BY JENNY ROLFE
It is very close to my heart to be mindful of teaching and communication, which helps the horse to progress in synchrony with his true nature . Watching horses moving at liberty, over many years now has shown me that we can achieve so much with minimal tack and gadgets.
I was shown many years ago by my Spanish stallion DELFIN how we can connect through our breath energy awareness, which I believe is tapping into unexplored language of the herd.
When we learn to trust the power of our breath we can begin to control our mind and our emotions. This power is within the reach of all of us and is so simple yet takes much discipline before it becomes second nature. Breath control can take us to a deeper place where we can feel so connected on every level. Our responses become more tempered with feeling and depth rather than becoming a mechanical, superficial exercise. Body mind and spirit can come together and this has such a major influence on our horse. He will readily connect with our empowerment and synchrony as the nature of the horse is to thrive and survive as a family. The herd know how to exist and thrive together, within coherent energy. I teach the horse to move at liberty and encourage him to move with pride and graceful posture, which builds both his athletic capability and our mutual connection from the ground.
ENCOURAGING POSTURE- NATURALLY
It is important to understand the significance of good posture for the horse and as much as possible develop a close working partnership to achieve our goals.
I have recently learnt what this really means with my young Lusitano Gran Hostil. He is a strong character who wants to be centre stage all of the time. If I do not work on our connection I would soon be relying on less empathic methods to gain his focus. If he was a boy, I would imagine he would be the one in the class to do what it takes to get the full attention of the teacher, to change the subject, disrupt the class. Yet when I say, ‘come on lets play and learn’ I have his undivided attention for every second. He never puts a hoof wrong and he is very observant of my mood, authority or lack of it and the power of the energy from my breathing.
During the time we spend together, I am making small building blocks to encourage him to move and respond within a Classical system of training, using our depth of communication to replace restrictions and gadgets. This really does take time, dedication and structure as I am looking for progress in his attitude, muscles structure and athletic development. At the heart of this plan is a relationship.
Each day we try to gain a little more trust and I try to tune into how he will respond.
When a horse first comes into the school they may be full of excess energy or rather lacking enthusiasm but either way we need to encourage the place of balance. This is the time when energy meets with focus as our horse learns to feel joy in his movement and at the same time be prepared to co-operate with our direction. This is the foundation for a deeper relationship which can be transmitted into ridden work.
CREATING A NATURAL POSTURE
Correct posture for the horse will show a proud and confident horse, moving with good energy, through a mobilized spine, with the top muscles of the neck arched naturally with no pulling back. Correct training will ensure the horse looks more beautiful and athletic.
The head will align naturally through a relaxed poll, it may be a little in front of a vertical line or on the vertical. Depending on the energy of the movement the head and neck carriage will vary. The correct posture will be longer and lower for a younger horse as collection will build as a result of years of correct training. The first ingredient is calmness, as a tense horse cannot sustain deeper rhythmic breathing and lung function. Also his circulation will be affected and his freedom to move. Tension also restricts the ability of the horse to concentrate on his responses to the rider.
We aim to build:
- Flexibility in the muscle structure to support the skeletal system.
- Balance and cadence through steady rhythm – always working towards equilibrium.
- Alignment and straightness through methods of training
- A calm and focused horse who enjoys his work ( movement for the horse naturally is fun and enjoyment and as riders we should seek to keep this feeling of joy in our training)
- The result of a thoughtful programme of training is a horse whose muscle structure enhances his beauty and his pride.
- A focus on steady rhythmic core breathing to enhance fluidity and eliminate tightness and restriction.
WHY IS NATURAL POSTURE IMPORTANT FOR THE HORSE?
Natural posture is fundamental to the well being of the horse. When we try to force a frame the horse just becomes compressed physically and cannot move freely through his spine and neck. Also horses begin to shut down when they feel tension and tightness and inability to be able to move without constraint.
When we focus on a more natural posture we encourage a foundation which will help the horse to support the weight and balance of the rider. It takes time and patience to build a solid structure but this is the essence of helping the horse to become a healthy athlete. When the body is worked under duress- with tightness and restriction then injury often will follow and problems such as kissing spine will manifest themselves. The joints need space and if the horse is not allowed to move naturally the compression will cause friction which can result in injury.
FLEXION verses TENSION AT THE POLL:
The horse cannot move as nature intended unless the rider allows flexion at the poll. Straightness, alignment and flexibility all stem from a relaxed poll and neck. If the contact is forced by tight side reins or a rider who forces a contact, this can create spasm in the muscles of the poll and subsequent pain for the horse. If the jaw is restricted and clamped down, this will prevent natural flexion which creates unwanted tension, pain and anxiety for the horse.
Natural flexion can only be created if the horse is ridden with tact. Unyielding arms and hands or restrictive training gadgets will cause muscles to tighten. This prevents the whole spine being mobilised. You only have to stand and clench your fist and feel the tension in your own shoulders. Then try to move your pelvis which will feel blocked by the tension created through your hand. Tension travels right through the body. It is like having a rippling stream and creating a dam. The whole flow of water will be disrupted and it is the same with blocking our body, as this restricts energy flow and mobility.
Tension will ripple through the spine causing a hollow back and no chance of engagement through the hind leg. This will become most uncomfortable posture for both the horse and the rider.
There is no better feel than riding a horse feeling forwards yet yielding and relaxed into a light hand. A dry tight mouth with a locked jaw will prevent relaxation through the poll and neck. From the front of the horse, a block of resistance is created hence the flow of forward energy will be prevented. Try standing still and just clenching your teeth and your jaw. Does your neck feel tight? Can you freely look from side to side? This tension will prevent mobilisation down through your spine creating a block through your core. Tightness in the jaw has a similar impact on the horse, trying to move forward, meeting with blocking hands which immediately resist the forward impulsion from the horse. Many problems stem from conflicting aids. Some riders ask for forward energy with hands that ask the horse to stop. Then the horse feels anxious and the rider may add pressure with stronger leg aids. This will create resistance through the rib cage of the horse and also the balance for the rider is disrupted each time he uses his legs forcefully. Then the battle begins.
My methods seek harmony and lightness for both the horse and the rider and we can all achieve these goals given time, dedication and patience.
Correct posture encourages maximum performance within the spine. This is also the nervous system of the horse and something to remember when we sit in the saddle connecting with the highly sensitive nervous system .The spine is fundamental to allowing co-ordination, athletic movement and maintaining good balance. In this way the horse can more easily support the weight of a rider.
Each vertebra will need space to mobilise within motion. When horses move with tightness the vertebra can become compressed hence multiple problems can occur through ill considered methods of training. Kissing spine can be a symptom of such training when each vertebra does not have the space needed to mobilise.
THE CORE CONNECTION
Imagine you are running along, with someone kicking you in the ribs and pulling at your mouth, it would definitely disturb your balance, mobility, equilibrium and concentration.
When you sit in the saddle, on the back of the horse you are sitting over his central nervous system. The horse will tune in to any balance adjustments within your seat and he can be easily taught to connect with core breathing and energy exchange
The seat of the rider, can be the main connection but without rider preparation it may naturally be ‘The Weakest Link’. We more readily tune the endless thoughts buzzing around our mind. Much of our day we use our arms and hands for eating, washing, mucking-out and driving – the list of tasks is endless. So it will be second nature to sit on a horse and continue with this pattern of body language.
If the rider can be taught more awareness of ‘The Core Connection’ with the horse, then less aids will become more significant. ‘Less will be More’!
Our seat and core connection will assist balance which is far more comfortable for the horse and much more effective for the rider. Strong leg aids disrupt balance and natural stability. As aids become stronger the fear-flight instinct will increase, this is the enemy of empathy for horse and rider.
‘Strong aids create stress and stress equals restriction in movement’
Riders need to feel safe. When we sit on a horse, we embrace another mind and soul with ‘high power capability’!
When we work with the horse and improve his muscle structure we can easily see his natural pride, beauty and ability will become enhanced. As the horse grows in ability and balance so he will grow in joy and pride to reveal his natural spirit through his movement. This is the key to our training, to reveal the unique spirit of each horse.
READ MORE ABOUT AUTHOR JENNY ROLFE