Top to Toe Awareness for the Rider - With Exercises

October 3, 2011
Jenny Rolfe
The Basic Position
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The following postural techniques will help to show you how breathing will support the essence of good posture and have a profound influence on your whole body.

Let us 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. As I study the power of breathing, I realize that my personal journey has taken me on a similar path to the teaching of martial artists and Eastern philosophers.

Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and, if possible, play some soothing, relaxing music whilst you go through these techniques: Stand quietly and cultivate the feeling of breathing, into the space around you. Now take a slow deep outward sigh and begin your focus on steady breathing, beginning within your core. Expand your abdomen with your inhalation, breathing 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. Empty slowly the glass of water! 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 – feeling “truly grounded.” Relax down through your legs, into released knees and ankles as if you are skiing down a bumpy slope and absorbing the irregular lumps of snow.

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, keeping 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.

Keep a relaxed feel 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.

EXERCISES TO RELEASE TENSION IN THE ARMS

If you can feel any tension in your shoulders just swing your arms around, away from your body. Swing with floppy arms from left to right, with energetic movements. Swing your arms to connect with your lower back. Allow your arms to feel like wet rags and thump gently onto your lower back as you turn. After a minute or so, slow the energy and come back to standing still.

Bring your arms around to the front of you. Reach out as far as you can in front of your chest and imagine you are hugging a tree. Stretch your arms out as far as you can in a circle. Your arms will be held in front of you, stretching through the outside of the arm.

Allow a few moments to enjoy the stretch then bring your arms and hands down slowly by your sides. Enjoy the release from your shoulders and the looseness and freedom within your arms.

If you can learn to become more focused on your personal “top to toe” and breathing awareness you will be in a peaceful place where your horse can relax and feel within his comfort zone. This would be similar to life in the herd when there is no predator to disturb him and no cause for concern. The herd would be together grazing, ambling or resting, feeling secure within 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.

When you open the door of the stable, take to the horse the calm focus you feel when you practice this “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.

TOP TO TOE QUICK TIPS FOR THE RIDER

Sigh deeply to relax whole body
Begin breathing from the core
Expand and lengthen upper body
Tune into core mobility
Relax arms and hands
Allow weight into knees
“Carpet slipper” feet
INITIAL aid is from your core.
Listen to your horse
Free your mind to enjoy each moment

HOMEWORK

Spend some time each day with a focus on your core breathing and self awareness. Clench you jaw and release, clench your fist and release. Grow in awareness of where you hold onto tension. Take these lessons into your riding. Learn to breathe with your horse.

My next article will start to look at how to use our breathing when riding transitions.

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, and is available through her website and at RideMagazine.com DVD Store. For further information please visit her web site www.spanishdressagehorses.com.