Wednesday, 28 March 2012

position vs direction - can they unite?

"There is no such thing as a right position, there is only a right direction", FM Alexander said. I have pondered on the words and have found that I do agree and at the same time disagree.

There are those who have trained themselves to become living statues. In their profession the ability to stand still for a prolonged time is trained and developed. Roger "Gränsen" Jonsson is a mime artist with five years of training. -Mime is a combination of tension and relaxation, it's about to rest while standing. To be able to move in slow motion you have to train your body. It takes a couple of years, he says. -When you've put on the costume and makeup and put yourself into position stillness is achieved rather quickly. It is a form of meditation. Even if you are percieved as being standing still you change position very subtly with minute movements every other minute, he continues.

During the 1600s (correct me if I'm wrong!) They trained horses and riders to become living statues. The horse was helped to come into a physical relaxation by soft massage and thereby trained to stay in a pose for a longer time, resting quietly and without unnecessary tension in the selected position.

Positions in this sense perceived as still do not have to be static. And what's preventing them from being static? Well, direction!

If your body is going somewhere - even in slow motion - there's a movement in the brain, that is, the nervous system, and hence a flow of information between the brain and body.

The word position have a physical as well as a psychological application. Deadlock is a term that signals a static relationship without any movement and it can be both physical and mental.

I often see horses and riders in locked positions. A common "place" for a physical deadlock is the rider's hand in relation to the horse's mouth. Another is when the rider takes a position in the saddle, and strive to maintain that position no matter how the horse's body moves. There are mental positions that stem from perceptions that the rider has of himself (performance anxiety) or the horse (lazy, slow, hot)

All deadlock affects suppleness, the muscle suit busy keeping the body in a certain postition, keeping a firm support in the reins or responding to a mental state is stiffening. The stiffened body is affected in such a way that it can no longer follow the horse in its movement/direction.

Now every move requires that the body takes a position. To be able perform a smooth movement requires a clear direction in which way the body/position has to go.

I have started training jujitsu and it's a great exercise in position and direction. If my training partner and I have a good position relative to each other and in our own bodies and a clear picture of the direction of the move, that ensures a soft floating feeling to all moves, and we seem to manage it without apparent effort in our respective bodies, and none of us experience being thrown or tipped over as unpleasant or painful as we train. But when the position and/or direction fails us, we're in trouble, it gets exhausting, inconvenient, uncomfortable (sometimes painful) and the risk of injury increases.

Position and direction are valid also in riding! We do not ride alone, we share a sense of position and direction with a living being. As riders, we select the discipline that we want the horse to work in and the training method.

Regardless of your individual choice, you as a rider need to familiarize yourself with both the position and direction for the maneuver you want to do riding the horse.

Lacking this knowledge transforms riding to horse wrestling and because the horse is much stronger, faster and bigger than us it's easy to resort to "rough methods" and sharper equipment and remaining in the paddock are two bereaved souls...

"Something achieved by means of violence can only be maintained by force."
Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, 22 March 2012

About effective seat training

Effective seat training helps you become a better rider. You will feel more secure in the saddle and you will be able to use your aids more efficiently. All riders, regardless of level, benefit from seat training and professional feedback. But if you experience any of the following you will most definitely benefit from seat training:
  • your upper body leans forward in downward transitions
  • you lose one or both stirrups
  • your feet are bouncing in the stirrups
  • the contact in the reins comes and goes
  • you cannot sit deep in the saddle
  • sitting trot is uncomfortable
  • you cannot remain in two point position for as long as you would like
  • you get tired when posting the trot
  • you are left behind the horse's motions in, for instance, canter departs or lateral movements
  • the slightest un-rhythmical or unexpected movement on your horse's part will unseat you or even cause you to fall off

The trademark of a good seat is a stable position that is not affected when the rider moves hers arms, hands, legs or feet, a supple posture of the rider's upper body and a soft suppleness in all gaits, in transitions of speed and direction..

100% focus on the individual’s needs
When you do seat training with me you will ride on one of my calm and stable school horses while I lunge the horse. This will enable you to concentrate fully on your seat without the distraction of controlling the horse you are sitting on. The training consists of specific movements designed to help you explore the feeling of balance and coordination. These exercises will help you recognise the feeling of an erect and supple posture which will enable you to follow the horse easily in all gaits.

In real life
Effective seat training adheres to an old and well tested list of priorities; the first order of business is the rider's upper body. The key to a supple and balanced seat on horseback is the erectness of the rider's upper body and the balance of this erect body over the rider's seat bones. What this means in real life, what it feels like and how you can stay in this supple balance in walk, trot and canter is what you will experience during seat training with me. In order to enable the rider to explore the feeling of true balance, seat training is done without the use of stirrups.

When the rider can recognise and change and control the balance in her upper body at will it is time to consider the position of the lower legs. When the rider can control both the balance of the upper body and the position of the lower leg without tensing in all gaits, when the use of the stirrups doesn't negatively affect the balance of the upper body, then you have reached the goal: a supple and balanced seat.

Seat training includes the following steps:
  1. erectness and balance of the upper body
  2. following the horse with your seat in all gaits without disturbing no 1
  3. the placement of the lower leg without disturbing no 1 and 2

How many lessons?
1 lesson will give you useful ideas
3 lessons will give you the ability to recognise when your balance is better or worse
6 lessons will give you the ability to make efficient corrections on your own
12 lessons will give you a good foundation to stay in relaxed balance automatically which allows you to concentrate on riding and communicating with your horse

Here is a video showing Effective Seat training (in Swedish)

Client success stories
Hi Lena! I have just had the most fantastic day with my horse! After some seat training, the same exercise we did in our last lesson, I asked for tolt using the light half halt and breathing. It worked so amazingly well! I'm so happy!
Kerstin Johansson

Hi, I want to share this with you. My daughter (13 years old) did some seat training with you. A few months later we participated in the Swedish Championships for New Forest ponies. Everything went very well but the best was when one judge gave her extra points for her seat. Thank you!
Maria Tayli

Hi Lena! Thanks to you I have become more aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I missed your clinic since I went to clinics with Perry Wood and Rui Almeida back to back. I haven't trained with them in 6 months. Both pointed out how much better my equestrian tact had become and they were both very happy with the progress my horses as a result had done. I sure owe you a huge thanks, you have made me, the horses and my trainers happy!
Gunilla Grebbert

To book your lesson, contact

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hagens Yeats 2008-2011

A picture says more than a thousand words. At least that is how the saying goes. When I decided to write about the journey together with Yeats so far, the first thing I did was watch the video from the evaluation ride back in the summer of 2008. Moving pictures do capture a lot, in fact looking at the video from 2008 I'm surprised that I actually went ahead and bought Yeats in the first place! Knowing now how much time and effort we both have spent in overcoming his stiffness and resistance I would hesitate to take on a similar project. This stiffness and resistance is evident in the way he very reluctantly performed rein back. It is also evident when I asked for sideways moment and got pacing instead.

Our joint journey during our first two years together had mainly been focussed around establishing calm, trust and communication. I don't have any videos from our early days when he couldn't be left alone in the arena and would panic when asked to go into the wash rack or the trailer, but there is a damaged barn door that can tell you just exactly how it feels to be ploughed down by a Connemara determined not to get his feet wet. The fact that he now hardly flicks an ear when being washed brings me as much happiness as a nice ride in the forest or the execution of an (almost) perfect shoulder in.

Since the video is 10 minutes long I shall not write a complete novel about it. I will however offer a few more words. A picture says more than a thousand words, but at the same time it does not convey any of the feelings present in the moment. When I look at the videos of me riding Yeats, I can marvel at how light and easy a sequence can look when I have the memory of Yeats leaning on the hand and being anything but light. I can also look at some clips and wonder what I'm doing although at the time it felt absolutely right. The journey is never ending.

In the video I mention SixKeys to Harmony as well as Ecole deLégèreté and you can read more about those philosophies in previous blog entries.  

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Am I changed by horses?

I have previously mentioned that every horse I meet is like a university of its own. No horse I've met have been the same and every horse I've ever met has left me with both new valuable insight and a changed personality.

In a good relationship, both parties receive and transmit, there is a give and take and mutual influence. I can still feel deep gratitude to the horses that in one way or another has given my relationship with horses a nudge in a different and in some cases a new direction.

The first and foremost is Sandina, my first horse, who patiently showed me that there was another way to communicate with a horse when mounted. I experimented with, among other things, the thoughts presented in Sally Swift's first book and took centered riding lessons for two years. Setif (Sandinas filly) took me to the next door. She showed me that my body and I needed to find each other and straighten out various twists and misunderstandings, she showed me the way to the Alexander Technique. Salvia (a true Thellwell pony!) led my husband and me towards Natural Horsemanship (NH). And once again Setif, opened a door, this time to Classical Equitation when she needed to be rehabilitated in a manner that was not soul-destroying for her. I would be able to continue with more examples - the point is that my horses leads me...

The universities I have in the pasture now makes sure that I continue my training and reflecting.

Amaretto has showed me that if something works on the first try, we can do something else. To repeat, for me to feel confident that he can (which he could indeed!) is nagging. And nagging is not appreciated neither by horses (nor children).

Shy Boy, who now should be called Unshy Boy, have thaught me that you can not train horses with slaps. Shy Boy has his own history and is perhaps the closest I will ever get to a "wild horse". In the beginning he was shy but had a sympathetic attitude to people.

NH is a general concept for training horses using methods of controlling each part of the horses' body and although the term is used as a generic term, there are differences between trainers. In the style I have trained in accordance with the last few years there is a so-called "three-stage rocket" in training of horses. I ask the horse with my body language to for example give the hind, I reinforce by swinging the end of the lead rope in the air and as the last step, I let the end of lead rope hit the horse.

Nota bene,if Shy Boy comes too close to me when I pour up water and I give him a thouch with my elbow, he takes it with equanimity. If he pushes on me, and I resume my space that also works without a hitch. But on one occasion as I would have him to give his hind (to cross a hind leg over the other) and went through all three steps and let the end of lead rope land on his loin he was really scared and we suffered a crisis of confidence.

This happened a while ago and I've carried it around me in my thoughts. One theory I have is that when my telling him off were associated with our respective bubbles/ personal space, Shy Boy has recognised that he crossed a border. When I wanted him to give his hind, there was no natural connection on his part as to why I should give him a flick with the lead rope - a slap. He was inattentive, but he was not "in my zone."

The incident has caused me to study how Amaretto react when I get to stage three and cause the end of lead rope to touch him and he responds, not with fear but with a grievance.

So this is a question that I, as a university student, currently is thinking about. Does slapping actually work in training and raising horses? A thought that in itself should not be awkward since slaps are not included in the upbringing of my children.

"Teachers open the door but you have to go inside."
Chinese proverb