The Importance of Self Awareness
by Jenny Rolfe
Athletes can increase performance, mentally and physically, by using steady, deep and rhythmic core-breathing. When you can understand how to master your own body you will be much more effective as a rider. The rider has to focus, not only on personal balance and energy, but also upon another sensitive, highly energetic living creature—the horse. When we spend time on the ground just building up self awareness it will reap many rewards in the saddle. We can create perfect harmony between ourselves and our horse when we learn how posture and core breathing enhances co-ordination and balance.
It is a useful exercise to practice walking, with focus, on a natural rhythm of core breathing. Use the deeper inward breath to steady, lengthen and strengthen your body. The deeper outward breath will enhance fluidity and motion and increase your energy flow. Begin to develop a feel for how your breathing can influence and affect your movement. Then just stand quietly and sigh very deeply. Release all your tension down through your body and out. You are offering the horse a place of tranquility and harmony; a place where he can connect and a bond of trust can grow.
Try placing your hands on your hip bones and feel the motion while you are walking. Synchronize your breathing within a steady rhythm. Try walking around on a circle and then walk laterally and feel the mobility of your core in each direction. Notice how your breathing can enhance your core mobility and observe when you feel more restricted in your core. Allow your weight to sink down through your relaxed knees and ankles. This will feel similar to skiing.
Exercises to Gain Self Awareness
Standing in good posture, begin to lean forward as if touching your toes. Stretch forwards and relax into your spine, then slowly return to a normal upright position. Prepare to repeat this exercise but before you begin, inhale deeply into your chest and upper body. As you breathe try again to flex your spine forwards. You will find that the movement is restricted by your inhalation which tightens the spine and restricts mobility. The inward breath has given stability to your upper body which impedes flexibility.
Your body can lock tension in any of the joints. For instance, try clenching your fist. This tension travels up the whole arm creating tightness through your arm and shoulder blades and spine. Stand in a good posture and push your heel down and your toe upwards. Place your hand on your inner thigh and feel the tightness through your leg as you push your weight down into your heel. Place your hands on your hips and try to mobilize your core and you will find the tightness through your leg restricts the movement of your core. If you sit on the horse with tightness through your legs, this will restrict your seat making it is impossible to flow with the movement of the horse.
Movement of the Horse
The horse has a swinging movement which also rotates backward and forwards with each stride. The rib cage naturally swings from side to side. The rider has to absorb this movement to gain security in the saddle, or he will just bounce heavily and become unstable.
There is a small exercise which will help us to understand how we absorb our own movement on foot that can translate to absorbing the horse’s movement. Walk slowly along level ground and then place your foot up onto a step or staircase. As you prepare to lift your body up the step, feel the elevation needed through the upper body for the uphill movement. Your upper body has to elevate to create space so your leg and foot can move up to the next step. If you do not allow this elevation through your core and upper torso, you will block the upward step. When riding you need to absorb both forward and ‘uphill’ movement.
It is helpful to spend a few minutes riding with the reins in one hand only. Allow your body to flow with the motion. Feel the advancing of your seat and the connection through your core. When we sit on the back of the horse we are looking for a connection between two living beings striving to move together, as one, in balance and harmony.
Published February 2013 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.