Posture, Position & the Pursuit of Excellence
*Following a recent inspiring visit to Austria I ran two unmounted classes, in the Kilmaronock Millennium Hall in Gartocharn.
Entitled 'Posture, Position & the Pursuit of Excellence', I worked in collaboration with Chartered Physiotherapist Ruth Torrance to explore the influence of the rider's posture and body awareness on balance and position in the saddle.
The first session, entitled The Best Way to Sit is to Stand, explored the most balanced way to sit on a horse, and investigated the effect of common faults and misconceptions. The second, Keep a Level Head, was led by Ruth Torrance. We looked at the influence of posture on the way we ride, and discussed ways of assessing and improving a rider's posture.
The classes were well supported and participants were given lots to think about!
Winter Discussion Groups
Each winter I run a series of informal discussion afternoons, each with a theme but otherwise free to wander at will! These are very popular, with a fascinating exchange of views and experiences
on each occasion.
One group looked at the physical and mental
consequences of the rider's fear, anxiety or anticipation;
at the simplest level we agreed that remembering to breathe makes a
huge difference! We also considered the way in
which instinctive survival mechanisms cloud conscious thought in stressful situations,
making it difficult to stay 'in the moment', and explored ways of overcoming this.
Everyone shared experiences and feelings very openly; one interesting point was to note the impact of our backgrounds and upbringing on our responses to stress; another was that, while we all might feel nervous or afraid, the reasons for the fear were very individual and various.
focussed on the anatomy of the horse and how it is affected by different training techniques; we related correct movement in the
horse to correct posture in the rider, and shared opinions about the good and less good aspects of various training philosophies.
A third discussion group afternoon led by Isobel Duncan M.Sc, looking at how training horses
relates to scientific Learning Theory,
provided much food for thought and challenged us to change our perspective when
it comes to describing our horses' behaviours.
Isobel encouraged the group to be aware of the effect on the horse of our posture, movements and
general demeanour, and to become critical of ourselves rather than of our horses. She pointed out how easy it is
to teach the horse to do something we don't want by rewarding the wrong behaviour, or by poor
timing of the reward, and suggested that, however obscure, there is always a reason for a horse
to behave the way it does - pain, fear, confusion, learned behaviour.
Isobel particularly emphasised the importance of moving away from the use of
confrontational terms such as 'naughty', 'stubborn','bolshie' and so on, towards a more dispassionate
appraisal of the unwanted behaviour, how it might have
arisen and how best to tackle it.
We discussed ways in which we might learn to 'read' the horse - in Pat Parelli's words
'to know what happens before what happens, happens',
becoming able to respond and change things rather than react and punish
after the event, when it's usually too late for the horse to learn anything useful. For this
to work knowing the principles of timing - in particular release of pressure- is crucial.
Finally we talked about the vital importance of correctly understanding the principles of learning
theory, especially the definitions of the different types of reward and punishment, about which there is a
great deal of emotive confusion among horsemen. We touched briefly
on clicker training, which uses the positive reinforcement of a food reward instead of the
negative reinforcement of a release of pressure, and discussed why, although it is popular with
some trainers, the use of clicker training is probably more suitable for predatory species such as dogs
and dolphins, and less appropriate for horses whose primary motivation is safety and not
This topic proved to be very popular, and 2 extra sessions were arranged to cope with the demand.
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