Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The body as an equipage

Just as the horse, we have a stronger and a weaker side. It is often related to us being right or left handed, but it is not always so.

In those who are right-handed, the right side is working more and muscles work by contracting themselves. If you, as a right-handed sit at your desk, it is quite common that the right arm is pulled forwards and that in turn effects the entire muscular system in the body.

Today I worked with a client whose right side was willing to work and fast to take action. There where muscular discomfort in the shoulders, lower back and the movement of the hip joint on the right side was impaired. The left side was much softer and more pliable.

But soft and flexible is not always something to strive for if the soft and pliable really is floppy and without any supportive tension.

Then, and just when I thought of when I drove my anglo arabians two-in-hand. My client's right side was acting like my anglo filly; quick to action, eager to work - alert. While the gelding was more like the left side of the body a little more laid back, slow to start and passive.

Early on it happened that I gave them the que to start and the mare stepped forward, just to be met with opposition in her mouth (the reins in a pair is connected so that the horses left and right side are brought together) because the gelding had not reacted to the que.

To avoid that the slightly slower gelding would nag the mare in her mouth, I had to be careful to wake him with a touch of the whip before I gave the start signal and that made the take off much smoother for my mare. While driving, I also had to keep an eye on the gelding so that he remembered to do his part of the job, he tried to back off from pulling and by that place most of the work load on the mare.

So I asked my client (who also drives pair) to think about the body as a two-in-hand equipage and start as many chores as possible by making the left side aware of that it is time to wake up and take its share of responsibility for the daily work load before starting to work.

I usually say that we as riders should strive for a trunk with four free tentacles. By free I mean that they can move independently of each other even if they are in contact with each other through the spine.

It could perhaps be likened to a equipage of four horses in hand, with its forerunner and rod horses. Each horse has its role in the team and need to do the task in such a way that the other horses are free to perform their work. The chest/ arms are associated with forerunner and in the pelvis/legs with rod horses. They need to be able to move independent of each other, but get their position from the rod - the spine.

The head is the driver and gives the equipage its direction, but the where the driver/head is placed I leave to your own vivid imagination.

"No philosopher so thoroughly comprehend us as horses."
Herman Melville

PS! My knowledge of horse driving in English is quite shallow so if you feel I ought to change a word or two don't hesitate to contact me.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Travers, renvers and half pass but mostly travers

Travers is the English term for when a horse moves sideways and look in the direction of travel. More precisely travers is one of three different terms for this. In Sweden we like to keep it simple and call all sideways movement where the horse looks in the direction of travel for “sluta” regardless of where in the arena the horse performs this or if it is on a straight or curved line. Not so in English. A “sluta” either by the wall or on a curved line where the horse have the head to the wall or to the outside of the circle is called a travers. A “sluta” either by the wall or on a curved line where the horse have the tail to the wall or to the outside of the circle is called renver. And a “sluta” on any diagonal line is called a half pass. Since the videos below show me riding travers (head to the wall and the horse looking in the direction of travel) I will from here on in this particular blog entry just say travers.

The short summary of the perfect aids for the perfect travers are: none! When the horse is executing the task it has been asked to do my job as the rider is to be the best, non-disturbing passenger I can be.

The hand is the primary aid according to the father of classical equitation de la Gueriniere and the unquestionable minimum requirement for the relationship between the rider's hand and the horse´s mouth is that neither the rider or the horse is pulling or leaning on the bit. The contact have to consistent of only the weight of the rein.

There is also a whole bunch of cool stuff about how to balance the horse with the reins (see for instance the blog entry about the figure of 8 and inside vs outside rein) but I will not go into that in any more detail here in regard to travers becasue this blog entry would turn into a smaller book then. You can not see how I balance the horse with the use of my reins in the video but believe me when I say I do.

I will however mention something about the seat and the weight as an aid since I touch upon this in my comments. In all sideways movement, if I choose to use my weight as an aid it should always be in the direction of travel. So in the video where I ride right travers I strive to have my weight to the right, and the other way around, in left travers I strive to have the weight to the left.

Right travers means the horse's right shoulder are on the inside of the bend, and the horse is also traveling to the right. And of course it is the other way around for left travers. Here is a simple drawing of a horse seen from above in right travers with little horsy ears and little horsy feet:

To make it so much more interesting, all horses are from birth crooked either to the right or to the left which causes the horse to easier perform either right or left travers.

Below are two short videos with me riding my horse Hagens Yeats (a 14 year old Connemara gelding) in right and left travers. I've also added my comments for you to read.

Right travers

So what am I doing with my head? I've forgot to lift my chin and let my breast bone come up. I also have just to short reins. If I remember correctly I was busy enjoying my talented, focused and supple pony:). The just to short reins cause my elbows to be in front of my torso instead of hanging relaxed from my shoulders. The inner leg is slightly forward as it should and dangles more or less relaxed with the movements of my horse. Almost half way through the video I raise my inside hand. I do this in order to ask Yeats to keep the round outline of his neck. It dosen't really show but Yeats should have given his mouth, softening in the jaw and lifting the bite with his tongue in response to the presence in the corner of his lip. As a result of this soft mobility he also softened in the neck which restored his relaxed and round neck. At the end of the movie Yeats responds perfectly when I give with the hand and he is stretching his neck forward and his nose down and out in what in the School of lightness is called ”neck extension.

Left travers

Here I would like to tell myself to sit over more to the left in order to be more with the movement instead of behind it. My upper arms falls relaxed straight down so that my elbows are resting lightly against the sides of my torso. The careful observer can see that the right leg is slightly drawn back (the heel is a bit more lifted than on the right side) and that the leg is more quiet than the left, this leg is the positional leg, ie the leg that the horse moves away from, not because I press with it but because the horse feel its presence more since I've limited the movements in my knee. The left leg, on the other hand, is swinging freely with the horse's movement and enables the horse to move freely move sideways to the left.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A mindful rest

FM Alexander insisted that man is a psycho-physical unity - body and mind is an undivideable entity. Anything that affects our mind will reflect itself in our body and vice versa. I have yet to meet the man who contradicts this, but every day I meet people who still have to embrace this truth in their own lives. Alexander also advised that we need to practice our response (reaction) to what is happening (stimuli) so that we try to avoid to be too hasty. To cultivate an inner peace that allows us retain our ability to make sensible decisions, both in terms of what we do and what we say.

The Alexander rest (or semi supine) is a fantastic tool to help yourself along the road to become a psycho-physical unity. The foundation is laid by giving yourself 15-20 minutes of Alexander rest as I described earlier (posted in August-October). Once you become familiar with your body and have let it benefit from the passive stretching that the semi supine gives, you've also got a feel for how it feels when your back is resting on the floor, a feeling that you can recall standing up. You have arrived to the point that your body can give its weight to the floor more quickly because it has learned to appreciate both the rest and safety of being carried by the floor.

At this point you can start using the Alexander rest as an arena to make perceptive assessments of your internal, mental, processes. I usually lie down and allow me to settle before I start to think through a "challenge" that I have before me. It can be anything; a meeting, a presentation, a training session with the horse, a busy day. When I do this review, I notice what happens in my body, is my breathing is affected, do I become tense somewhere, does my heart rate increase. If I notice that I get a reaction from my "mental stimuli" that I want to avoid I pause and consciously strive to let go of any unnecessary tension before I let my inner film continue to roll.

If I, in a real situation, notice that I get nervous or stressed with an increased tension I can "return to my previous work", if only for a millisecond, and it becomes quiet both in the body and mind.

This way of working with your psyche and your body and seek to pre-program desired connections in the nervous system is nowadays called mental training. Alexander Technique is a sophisticated form of mental training. It gives the body a relaxed relationship to gravity, it will help you become aware ot the direction you want to keep and when you meet challenges it helps you to find time for reconsideration in the feel of security that comes from knowing where you have your back.

"This inability to stay calm, this annoying desire to immediately take action, is one of humanity's most obvious defects."
Walter Bagehot

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Videos of shoulder in

Instead of me writing about my perception of the horse world this week, I thought I should show you two short videos of me and my horse doing the shoulder in and let you tell me what you think. I know what I'm happy with and what I want to improve, but what do you see?