The Feldenkrais Method and its Application to Horseback Riding
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
by: Margreet Bouwmeester, Level IV Centered Riding Clinician

Section: Athletes

Did you know that working with the Feldenkrais Method® can make you a better rider? In this article, I will explain how.
In our day-to-day life and when we ride, we move all the time. However, we are unaware of much of our movement and we do not think when we move. We are busy with what we are doing, not with how we are doing the movement.
When you are aware of the "how" of a movement you can experience an easier, more supple way of movement. This is the idea behind the Feldenkrais Method.
Moshe Feldenkrais believed that good health means functioning well - working well; having satisfying, emotionally mature relationships; being able to access a full range of responses to any situation - something he called "Awareness Through Movement®." He said his method of body/mind exploration leads to improved functioning (better health) because the individual becomes more aware and finds improved body use. He summed up this focus on exploration and awareness when he said, "What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies."

From the Feldenkrais Method, we learn that movement is integral to understanding the body and how it works. Movement has its basis on the skeleton. Then muscles come into play, allowing for control. Balance is action. In riding, when we talk about movement, we always mean the whole movement of the horse and rider, together. When you ride, do you know where the movement of your body stops? Does your body move with the horse?
Good riding starts with awareness. Force moves through the skeleton. The skeleton is like a railroad track, and the muscles are like the train. When the railroad track is working, the muscles can do their work correctly.
There are four parts in the journey through the Feldenkrais Method:
1. Awareness: If you know how you move, you can change. For example, when you ride, do you know where your seatbones are?
2. Differentiate: This means you make the movement smaller. When you start to become aware of the movement, you notice the difference. For example, when you ride, are your seatbones directed toward to the horse's ears, his tail or his back?
3. Choice: If you can differentiate, you have a choice. You can make the choice to change. You can move in the old way or in the new way.
4. Freedom: The first three principles give freedom. If you know how you learn, you can learn anything.

How can the Feldenkrais Method help you, as a rider? Working with the Feldenkrais Method helps you to discover how to use your bones to support the body instead of using your muscles. Through the Feldenkrais Method, you learn how to gain better balance, more feeling and greater freedom in your body. This means your horse can move better, too.

How the rider sits and moves affects communication between horse and rider. The Feldenkrais Method can also be very helpful when you have pain in your body, such as back pain, limitations arising from an old injury or limitations you didn't know you had. Movement improves with the four parts of the journey through the Feldenkrais Method, as described above.

Using this method, both on and off the horse, helps you to have more relaxed shoulders, and softer hands, hip joints and other joints that can move. You will become aware of how a neutral pelvis feels, and how soft knees and ankles feel. Breathing will be easier. You will become more aware of how you use your eyes.
The Feldenkrais Method gives choices in movement, awareness and balance, which are very important in riding.

Here is a simple exercise you can do that is based on the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais. The most common position for Feldenkrais lessons is lying on the floor. This exercise, however, is done while sitting on a chair because the sitting position relates to riding (e.g., turning the horse). As you do this exercise, be careful to move very slowly. This brings the awareness you need to attain a better quality of movement. Here is the exercise:

Sit on a chair (not leaning back) and look to the right, over your shoulder. Look to the farthest point you can see. Be aware of how you are doing this - i.e. your habitual way of moving. Where in your seatbones is your weight? What are your eyes doing? Are you pushing on the ground with one foot more than the other? Does the movement feel free or does the movement stop somewhere in the body?
You will notice these details only when you move slowly. Go back to your basic seat. (This is the test move). Now, turn your head to the left and your shoulders to the right, as you look to the left.
Next, turn your head to the left, your shoulders to the left and look to the right.
Then turn your shoulders to the right, your head to the left and look to the right side.
Next, turn your shoulders to the right, your head to the left and look to the left.
Next, turn your head and shoulders to the left, and look to the left.
Last, turn right again, and let the movement go through the whole body. Is there a change in the movement? Where is the weight in your seatbones? Do your legs move with the turn? Do you feel the diagonal better? Can you look farther than the first time? If not, repeat each movement again, and being aware to move slowly.
When you take a Feldenkrais lesson, even though it's without a horse, your body will learn.

Margreet Bouwmeester is a full-time horseriding teacher and awareness instructor for riders in the Netherlands and worldwide.
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Comments (1)
11/18/2017 5:31:26 AM
I'm very interested to learn more about using Feldenkrais to improve my horse riding ability. I compete in dressage.

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