Monday, December 15, 2008

Rediscovered the gift of a life encompassing horses

Recently, I had an opportunity to get to know myself through working with a group of people who are also discovering themselves. There was an opportunity to talk and reflect upon my experience and belief system around consciousness in animals. I have always worked with horses from a standpoint of helping them to develop their maximum conscious capabilities, so they are part of the partnership instead of a vehicle for my egoic expression. The joy of the work is having a communication that asks, allows, and builds an interest/willingness in participating. People don't always recognize that animals have this capacity and that it can be encouraged. Part of the beauty is the honesty in which the animals respond. I was reminded of this "organic" part of the soul--mine and theirs. In doing so, I rediscovered one of the gifts of my life encompassing horses (goats and cats...)

Thursday, November 27, 2008


As I observe partners in motion, I am constantly amazed by how important the allowing is after the asking. When an aid is well executed, it becomes a momentary "intrusion" in the underlying flow of activity. The goal is how to ask with minimal interference. The incentive or reward for the follower is to be allowed to execute the request with minimal interference.

Shearing Patterns

At this point in my life, I have the remarkable good fortune of a healthy body that allows me to feel and experience riding/dancing with very little interference. When physical items show up, they always present an opportunity for me to learn more about the form. For a period of time, every now and then I would feel a twinge in the middle of my spine. Over the years of getting bucked off, jerked on while leading, knocked over, etc., I didn't feel it was unreasonable to be experiencing some changes in my spine. The question was what modality to use to investigate the issue--I chose cranial sacral work. Why? It appeared logical to first look at the wave action in my spinal chord system to identify if I had any energy blocks or misalignments. If all was well then I could progress onto looking at something bigger such as the bone system. It turned out there was a tweak in the flow of that particular area in my spine--a slight misalignment. When the area was invited to realign, I felt like a four lane highway was reopened in my body's vertical axis. Of course, there were a few other trouble areas on the left and right side of my body that I had developed as asymmetrical use patterns. It was interesting to trace their histories from past injuries and how the body protected, compensated, and proceeded to hold onto the pattern even after the body had healed. The body's ability to protect is fantastic, but it also needs to be dismantled as it has served its purpose.
I have always mistakenly thought of the body in two planes--left and right. With this experience, I need to add in thinking of the body as having a top and bottom plane as well. Core stabilization protects and unites these planes. Years of horses spooking, jumping forward etc. created whiplash-like moments in my vertical spine. By engaging my core, it minimizes the shearing action from top to bottom. Similar to lifting a box off the ground properly. When a rider asks a horse to move off properly, there is a momentary engagement by the rider's core to ask and follow--this action actually protects the body from shearing while following the forward thrusting action of the horse.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Breathing--How to breath and move

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the action of correct breathing is a fundamental piece in many systems of body awareness and successful execution of body actions. Correct breathing generates core engagement, throughness, and self carriage. These byproducts of breath create a dynamic and fundamental inner support system like air in a tire. The exchange of air allows the body to engage and relax every cycle. To execute an action with quality, it requires a continuous cycle of contraction and relaxation so the movement is fluid, well timed, and minimizes fatigue in the muscle.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Future for Humane Dressage

As I move about in the dressage community, I wonder how many people are interested in dressage and how many people are interested in humane dressage. What is the difference? Dressage for the ego/dominance/display or dressage for the partnership/well being of the horse's mind and body/soulful. Most of us are drawn to the horse as a magical being and hopefully with respect and right intention for this being. The horse graciously adapts to people's version of "good care" which does not always include turnout, ability to graze, socialization, and fresh air. Do humans graciously try to be patient and adaptive to the horse's limited lifestyle: warming up the body before getting on the horse, removing mental tension and lack of appropriate focus, giving the horse time to adjust from being without a rider to carrying one? When horses are judged for various " inappropriate actions"--unwilling to go forward, unwilling to round up and soften to the contact, unwilling to turn not to mention bend, etc.--do we take the time to examine and understand the why? What type of horse would truly be willing and happy to go around a rectangular area (with or without good footing) on a daily basis? Could I enthusiastically run on a treadmill if I didn't also do other activities on a regular basis? How often do we see horses who are bright eyed, willing, and eager in the sport of dressage?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Mindset Behind Inviting the Partner to Move

My role as the horse in dancing has provided a lot of opportunities for pondering the ethics of training systems in dressage. Why is a horse "happy" in the work? How do you create a "happy" horse? During the past three years (out of the twelve total) of dancing, I have started to ask if there was a training system for developing dancers--similar to the training scale in dressage or developmental sequence in ballet. Ballroom dancing appears to be taught from the belief system of the individual instructor with a goal of reaching a look/outcome that is visually acceptable. In other words, the outline might look okay but there are no guarantees for the feel and comfort for the partners.

As I am schooling the Grand Prix (Open Gold Choreography) in dancing, I am realizing that lack of personal understanding of inner body alignment, tension, and timing is a recipe for disaster. As I am asked to create an extended neck/head position for an advanced upper body outline, I am vulnerable to neck, back, knee, etc injuries if I build the look from the wrong place. After four years of dancing with two of the top professionals in pro/am, I realized that I needed to find more answers if I was to survive uninjured. This search led me to a drill system developed by Hans Laxholm of Denmark. He has created a system which parallels the training scale. Since my primary focus is on riding, I was thrilled to learn about such a system. Ironically, the system is not accepted in the dance community and is taught by 1% or so of their population. The system is built around a series of aids communicated between the dance partners. The partnership is an ask and respond system instead of a demand and respond system. The leader INVITES the partner to respond to a learned set of commands, assesses the response, and then follows the response or asks again. The application of the aid allows the follower to prepare and respond in an effective manner. The key is in the understanding of the aids. The second part is the repetition of the aids until the response becomes reflexive. The refinement of these two points allows for a seamless interaction and execution of the movements. The leader and follower can both relax into the form and the delivery of the performance.

Immediately, I noticed my anxiety level for following effectively decreased. I was given a process to focus on, so my mind/body could look for clear aids and respond. Before, I was always guessing and mimicking my partner's actions. I was an athletic shadow/puppet instead of an interactive partner. The complexity of the Open Gold work was making it difficult to "guess" effectively enough. The response time and execution needed to be almost simultaneous. When I didn't react quick enough or in the right way, my partner would use force to push me through the movements. Obviously, the force created tension in my mind and body which blocked my reactions even more. The spiral down was created. Injury potential was cuing up.

So my current thoughts on creating "happy" horses comes from training around the idea of inviting vs. demanding. Inviting takes away the claustrophobia of demanding. The rider/dancer must develop more tact and timing in their process. But doesn't this tact and timing translate to more RESPECT. The tension in the leader is decreased and the need for force in the execution is eliminated. The result is a relaxed, responsive follower.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reality of being on the aids

With my current search for an appropriate, affordable dance outlet, I am struck by the misfortune of many horses. As a follower in the dance partnership, I am subject to the leader's posture, use/timing of the aids, and sensitivity. I would like to believe that most leaders have a good intention. The misfortune comes in the reality. It is a very long process for a leader to understand his own mechanics in motion, choreography of varying degrees of difficulty, and the action of influencing another living body to move in synchrony through space. As I am trying out different instructors, I am suffering from potential injuries in different parts of my body: back, knees, feet, etc. Unfortunately, I am not a "finished" dancer so I can lose my alignment and posture as I try to stay with my partner. Here is were the injury potential comes in. The horse is no different. The horse moves with degrees of straightness and self carriage, but if the rider doesn't make these a priority than the horse's body integrity is compromised while in motion. All of this lends itself to sore backs, strained tendons and ligaments, etc. At least as a dancer, I don't have to wear a saddle and bridle while having spurs and a whip applied. As riders and trainers, we owe it to the artful side of dressage and our partners to pursue excellence in feel, timing, and technique. I suppose this is were patience with the journey comes into play.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Consciousness in Motion

I realize that one of life's greatest gifts is living in a physical form. Having the ability to taste, see, hear, feel, smell, and think. When you take on activities that involve another living being (human or animal) you become aware of connection and how these senses are affected in another being. One could ask--how do you create a connection, what is the result of the connection, are both parties satisfied and comfortable with the result, how to change, what to change, etc. Contact tends to create aliveness and then dullness. How to keep the aliveness throughout the period of contact--how to stay awake/conscious in the feel?

Looking at a small scenario: you are running, you get thirsty, you stop to drink water, there is an anticipation of the taste, feel, and temperature of the water, you take a swallow, you are immediately aware of its taste and feel in the mouth, how it spreads throughout the body as it goes down, you notice the feeling or satisfaction/calmness as the body receives the water and becomes quenched. Why does the first drink feel more satisfying? How to keep that aliveness throughout the action?

Examining all of this in the responsibility of holding the reins, taking dance hold, sitting in the saddle, how the leg hangs, making contact to the partner, the weight and balance through my feet, how the partner receives my presence and continues to receive my presence. It is my responsibility to keep examining my part of the contact, the recipients response, and continue to create adjustments as needed so the appropriate areas have stillness or aliveness. It all becomes like a flame--the fire is on but it is to what degree.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Horse Shows

Fascinating to watch a dressage show and see so many variations of dressage. The idea of how to organize the outside of the box (or basic outline) is similar. The vast differences come in how the rider's organize the inside of the box (throughness, straightness, degree of core engagement, etc.) and interpret rhythm, relaxation, and impulsion. Is it a good thing that there is such a wide variation? The nature of connecting two living beings and having them interpret exercises would create diversity. I think the key question is are they doing all of this in a humane way--the "happy" horse idea.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


As a person who rides a lot of different horses and dances with different people, I am always amazed how much more connected I feel when I am riding or dancing with a body that fits my physical specifications. My two personal horses, Jaz and Ultimo, are both narrow horses, so they allow my legs to hang from my hips. I am able to create a triangle from my torso balanced over my hips, through my legs hanging down with a clear weighted connection into the stirrups. I can feel the contact of the stirrups as if I am standing on the ground with equal pressure in both feet. With their narrowness, I can use gravity as part of my inner weight to help my balance. If I am riding something too wide, my legs fall at a "less natural" angle from my hips, etc. Of course, I learn to adapt and find a way to work positively in that avenue as well. Dancing with a body of similar proportions (height and width) is the same. I can center to the person in a more refined way since it becomes more obvious with a "like sized" person when the shared center is out of alignment. Also, I have noticed that it is easier to feel the subtleties of the rib cage's position and timing of the swing action in the horse or the position and rotational action of the dancer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Good to be back teaching. I have been riding and dancing like the mad scientist in the laboratory. Working with integrating the ideas from both worlds while producing sound, happy, fit, rideable horses and developing my physical expression through my own body in dance. The core is the key. Watching riders, all the movements and reactions are either positive or negative in terms of creating or allowing effective communication of aids. The more body awareness and control the rider has through their own body, the more he/she can create balance and activity in the horse without interfering. The information goes through to the horse without getting stuck in the rider's body and ending up as a garbled message, similar to the cell phone at times. Of course, there are many factors for the horse to be able to respond to the rider's aids: the horses soundness, calmness, mental focus etc.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Beginning of Unraveling My Thoughts and Observations

This marks the beginning of unraveling my thoughts and observations from my journey/study of riding, dancing, and spirituality. I am interested in people's personal experiences and reactions to mine. Everyday provides insights and clarification in these processes.

Discovering core engagement
Putting it into motion
Recognizing that the expression of movement comes from extension of the core
Observing that authentic connections to others comes from extension of the soul
Noticing that there appear to be two basic actions: extension or contractions--of course, there are varying degrees of the two actions