convinced things are going well, because of the shape, but to the educated eye it's painful and has nothing to do with balance.

So, when someone tries to improve their posture by tightening up, they will tend to find this extremely hard work and will usually quickly collapse back to where they were previously (and then often feel guilty about not repeating the above more!). Yet good balance does not register as effort; you cannot 'do' it, it has to be allowed. Picture the beautifully balanced infant who knows nothing of tightening up to be upright yet can sit 'up' effortlessly, completely free of pain (and I would like to add with a soft squashy stomach!).

Of course when we ride there are occasions when we really do need to be able to increase our body tone, for instance when a horse is bowling along on the forehand and pulling on the reins. The ability to stay rooted in the saddle does require muscles to work. This is appropriate tension which can be released once the horse has suitably responded. I think most people are missing the experience of just how free they can be because they have become so used to being on the tight side of what is appropriate in all that they do. Without this knowledge they are missing a full tool set in which to aid their horses and quite possibly to live a pain free life.

In Alexander Technique lessons I work with people to help them discover where they are using unnecessary tension, which is pulling them out of shape, so they can learn to not do this and release into better balance. As people learn to 'do less' painful symptoms frequently drop away. Less muscular tension tends to have a calming effect on the mind and as mind/body balance improves we tend to make different choices about how we respond to literally everything that occurs in life from the miniscule to the massive. In effect we increase our 'response-ability' because we are less stuck with how we thought and moved before. This aids us in becoming calmer, softer, straighter and better balanced which is only going to cause our horses to respond to us in a positive way - a win-win situation!

If you would like to experience the Alexander Technique and how it can help you and your riding, I will be offering lessons at Arrow at various dates throughout 2015. Please speak to Sue if you would like to be contacted specifically in advance.

Return to the team.