by Peggy Cummings
In lessons, most riders are taught to sit up and sit still on a moving horse. Riders are encouraged to push, squeeze, and drive with their bodies, as they seek the elusive mysteries of riding, which only true riding masters achieve. However, many times these methods lead to inconsistent performance, bridle lameness, and injuries and discomfort in both horse and rider due to the effects of bracing and compression.
Every rider wants to be effective in communicating with their horse and have a better relationship with them. By learning how to be a ‘master of movement’ with their own body, each rider can support their horse in finding ease of movement, for better performance and longevity.
In Connected Riding, riders learn how to synchronise with the movement of their horses by addressing two fundamental questions: “How do their riding habits affect their horse’s movement?” and; “What is key to connecting to their horse’s movement?”
It is optimal for horses to move from their hindquarters when under saddle; the impulsion generated from the hindquarters should be allowed to travel forward through a swinging back, to the shoulders, neck, poll, and mouth, where the energy is received through the reins. This dynamic cycle is called ‘throughness’. To create this ‘throughness’ of energy the horse’s body is shifting weight from back to front, side to side, and up and down.
What happens to the horse’s movement when the weight of a rider’s body is added? Most riders ‘work hard’ by contradicting the laws of physics and unconsciously undermining the principles of motion by learning to brace against the horse’s movement in order to find their balance. These riding habits actually inhibit the very things riders seek – connection, lightness, ease, and moving with the horse.
Mammalian bodies are assembled with bones, held together by joints, and supported by ligaments and muscles. Bodies in alignment move with a minimum of effort but when muscles are braced with tension the joints are stiff, and the bones cannot move with ease so the muscles work harder to create movement.
If, for example, the knees of the rider are squeezed on the sides of the saddle, this blocks free movement of the knee joints and inhibits movement in all of the corresponding joints – hips, ankles, and other joints throughout the body. Such ‘blockage’ caused by bracing or compression in the rider’s body is immediately and consequently transferred to the horse’s movement. The horse receives restriction in the rider’s body as dead weight, which puts an additional load on its back and joints. “As above, so below” is the principle of comparable parts; what happens in the rider’s body has a corresponding impact on the horse’s body. This principle is the keystone of Connected Riding.
As riders learn to continually unlock and sustain the freedom of movement in their own bodies, they consequently free up and maintain the flow of movement in their horses’ bodies. The correct placement of the rider’s seat-bones in the saddle is the foundation to achieve the cycle of freedom in movement. Years of research and experimentation as a rider and instructor have confirmed the Connected Riding principle that a Neutral Pelvis position - one in which the hips are free to move independently and core muscles automatically rebalance the rider’s upper body in movement, takes the work out of balance in motion. Neutral pelvis is the only posture where the rider’s extremities do not have to ‘hold on’ to find balance. Once a rider’s body is able to buoy and rebalance freely each stride, the horse is carrying the rider as live weight, allowing it to engage its hindquarters and lift its back without restriction.
If, however, riders are either arched or slumped in their riding posture, they are dead weight on the horse, and unable to balance in motion. An arched or slumped riding posture compresses movement in the rider’s spine, and locks the joints of the pelvis. This creates a downward cycle of resistance, compression, and restricted movement in both horse and rider, where mechanical and compressive aids are used to handle evasions and ‘fix’ the issues. Horse and rider become stiffer, and ease and enjoyment are lost.
Connected Riding enables the horse to move and simply follows the laws of Newton: “In the absence of external forces, all bodies continue in their state of repose or movement, rectilinear (straight alignment) and uniform, unless a force acts upon it and forces it to change such a state. For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as long as it keeps in balance.”
If the force the rider undertakes with their own body goes against the movement of the horse, this will block the horse’s movement. The rider’s objective is to learn to ride with freedom or looseness in the bones and joints, in order to be in constant movement. Riding then becomes effortless, and horse and rider appear to become one. A dynamic, free-moving posture is the key to the mystery in balanced, energetic riding. It is the difference between learning a rote method with mechanical cues, and riding in harmony with the biomechanics of the horse. This promotes safety, welfare and longevity for both horse and rider.
Every rider develops unconscious ways of using themselves that block free movement in the horse. By becoming conscious of how their movement affects the horse, and learning to apply the principles of Connected Riding, they become the change that makes the difference!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A lifelong horsewoman, now living in the US, initially trained with riding masters from Europe, however suffered from back and joint pain by the age of 35. Searching for a way to ride with the same freedom and ease as she had in her childhood, she worked with ‘pilgrims’ of body movement, Sally Swift and Linda Tellington-Jones, and studied the Alexander and Feldenkrais methods, as well as martial arts to discover how to move in synchrony with the horse.