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Sensational Sitting - Dismounted Movement for Horse Riders

As riders we are all familiar with the common instruction from our coach to 'look up', or 'sit straight', or some other important refinement. And we all do our best to do just what the instructor asks of us. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't!

When you have had a great lesson and 'it' works, are you able to reproduce the same brilliance on your own? Do you have enough kinaesthetic clues as to what 'it' is? (Kinaesthesia = the feeling of movement; pronounced kine-es-thesia.)

And what happens if you are unable to 'do' what the instructor is asking? Your understanding of what to do in your body is obviously different from the experience of your instructor; otherwise you would be able to 'do' the same. Or sometimes you may feel you lack the 'strength' to comply.

The Feldenkrais Method® (pronounced Fel-den-krice) is a way of increasing your kinaesthetic experience, your perception of yourself in action. Mary Wanless (1991) describes very clearly how she realized 'that the bottom line in riding was not ... in the aids for half-pass or canter transition. Neither does it lie ... in the ability to sit really well. Instead it lies in the ability to perceive one's own body accurately, to focus the mind in the present moment, and to interact cleanly with another living being in a relationship that can so easily go wrong.' Mary suggests it is useful to do this away from your horse.

It is also a way to learn the how of riding. Suzanne von Dietze (1999) says 'Theoretically, almost all riding mistakes can be classified as balance mistakes.' And 'The more balanced the seat of the rider, the less strength is necessary for maintaining a secure seat... Every difficulty balancing the body can only be compensated for by a major expenditure of energy and strength.' What is good balance? How is it experienced?

Riding is different to many other sports in that it looks as if the rider is sitting 'still'. It appears as if there is little for biomechanical technicians to measure! However, there is considerable 'work' to stay 'still' and to adjust and harmonise with the horse’s movement. How much 'work' is enough?

While riding there is a lot to pay attention to! You will be considering how your horse is travelling and staying aware of what is happening around you. In dismounted lessons you can pay more attention to how you sit and move. You probably already know in which direction your horse travels best. How much is this related to your own movement habits and how much to those of your horse?

In Sensational Sitting you will refine your understanding of the timing of your movement with that of the horse and notice the similarities and differences in equine and human movement. By learning about balance and quality of movement you will clarify how you move and learn ways to make your own adjustments.

In the end, to ride well, you must practice riding. However, dismounted lessons have a place in the rider's preparation. Beginning or less experienced riders can simplify the task of how to control their body for riding. High performance and experienced riders can notice their own habits of posture and find ways to use their full ability. For all of us, moving in balance will help us move more freely and powerfully in our lives and build the movement habits we need to generate clear, effective and responsive aids when riding.

Your capacity to maintain your own self-carriage and to give clear and precise aids helps you and your horse work together. When you can sit without unnecessary tension, you can feel your horse's movement clearly and encourage him to find his own self-carriage to develop strength and co-ordination for whatever work you do together.

Catherine Hamber is a Feldenkrais Practitioner® and Physiotherapist with a special interest in and experience with equestrian athletes and equine performance. She works with riders and horses from all disciplines and at all levels. Please contact us for more information.

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