This MonthIn January 2012, our barn and arena at Rowantree farm will be back with an entirely new look. We have regraded, remodeled and put a roof over the arena. Our first planned clinic of the year is hooftrimming for horseowners. It is designed to offer education so that even if you may not want to trim your horse\\\'s feet yourself, you will be a better customer for your farrier and a better advocate for your horse.
Centered Riding Clinics
and Private Lessons
News & Items of Interest
Three little Secrets to a Better Ride In 2011 the lives of the riding population are vastly different from the lives of the riders who first came to ride with Sally Swift. 20th century riders in the United States may have hacked to show grounds, competed all day, and ridden their horses home at night. Today, it’s safe to say that most horses ride to the competitions and back, and we enjoy computers and cell phones. How are we different today? An excess of tension has been replaced by misplaced tension. Common solutions target strengthening exercises. Among riders that I have worked with over the years, only one or two were suffering from weak muscles. In fact, their outer muscles were really strong. After all, horse owners are active people. Still, many of their horses go on the forehand with backs and withers dropped. Stiff jaws, either poked out or held protectively behind rein contact are a common sight. Many horses go unevenly and end up sore in the right front leg (as many riders are right handed) – effectively rein lame. Analgesics are household names to horsemen, and the symptoms they are aimed at occur in all levels of activity and disciplines. The common denominator in the picture is the rider. In 2011 the average person in our computerized world sits with chin jutting out, shoulders rolled forward, upper chest collapsed, ribs held up and tense, belly protruding, hips locked, knees and feet and backs hurting, and eyes cast down. The innate mechanisms that each of us use to function as upright beings in earth’s gravity cannot function if our skeletons are held out of kilter. Centered riders who had the privilege to ride under Sally Swift will remember her saying that horses can only move as well as their riders, and that awareness is 90% of the solution to any riding problem. How many people can you think of intentionally ride poorly? In the beginning of the book Centered Riding Sally writes that our horses react to our unconscious habits of posture and movement. If what so many riders are doing makes their horses unsound, a posture change is needed. Fortunately many methods exist to help riders overcome the effects of our modern technology-driven lives. Some of them are: Balimo, Pilates, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Centered Riding. These all take time and effort, and are well worth pursuing. In the meantime, there is a quick fix that will improve your ride every time you do it, and it takes less than ten minutes. The fix includes three easy activities which are all based on Mabel Todd’s The Thinking Body. Mabel Todd was Sally Swift’s first posture and anatomy teacher. Miss Todd’s method was called Structural Hygiene. It was the principles of her work which formed the seed that Sally Swift developed ultimately into Centered Riding. I offered the first of these activities to audiences in 2007, and the results startled me and the people who tried them. In the four years since, many students have tried them with instant success, and they have given them funny names that make them easy to remember. 1. Unicheek, 2. Four S’s, 3. Funky chicken I hesitate to call them exercises even though they involve movements that are repeated several times. The work of the activity is actually accomplished during the rest period following each activity. In order to have the desired effect the movements should be done with great attention and awareness followed by a real period of rest. They lose their power if they are done robotically. You will need something sturdy to sit on that allows you to sit with your feet comfortably resting on the ground, with your hips and knees bent more or less at right angles. You can use a sturdy chair, a mounting block or something similar as long as it is hard and will not tip over. A soft cushion will not give you the feedback that you need. 1. UNICHEEK Begin by sitting on the edge of the chair away from the back, with both of your feet resting on the ground. Move over so that only one “cheek” is resting on your chair, and the other one is hanging in the air at the same level it was when it was on the chair. The movement is simple. Allow the free hip to lower gently and slowly as far down as you comfortably can. Bring it back to the beginning place. Let’s call this position “neutral”. Next, lift your hip up as high as you comfortably can, then return again to “neutral”. Do these movements several times in different ways: fast, slow, big, little, imaginary, changing the order if you want, in fact any way that you can think of to accomplish this very simple movement – just up and down. Notice if your shoulders move forward or back as you lift and lower your hip. If you are comfortable with it, use your imagination. For instance, you could say to yourself I am going to aim my hip bone up into my armpit, or down to China, or neutral could include the feel of the chair even though it is not there. The more different ways you try, the more dramatic the result will be. How long should you do this? Only as long as you can make it interesting. This could be five or fifty times. When you are done, stop and return to your original position with both sides of your seat on the chair. This is the moment of change. Take a few moments to be aware of yourself sitting on the chair. Possible questions to ask yourself are: What do my feet feel like on the ground? What does the chair feel like under my seat? What do I see? What do I hear? Do I feel comfortable sitting up in the chair now? Do I feel different in any way? Taking a few slow complete breaths will help the process. After maintaining your place on the chair for a few minutes, go ahead and allow your other hip to hang off the chair in the same way. What can you expect? For one thing, you will look younger immediately. Most people feel comfortably upright. Some have reported being able to breathe easier. You may feel your jaw relax, and you may enjoy a general feeling of relaxation. Some people have said their feet felt heavier or that they could feel their seat bones. You may have different sensations of course, but these are the generally reported results. I believe what you have just done is to wake up your pelvic floor that has most likely nodded off out of sheer boredom since it was not used in the car, or the chair we all spend so much time sitting on. There is still more to riding than waking up your pelvic floor. You also need to be able to follow and influence your horse’s movements which requires split second timing of your coordination, so please include the next activity: 2. FOUR - S’s Sitting in your new found easy upright posture, breathe in through your nose slowly and gently. Imagine that you can fill your body with air the way you pour water into a cup: from the bottom up. Allow your lower abdomen, sides and back to expand from as low as you can in your trunk and slowly let that expansion fill you up higher and higher until it is all the way up to the base of your neck. Your first rib and your lungs extend all the way up there, and yes they actually can move outward though many of us don’t enjoy this feeling every day. As soon as you fill yourself all the way up with air, let that breath out by saying a very breathy and easy “Es”. Say it with a gentle smile and feel the back of your throat open and soften as though you were going to yawn. Let your eyes smile too. Your whole face should relax as you say the letter ‘S’. Allow the air to flow gently and slowly out from the top down. Feel the top of your ribs relax down and let the air pour out as water would pour out of a glass until the last drop is gently pushed out of the lowest part of your abdomen, sides and back. Do this four times. You certainly could do more if you wish, but if you are doing this before a ride, time is of the essence! At first this may require some effort, but the more you do it, the more air you can draw in and out, and the longer you can do it. The goal is a long, “thin” even flow of air. Increasing the time it takes, and increasing the movement of your trunk is the goal. You have now succeeded in coordinating the inner muscles of your trunk with your pelvic floor. These are the muscles we all use to support ourselves in an upright position – what is popularly called “the core”. These are the ones that act without our having to think about them and the ones that allow us to react smoothly and appropriately to our horses’ movements. Situps will not help this kind of strength. 3. FUNKY CHICKEN This little gem we first called “Oklahoma” because it is almost the same action you would do to put your thumbs in your overall straps if you wanted to dance a number in the musical “Oklahoma” or fit right in on Hee Haw. The reference was a little obscure, so common opinion changed the name to “Funky Chicken”. It consists of sticking either your thumbs, or all your fingers right up into your armpits, really pressing upward into the front tendon, and letting your elbows hang down to the ground. Take a few nice full breaths and repeat the questions you asked yourself when you first returned both sides of your seat to the chair. Take a moment to notice how the back of your upper back feels between your shoulder blades. Then take another breath and notice how the front of your upper body feels between your shoulders. How do your ribs feel? How do your seat bones feel? How about your feet? Allow your hands to slowly come back down to rest in you lap. Go slowly without changing the position of your shoulders. Go for a walk after you have done these three activities. You don’t have to walk far, but do try to do it with full attention on yourself without lifting or doing anything but walking. You can walk around the room, or the arena, or the aisle wherever you happen to be; just a dozen steps will suffice, though you can do more if it feels good to you. The action of walking helps to tie the three exercises together and makes it easier for you to continue to feel the benefit once you mount your horse. That’s all there is to it. The longest time will be spent on the first activity, but even that one doesn’t have to take long. Do all three activities before you ride, and you will ride in better balance and coordination. The last activity is especially helpful because most people rotate their shoulders forward. Telling someone to pull their shoulders back doesn’t help, or to drop their shoulders down doesn’t help because the habit is a more insidious one and it stems from their sleeping pelvic floor, and exaggerated spinal curves. Even looking down at the ground is a direct result of this posture habit. The poor shoulders can’t do it alone. They need the support of the person’s whole trunk. Rolled shoulders and the accompanying collapsed upper chest, downcast eyes and grinding teeth, is an unfortunate cultural habit. You see this posture everywhere. It leads to many ills. It is this that drives our horse’s withers down and stops their back connection at their “waist” so they pull themselves along with their front legs and don’t take advantage of their motor in the back end. It is this that leads to stiff loins and damaged hocks (or in humans, hip and knee replacements). Shallow breathing and stiff jaws (tmj and bruxism in humans) are another direct result. We and our horses are suffering from the wonderful technological world we live in. With Unicheek, 4 S’s, and Funky Chicken, we can use the technology without it hurting us.