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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Conditioning and Training the Whip: Body Awareness and Driving Part Two: Hands

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.

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.

Half Halts
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.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sleigh Bells Ring: Columbus Sleigh Rally

A Beautiful Sight: Martha Stover of Here Be Dragons Welsh Ponies of Incomparable Wonderfulness, Mattawan, MI gives us a preview of what's in store for the Columbus Sleigh Rally
Columbus, Wisconsin will host a Sleigh Rally on February 11, 2012 beginning at noon with a Currier & Ives class, cones course and cross country course.  Fireman's Park is the locale which also hosts Columbus Horse & Carriage Festival over Father's Day weekend.

What is deliciously exciting to me is that the cross country course will run both at the park and on the Golf Course.  I have always wanted golf courses to be multi-use, it is such a shame to waste all that open grass and landscaping on just golfers.  Golf carts are mulit-use: carriage drivers use them, too, why not the fairways as well?  My hat is off [I am full of puns this morning] to the organizing committee for introducing this excellent dual purpose idea to the golfing fraternity.

Columbus always puts on a good show for exhibitors and the Sleigh Rally should prove no exception.  It is an ADS sanctioned event with the colorful Mary Ruth Marks officiating.  Entry fees are $45 for ADS members, $65 for non members.  There will be plenty of cold weather warming comfort food: chili, pies, hot cocoa available through the Columbus Equestrian Club.  Need to know more?  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Columbus-Wisconsin-Sleigh-Rally-Weekend/227415907585?sk=info

Other activities include a Model Horse Show, live music, photo ops for kiddies in a mini sleigh with a Very Small Equine, bob sled rides for the public, cookie decorating contest, and more.  The event is sponsored in part by the Wisconsin Horse Council Equine Foundation, whose HQ is in Columbus and some of the proceeds will go to the Wisconsin Equine Hay Bank Program which assists private individuals facing financial difficulties to feed their horses.  Need to know more? http://www.wshcef.org/

Columbus is a rocking little town and everyone should visit it.  It is full of wonderful people trying to keep Small Town USA viable.  Notable Columbutonians [yep, I made that up] Todd and Cheryl Fry have made a big impression on Main Street, not only with their business Frey Carriage Co, but also with groovy renovations of a number of properties.

Visit Hydro Street Brewing company, located in Frey Carriage's former showroom, for a Bitter Woman with some Loaded Pots.  Seriously, where else can you get that?  Need to know more?  http://hydrostreetbrew.com/our-menu/

No sleigh, you say?  No problem.  Todd Frey can fix you right up in style.  Frey Carriage Co currently has, among others, a  Kimball Bros [Boston] Portland Cutter, Two Park Bob Sleighs one by Kimball Bros [Boston], the other by Edward McGraw [NY],  an a-dor-a-ble Hooded Cutter, and a Frey Portland Cutter for sale.  Need to know more?  http://www.colonialcarriage.com/category.cfm?id=4&start=1

Kimball Bros [Boston] Portland Cutter:  buy this!
[Whatever you do, though, Do Not buy the Albany Cutter.  That is all I'm saying: Don't do it.]
Albany Cutter:
Do Not Buy
No snow?  Still no problem: just bring the carriage instead.  Carriage all packed away for the winter?  You guessed it: no problem there either!  Stop in at Frey Carriage Co and get yourself a new one: order a Frey Sprint Cart for a spring delivery.  The Frey Carriage Co's Dos A Dos will look lovely put to your horse, you know it will.  Or how about a new old one: nothing says Arriving In Style like a Skeleton Boot Victoria.  No coachman?  Removable seat turns this beauty into a George IV.  [That C P Kimball  & Co Tandem Gig?  Forget it.  Walk away.  Or I will never speak to you again.  OK?]  Need to know more?  http://www.colonialcarriage.com/category.cfm?id=3&title=Antique%20Carriages
JB Brewster Skeleton Boot Victoria: with bloodlines like that, you  barely need a horse.  Buy This!
What did I tell you? Walk away. Do not buy.  Nuff said.
Go to Columbus, WI on February 11, drive your horse on the GOLF COURSE, have a Bitter Woman and Loaded Pots at Hydro Street and buy a vehicle from Freys.  [Just not the Albany Cutter or the Tandem gig, or you'll have to deal with a Bitter Blogger.]  I will be here in spirit, [just to make sure] with bells on, wishing you a marvelous rally hosted by even more marvelous folk, in an equally marvelous town.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Page in Brewster & Co History

The old Brewster warehouse on Broome Street in New York City has been bought by real estate developers who have transitioned the building into luxury residences.  The history of the building is a large part of the marketing plan and many clever references have been included.

The website says:

"When Cole Porter sang about a ‘Brewster body’ he meant the beautiful carriages – the best in the country – built at the old Brewster Carriage House at 374 Broome St. 

An antique landmark, the Brewster Carriage House bore witness to the birth of Little Italy and stands at the intersection of three of New York’s oldest and most dynamic neighborhoods. 

Now, the painstaking restoration of this historical landmark honors its long lineage as a home of fine American craftsmanship. In the preservation of many beautiful original details, we endeavor to pay homage to those great craftsmen and to 160 years of New York heritage. 
Beautifully-constructed elements of luxurious modern living elegantly complement the building’s original historic features. Superior amenities, low maintenance charges and superlative eco-friendly attributes make this a unique opportunity to live luxuriously inside a genuine piece of American history."

The website is a little challenging to navigate, but we ARE carriage drivers, it is quite interesting as a piece of nostalgia for carriage driving enthusiasts:


There is also a facebook page with excellent historical photos of top hatted Brewster employees posing with a park drag, an interior shot of a brougham, and some lovely illustrations of carriages and the workshops at Broome Street:


or search for Brewster Carriage House.

It is nice to see the historical value of this property appreciated by developers.

Kind Regards,
Michelle Blackler
Serendipity is an Accidental Sagacity Corporation company.