Horseless riding is all about balance and confidence. Without balance and confidence the other key ingredients of riding, feel and timing mean little to your horse.
Horseless riding is based on what I learned when I spent time working with blind sportsmen. Blind people are trained to move through the use of focus. With the right focus, your body is placed into the proper position to be able to correctly maintain your balance and allow your body to move in the direction that you have chosen.
Pat Parelli, famous for his 7 Games, uses an approach very similar to this in his video on freestyle riding, and his program encompasses, in the saddle, much of what we do with horseless riding. I recommend taking a look at Pat's program on www.parelli.com and to join the online study group with over 1,000 members at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/parellinaturally to find out more about how he uses the power of focus when riding.
Now while this basic approach can be learnt while riding, what if the rider is lacking confidence once in the saddle? What if the rider would like to better prepare for riding before getting in the saddle? Hence it dawned on me that many people could learn the correct position and value of focus while still on the ground, or even at work, and begin to build their balance and confidence before they get on the horse.
What we are looking for is an improved seat, a more relaxed rider, and a rider more able to listen to, feel for, and communicate with the horse. Have you ever noticed how the new or nervous riders will look at their horse's ears and worry about what he or she is going to do, and look at the ground to make sure there are no nasty things to fall on?
How is it done?
Horseless riding is done without a horse, as the name implies, on the ground or when sitting on a normal swivel type business chair. Chair exercises will help to simulate the natural body posture, to some extent, that you would achieve when sitting on your horse.
·Sit in your chair with your legs relaxed and just your toes on the floor. Hold your hands at your bellybutton like you have reins. Your thumbs should be gently resting on your lightly clenched fist and pointing forward.
·Now relax your whole body but don't droop, just sit up. Close your eyes softly. This will allow you to build feel without getting distracted by visual impulses.
·Throughout all of these exercises continue to maintain your breathing at an easy and steady pace.
·When riding it is important to look at or focus in the direction you are going, but not to stare. If you are concentrating on where you are going too much, you are not able to give enough of your attention to listening to what your horse is telling you through your seat. Staring may also communicate to your horse that you are worried or very unsure of what it is you are staring at. Heavy concentration will also tend to cause your body to become tense and give unwanted signals to your horse as well as make it almost impossible to stay balanced.
·With all of these exercises your bellybutton is your center of energy and balance. Your eyes are what provide the focus and direction and will guide your energy. The concept is that you look to where you are going and your bellybutton will provide the driving force to help you get there or to help you stay where you are with control and balance.
·Now you have all seen people tap the desk with their fingers with rhythm, 1234, 1234, little finger first. You probably also found it quite annoying, but this is how you should get the rhythm going with the movements. Work on getting your cues soft, but try them heavy and light so that you can feel the difference that lightness provides.
·When I say look up, I mean look up to the horizon like you are watching a football game. You are concentrating on following the ball but not staring at it.
1.Give life to your body - switch on the ignition but don't go anywhere yet.
Start by sitting in the chair nicely, and take the action that you would to stand, but don't stand. Look up and out and have your belly button follow, lift your hands connected to those imaginary reins up and out just a little, to about the mid-point of your thigh. You have put your chair and body in gear and given it life and the ability to now move freely.
2.Forward turn - this will make it easier for your horse to move its front feet through a turn.
Look up and out to the left, have your belly button follow your focus, turn your left wrist out (finger nails down) and let the chair swivel. Do the same to the right. You should do this with and without the given life to your body simply to feel the importance of having life in your body but not tension.
Many of you will have heard how it is the release that teaches when working with horses. The release of 'pressure' is the 'Yes, thank you' to the horse when he has done what you requested. Timing of the release is important. With horseless riding you will see how to use the release to increase the flow through the turn. The release in this case is nothing more than returning to the original position of where you gave life to your body, but with your focus now in the new direction that you intend to move - looking and facing in that direction.
Now repeat the turn - do the eyes, bellybutton, wrist, and release, and then do it again without the release.
If you give the release before the chair stops swiveling/turning, it will actually turn easier and move farther. Think about how this will change what you are telling your horse.
3.Backward turn - this will make it easier for your horse to move its hind feet through a turn.
Look down and left behind your chair, have your belly button follow your focus, and turn your left hand in and up to your chest (finger nails up).
Now do the forward and backward turns to the right.
Now combine these 3 exercises into one smooth motion: Give life to your body, make a backward turn and then allow that energy to flow smoothly into a forward turn. Do this in both directions.
Try the turning exercises without first giving life to your body. In other words sit down and then try and turn by using only your eyes and bellybutton. Feel the difference?
Start with life in your body as in step 1, then sit down in the chair. This is a leg and hip motion only, so don't let your body droop. Look or by now focus inward at your belly button, but do not drop your head and shoulders; allow your hands to come back to your center of energy - your belly button - to shut down your engine. Feel everything begin to shut down as you continue to breathe and relax. Imagine yourself to be like a life buoy sitting on a calm sea and simply allow your natural balance to center you.
·Remember to release the rein cue on each movement as soon as your chair (and one day your horse) decides to move in response to your cue. Don't wait for it to move, release when the chair decides to move. The chair will still move, but the chair will know that it has done the right thing by moving because of your release and move easier without you getting in the way of the chair.
·Gee, I know someone who says this about
horses. Mark Rashid (www.markrashid.com) is very good at helping
people to get out of the horse's way and allow the horse to do what
they have asked him to do.
The following exercises on the ground will help build the muscle memory and confidence that you and your horse are going to love once you get back in the saddle.
Here you actually get to move your feet and get to put some of your new-found focus, feel, and timing to the test and see just how much more balance you have developed.
It is best to do this with a group, in pairs, outdoors in an open area, taking turns individually, with eyes closed. Have one partner give the cues of walk, halt, forward, up, left etc. to the other. The other members of the group will also be able to see how much you have improved your balance and confidence for themselves and give them the knowledge that this will really work for them too. See what difference it makes to your direction by looking at tree level on the horizon, rather than at your horse's (imaginary) ears. You will notice, or at least the other people will notice, you wander when looking at the horse's ears.
If you feel at anytime that you are going to fall, and some people will, just give yourself the halt cue. The halt is that little bend of the knee that you do just before you go to sit in a chair.
Pick out your destination then close your eyes in a nice relaxed way just as you would when going to sleep. There is no need for a blindfold, as this will just tend to get in the way of your focus and in many cases heighten all that unwanted nervous energy. We are looking for the controlled release of guided energy, not the white noise of nervous energy.
Prove to yourself that you can walk and then jog a straight line, with your eyes closed, by simply focusing up toward the trees on the horizon just like you are looking over the heads of people at the football game.
Now try and do the same thing looking at the ground like you would if you were looking at your horse's ears. Don't forget the halt cue because you may stumble or fall trying to walk or jog whilst looking at the ground with your eyes closed. Just imagine what message this might be giving to your horse whilst riding. You will also not get a straight line, just like you will not get a straight line on your horse because you have not given your horse any direction to go.
Take some time now to think how your horse might benefit from knowing where he should be going. How would you feel if asked to move but not know where you are going? How are you going to find your way home if you have no idea where you are heading? (What will you find when you get there? Are you going to a safe place?)
Now see what happens when you walk (eyes still closed) and then focus up to the left. Allow your belly button to follow your focus. The other members of your group should be paying attention to the amount of turn and natural flow of your body. Are you moving more forward or drifting sideways?
Try looking down to the right. This is such an easy thing to do and you will see that the direction and feel of the movement will change as your focus changes. Feel how this change will begin to communicate something very special to your horse.
Add a higher degree of difficulty by setting up some obstacles or jumps and have someone direct you through or over a course (eyes closed). If the person you are guiding is focusing at an obstacle or jump they will hit it. Have them focus up and over the jumps to go over. Have them focus around the obstacle to go around. Imagine again how this focus will be translated to your horse. If you focus at a jump you are asking your horse to go to the jump, not over the jump.
When with your horse, your job is always to communicate to your horse the speed, direction and even the destination, should that be the case at times, that you wish him to go. When it comes to opening gates, focus at the gate. When you get to the gate use your stop cue and reward your horse for finding the destination. Riding, in time, will become more of a game. You will pick out the destination, reward your horse for finding the correct path to take, and then finally reward him for getting you both to that destination.
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