By Hayley Howells
Background of horse and rider
This is Jane Dight, I met her when she came to one of my Clinics in Australia as an Auditor. After the first morning she asked if she could join us with her horse for the rest of the Clinic.
Jane has ridden all her life and owns a very beautiful 17hh bay gelding, she uses him for pleasure rides and hacking/ trail rides with her friends. He is a complete gentleman who is stoic and kind. Jane said he is known to be laid back and lazy so Jane wears long spurs and would like him to be more forward especially in schooling sessions. She is very much “a get on a ride” person who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
As you can see in the first photograph that Jane holds herself with a great deal of tension. This is how she goes about her life; it is not just her riding position and being told to sit up and shoulders back.
So, my plan for Jane is to soften her body, re-balance her and let her feel, compare, and contrast both positions so that she can come to her own conclusion of which is the more secure and balanced place to be. I have helped her find Neutral Position and over the next few days introduce this to her riding.
Picture below is Jane before balancing. As you can see, she is very tight through her whole body and holds herself with a lot of tension. Her legs are straight and locked into this position. Her lower back is arched, and the tightness goes all the way up to her shoulders. She holds a lot of tension between her shoulder blades.
My aim is to get her into Neutral so that he muscles can relax and I can give her a stronger safer position that the horse can mirror. This will help with his lack of desire to move forward.
After going through the whole balancing procedure Jane was adamant that she was slouching, and we had to show her the second photo. Even then she wasn’t convinced. However, Jane was amazed by how much stronger she was in Neutral Position. She no longer had to brace and engage muscles to keep her balance. She could now access her limbs without any blocking from tension.
Jane was having trouble getting her horse to go forward with energy because she was so tight in her body, and he was mirroring her tension and so there was no push from behind. She could feel very little movement through his back due to this. However, in her own words “he was less sticky when turning from left to right”.
To help her find a rotation I got her to put both reins in the left hand, she passed her right hand across the front of her body and reached for her left hip. Allowing the body and head to follow. To begin with she lost her hips out to the right and collapsed slightly to her left. As a result, the horse did not turn. So as a standing exercise while I held the horse, she repeated the exercise but with her left arm out so that her elbow was shoulder height and at 90 degrees with her hand up to the sky. This opened her left side and so when she rotated, she no longer collapsed. Once she was familiar with the feeling, she tried it at walk. This made all the difference and the horse easily turned for her. Jane felt like it allowed better results for her and much easier to execute although she did need to go away and process what was happening.
We did a lot of compare and contrast regarding her old position and her new Connected one, so that she could really feel how he shut down in her usual position and he was more forward and alive in her Connected one.
When we came back to the exercise later that day and I talked her through Rotations, the horse found it easier to move and wasn’t slowing down through the turns or getting ‘sticky’. She kept saying that it was a coincidence and nothing to do with Connection.
It wasn’t until I pointed out every time she had a coincidence, and when he was a more forward ride. Then she put 2 and 2 together and a flicker of a light bulb went on in her head.
Jane was one of the hardest clients I’ve ever had to teach. She has a very fixed frame and until she met me was very unaware of the tension she holds in her body, and it never occurred to her that she needs to change anything. It took until the following day when she felt a difference in her upper back that the penny was very slowly dropping. I don’t think that she was ready for the change that Connected Riding could offer her.
Because she didn’t have any prior knowledge of Connected riding and the fact she didn’t think there was anything wrong with her previous posture or riding it all took a while for her to process.
Jane gave nothing away and was very ready to dismiss the work. She didn’t sugar coat anything and very readily told you that it wasn’t working. I spent a lot of time with her and had to point out every time it was working so she could join the dots and pointed out when it wasn’t working and explain why.
The following day Jane did come back and say that she had an ache between the shoulder blades that she thought might have come from releasing her muscles the day before and maybe there is something in it because her back wasn’t so sore.
In the following lessons Jane found that her horse had a more forward walk. He didn’t slow down around the corners however she is not ready to remove her spurs just yet. I think she needs a bit more time for it to sink in.
2 days after the clinic Jane sent a message saying that she felt a shift in her posture and felt freer between the shoulders.
I personally love these before and after pictures. Although your eye gets drawn to the tight back and chest equally the change in Jane’s legs is dramatic too, so much softer in the second picture.
Jane has taught me a lot about patience, waiting and giving someone time to feel and find a difference. I learnt that it is ok if someone just doesn’t get it and they may need a night or two to sleep on it. Also, if you plant the seed, let them try for a short time and even if they haven’t got it go and do something different. When you come back to it things might be different. This could take the whole weekend, but that’s ok.