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The Importance of Self Awareness

September 17, 2011
Jenny Rolfe
Jenny with Delfin "The horse will become the mirror of your mind"
Click an Image to Enlarge

My last article looked at the importance of core breathing to enhance a profound connection with the horse. Here we will look further at building self awareness so that you can learn a deeper way to communicate with all horses, whatever their breed or type.

When we spend time on the ground building up self awareness it will reap many rewards once we are in the saddle. In this way we learn to understand the influence of both posture and core breathing to enhance our coordination, balance and focus. We can create perfect “harmony” between ourselves and our horse.

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 strength 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 into the ground. This will not only create calmness for you, but when you are with your horse, he will sense your inner peace. He will often sigh deeply himself releasing any tension. You are offering him a place of tranquility and harmony. A place where he can connect with you and a bond of trust can grow.

Now place your hands on your hip bones and feel the motion whilst 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.

It is interesting to watch a person jogging using regular, deep breathing. This way of breathing enables him to maintain a steady rhythm and energy, enhancing coordination with every stride. Every athlete can increase performance, both mentally and physically, by using steady, deep and rhythmic core-breathing. Unlike the athlete, a rider has to focus not only on personal balance and energy but also upon another sensitive, highly energetic living creature - the horse!
When you can understand how to master and control your own body you will become much more effective as a rider.

BODY POSTURE

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. Then, prepare to repeat the same exercise but before you begin, take a deep inhalation, into your chest and upper body. As you breathe deeply inwards, try again to flex your spine forwards, reaching towards your toes. You will find that the movement is restricted by your inhalation which tightens the spine and restricts your mobility. The inward breath has given stability to your upper body which impedes flexibility.
This small, yet significant exercise will help you to feel the importance of breathing awareness and how this can influence your body when riding.
Your body can lock tension in any of the joints, for instance, just try clenching your fist. This tension travels up the whole arm creating tightness through your arm and shoulder blades and spine.

Now 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. Now 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 fix your seat and you will find it impossible to flow with the movement of the horse.

Where ever we carry tightness and tension, we will create a block of resistance within our body. This will prevent the flow of energy required, to enable us to perform and move with fluidity. If we cannot allow this release of energy and power then we will not be capable of absorbing the energetic 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 will naturally swing from side to side. The rider has to absorb all this movement to gain security in the saddle or he will just bounce heavily, becoming totally unstable within the movement.
There is a small exercise which will help us to understand how we absorb our own movement whilst on foot.

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 think not only of forward riding but absorbing this ‘uphill’ movement.

Also think of relaxing through your shoulder blades so your spine can remain fluid to move more freely with the movement of the horse. When your shoulders become rigid, the restriction extends down through the spine and arms so it is impossible for energy to flow through the spine and upper body. Relaxed lowered shoulders sustained by deeper core breathing will allow both expansion and release through the upper torso of the rider.

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. Strong fixed arms and hands will only restrict the freedom of your body and riding with one hand only, for a few minutes will help you to focus on lightness in your arms and energy flow through your body.

When we sit on the back of the horse we are looking not only for a connection of minds but also a connection between two living beings striving to move together in balance and harmony.

Core breathing is a very potent tool which will help us to focus with clarity and be “within the moment.” In this way our mind will slow down and we can find more simplicity in our thoughts as we are just in that “moment of time.”

Homework: Take a few moments each day, on your own to focus on body and breathing awareness. Then when you are with your horse, focus on core breathing and calmness. Watch his responses - does he become your mirror?

My next article will give tips from ‘Top-to-Toe’ for natural body posture for the rider.

Jenny gives clinics with her Iberian stallions. Her book and DVD “Ride From the Heart” are available from her web site www.spanishdressagehorses.com.

Jenny Rolfe is a Classical trainer who has developed unique communication skills of self awareness, breathing and body language to connect with the horse. She gives clinics with her four Iberian stallions to demonstrate these methods. Every rider is looking for harmony and Jenny can help riders at all levels aspire to a deeper connection – in their own self awareness and with their horse. Many of Jenny’s clients are trainers – several have BHSI qualifications seeking a natural approach to training. Several have Pirelli qualifications but seek further education. Jenny seeks to connect the relationship from the ground with her knowledge of Classical horsemanship. Jenny has written an inspirational and highly acclaimed book entitled “Ride From the Heart” published by J A Allen. The book follows a progressive path of horsemanship using techniques of breathing and body language to communicate with the horse. Jenny has explored the Classical principles through her training with chief instructors of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon. She also writes internationally and within the UK for “British Dressage” and “Classical Riding Club.” The first DVD in a series now has been produced, based upon the teaching within her book. For further information please visit her web site www.spanishdressagehorses.com.