|What a pretty picture? After reading Article One on Posture and Article Two on Hands, it will be apparent where improvement can be made. [Lovely] Photo by Robert Mischka|
The exploration of body awareness provides the whip with a different dimension for improving the relationship with the driving horse. As we discovered in part one, the effects of tension and poor posture are translated directly down the reins to the horse. Improving posture not only alleviates discomfort for the whip and the horse, but redistributes muscle control where it is most effective- in maintaining proper alignment. Correcting posture is the first step to opening communication with the horse. The second step is refining the communication with the use of the hands.
[Missed Article One, find it here: http://hossbiz.blogspot.com/2009/09/definitions-of-carriage.html ]
The idea of ‘good hands’ is familiar to all equestrians. It means that the equestrian uses subtle shifts in pressure of the hands holding the reins to cue the horse of his or her intentions in direction and speed.
Still, our hands can be only as good as the arms, shoulders and trunk that support them. It is an integrated system. Take, for instance the movement of raising your arms to use the keyboard or mouse on your computer, something many of us do all day long. However, if this movement is poorly coordinated, tremendous strain is placed on the neck, shoulders and back, consequently interfering with the proper functioning of the hands.
Similarly, placing too much importance on the role of hands for driving, can and strain other areas of the body, and interfere with effective use of hands for communication with the horse. Consider the following exercise, based on the Feldenkrais Method of Awareness Through Movement, to aid in body awareness for driving and everyday activities.
Sit in a chair, with your back away from the backrest, both feet on the floor, hands in your lap. Raise your hands to assume the position you use for driving or working at the computer. Lower your hands. Think about how your hands feel. Are they light or heavy? Raise and lower your hands several times, taking notice of how the movement feels. Inhale deeply, raise your ribcage, as you learned in the posture exercise, as you raise your hands. Exhale and lower them. Repeat and note the feeling of raising the hands. As you raise your hands, draw your attention to your shoulders lift your hands using your shoulders and arms. How do your hands feel now? Lighter?
This exercise is one of the most illustrative uses of body awareness for whips that I have found. How many times have you even considered how you hold your hands? Or how your hands hold the reins? When I redirect my student’s attention from using just their hands and arms for transitions, they are awed at the transformation of their horses from being heavy on the bit or sluggish through a turn to the very epitome of lightness and willingness.
The most overused and often abused term in riding or driving must be the use of half halts. Using the hands only in cueing the horse for transitions can result in confusing the horse and becoming a counterproductive use of an aid. Consider employing a different set of signals for a downward transition involving body awareness. Instead of pulling on the reins or rein with the hands, signal the half halt with a release of breath while squeezing the shoulder blades together and releasing the tension when the horse has complied with the downward transition. If you use a verbal aid for the transition, add it during your exhalation.
Turning the Horse
The use of the hands for turning the horse is also often misinterpreted. Using one element of the integrated system leads to poor functioning of the total system. Consider turning the horse to the right using the right hand. The natural response of a tense body will be to rock forward or tip the pelvis and drop the right shoulder in front of the hip to accommodate the arm movement backwards. Hence your posture is compromised as is your stable position in the carriage. If you were a horse, you would be criticized for being heavy on the forehand!
Try the following exercise to encourage body awareness and integration for turning the horse and carriage. Sit on a chair, away from the backrest, both feet on the floor, hands in front of you, simulating driving. Turn to the right and then turn back to center. Think about how your body feels as you turn to the right and turn back to center. Is there any stiffness in the turn through your shoulders, neck, back or arms? Turn to the right and turn back to center. Inhale deeply as you turn to the right, exhale as you turn back to center. How did your breath affect the turn? Inhale and begin the turn with your eyes, exhale and turn back to center. Inhale, turn your eyes, head, neck and bring your left shoulder and left knee slightly forward, exhale and turn back to center. Notice how as your left shoulder comes forward, you right shoulder and hence your hand naturally move back.
Transfer this natural engagement of your own body to your driving and feel the ease and comfort it brings to your turns. When you are mindful that your whole body should be employed in the turn and the hands are not the only half halt tools to the horse, your performance as a team will solidify.
You ask your horse for collection, flexion and impulsion at the same time, why shouldn’t you return the favor?
One Step Further
When you notice a particularly good transition or turn, take inventory of how you were able to accomplish the maneuver. What did you do differently? How did you use your hands? How did you engage your torso? Was your posture more balanced, weight distributed more evenly? Once you begin to identify the correct use of your body, the processes you involve in driving will become as natural and involuntary as breathing.
Learning to drive with minimal effort and maximum freedom of movement by maximizing body awareness will transform not only how you drive, but will add to your enjoyment of it and many of your day to day activities. It makes sense; a more responsive whip will turn out a more responsive horse. A more responsive horse greatly improves the satisfaction of driving. Beware, Moshe Feldenkrais told us, it just might alter your life forever…for the better.
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