Part 3: Top-to-Toe Awareness for the Rider
by Jenny Rolfe
The horse will mirror your mood and body language so it is essential for the rider to become self aware to communicate with the horse. The following postural techniques will show you how breathing will support the essence of good posture and have a profound influence on your whole body.
Begin with a “basic position” which will enhance stability, balance and poise. These techniques are similar to the ancient wisdoms of the east, such as Chi Gong and Tai Chi. First, find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and if possible play some soothing, relaxing music. Stand quietly and cultivate the feeling of breathing into the space around you. Take a slow deep outward sigh and become aware of steady breathing, beginning within your core. Expand your abdomen with your inhalation, breathe into your body- as if filling up a glass with water – from the core upwards. Exhale deeply down through your upper body and spine, releasing through your core slowly. Empty the body of air from top to bottom.
Your feet should be parallel, about shoulder width apart and facing towards the front (neither turned in or out) Focus on your feet and push your weight down, first into your toes and then into your heels, resting finally with your feet equally weighted on the ground. Have a feeling of connecting through your legs and feet, into the core of the earth – truly “grounded.” Relax down through your legs, into released knees and ankles as if you are skiing down a bumpy slope. Grow taller and expand your posture allowing your head to come slightly forward and upwards. Do not tighten the back of the neck but allow it to lengthen, keep your jaw relaxed.
Cultivate the feeling that your head is balanced in lightness, floating above the shoulders, as a balloon above your body. This lengthening of the neck helps to release the shoulders and arms.
Soften the muscles around your eyes. Focus and stare straight ahead at a single object and then immediately relax into 180 degree softer vision, taking in the whole vista.
Relax the facial muscles and release the jaw. If you push your tongue into the roof of your mouth, just for a few moments, this will help you to soften your jaw. Allow the back of your neck to lengthen gently. Relax your jaw and push back gently into the back of your lengthened neck. Then release into a comfortable position. This movement will help to re-align the whole of your spine. Feel relaxed in your sternum whilst breathing. Expand the chest, not by tightening the sternum and hollowing your back, but by expanding through the ribcage and breathing wide and full, into your spine and between your shoulder blades. Take a deep outward sigh and allow the breath to ripple through your torso down into your core and through your legs and feet.
You should start to feel more relaxed and grounded. Focus on your body awareness from your head down through to your toes. If you can learn to become more focused on your personal “top-to-toe” and breathing awareness, you will be in a peaceful place. This is also a comfortable place for your horse, similar to life in the herd, when there is no predator to disturb him and no cause for concern. The herd would be grazing, ambling or resting, feeling secure with their natural family. All horses are totally aware of each other and their body language, as they will always be aware of our body language and state of mind. This is worth remembering! When you open the door of the stable, take to the horse the calm focus you feel when you practice the basic position described above. From the first moment you are with your horse, give him this place of composure and tranquility and very soon he will become “the mirror of your mind.” This will reflect within your riding and become a sound path on which to build friendship and harmony- the essence of horsemanship.
HOMEWORK– Spend some time each day with a focus on your core breathing. Clench you jaw and release, clench your fist and release. Grow in awareness of where you hold on to tension. Take these lessons into your riding. Learn to breathe with your horse.
Published March 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.