Saddle work has for many years provided a useful way of working. In addition students have also had the opportunity to work on horses and on a riding simulator as the following account describes.
Day trips put student skills to the test
As part of their training, students at CTC receive tuition in saddle work from Gloria Pullan who specialises in applying The Alexander Technique to the teaching of horse riding. Gloria has given AT equestrian and saddle workshops all over the UK and internationally since 1983 and teaches pupils of all levels. To further the students’ experiences, she arranged two trips to horse riding centres; one using a mechanical horse (a riding simulator) at Hatfield farm, Hatfield Forest, and the with horses at Apsley End Polo Club in Bedfordshire.
The mechanical horse simulates a life-like horse with four adjustable, realistic gaits: walk, trot, canter and gallop. Students and teachers, ranging from complete beginners to experienced riders, took it in turns to ride the horse in each gait, guided and advised by Gloria throughout each session. Riding the mechanical horse at different speeds and rhythms, provided a challenging activity and tested all that the students had been learning in their training course. They had a chance to realise their understanding that the Technique, far from needing static conditions, is of most benefit when applied in movement.
At Apsley End, two of Gloria’s pupils treated the school to a ‘pas de deux’ which had been choreographed specially for the day. We were able to observe the changing gaits of the horses and relate this to some of the crawling games practised at the training course. Then ponies were saddled and students took turns riding and leading them around the menage.
The basic requirements of the Technique lend themselves beautifully to horse riding. The challenge for the rider is to achieve the right balance between being over-relaxed or too stiff. The rider must be able to allow their weight to follow gravity and rest on the horse’s back whilst at the same time maintaining an ‘upwards’ direction which promotes the springiness of the spine. This is no mean feat and is greatly supported by the practice of the Technique.
We rode without stirrups, thus allowing the legs to lengthen and the hip joints to be free. A common habit for riders is to squeeze themselves out of the saddle through inappropriate tension. The Technique allows a better contact with the saddle, enabling the rider to blend with the movement and be better connected with the horse. This is known as the ‘deep seat’.
Just as there is a sense of allowing weight to drop into the saddle, there also needs to be a complementary sense of releasing the spine upwards in order for it to remain strong, flexible and elastic. The movement of the horse can then be absorbed and the rider can stay connected and integrated.
During both sessions, it was clear to observers how the work on and off the horse improved posture and self-carriage, essential requirements of good horsemanship. We all agreed that we were able to maintain balance and poise with very little effort throughout the changes of program on the mechanical horse and on transition from walking to a trot on the ponies.
It was a great way to learn more within a practical environment and once back in school, we were able to take our experiences and use them to further inform our work. All in all, the trips were both thought provoking and above all, good fun!