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Teethbrush and horse
Written by Karmen Haiba, Alexander Technique teacher
Translated by Veronika Tiganik
Have you ever wondered what how you brush your teeth, how you send a message on the phone, walk a dog outside or ride a horse have in common? Do these activities have any common denominator at all?
The common denominator is yourself, your body and your thoughts. There is a saying – how we do one thing, we do everything. We have all developed certain habits of self-use, thought and movement, which start in all our activities – be it brushing our teeth or galloping. These patterns are amplified when we are excited or stressed. If our shoulders are tense while brushing our teeth and we hold the toothbrush strongly in our hands, we will probably also have brittle and tense rein contact.
A rider who wants to be the best possible partner for his horse should be aware of his habitual self-use. Do these habits support or prevent you from becoming the best possible rider? Alexander’s technique helps to answer this question.
The Alexander technique (AT from here on) is a teaching of naturalness and effectiveness. It can also be said that in the AT class it is examined what prevents us from acting naturally and effectively and how to remove these obstacles. “When you finish the wrong thing, the right thing happens,” said F. M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian-born actor who lost his voice in exertion and over the years developed a teaching of conscious self-use known today as the Alexander technique.
Since F. M. Alexander himself was an actor, then at first AT reached the circle of actors and musicians, and nowadays it is a subject in theater and music schools in many countries, including Estonia. Beloved actors such as Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes have talked about the benefits of AT. The latter has said, “Under the guidance of a good teacher, AT is invaluable to anyone who wants to maintain a healthy physique and alignment.” AT has helped writers (such as Aldous Huxley and Roald Dahl), artists, athletes (rowers, weightlifters, athletes, runners, etc.), doctors and scientists to achieve their goals. In the second half of the last century, AT began to enter riding pedagogy more specifically. Many riders and riding coaches today have either taken AT lessons or trained themselves as AT teachers.
As riders, we all have a relatively clear idea of what we want our horse to be – relaxed but strong, well balanced and self-supporting, joyfully riding and resiliently swaying through their backs, sensitive to the rider’s signals but not overreactive. If you were a horse, would you have those qualities? It is said that a horse can only be as good as its rider allows it to be. It is therefore important that riders develop exactly the same qualities that they expect from their horse. Posture mechanisms are very similar in horses and humans. Richard Weis, an international-caliber equestrian trainer and AT teacher, has said, “A good horse gives the rider an Alexander technique lesson and a good rider gives the horse an Alexander technique lesson.”
Effective movement requires a coordinated relationship between the head, neck and back, which results in a longer and wider spine. A strong and supportive back allows the limbs to move easily and flexibly. Such self-use was considered by F. M. Alexander to be a natural innate quality of human. With young children, such freedom and freedom of movement still exists. Unfortunately, life makes its own adjustments. Tensions, both physical and psychological, begin to build up and inhibit our natural self-use. Alexander’s technique teaches you to notice and become aware of these tensions and then release them. AT’s greatest benefit to riders is the development of balance, cognition and awareness. Improved self-use means to achieve more by doing less and avoid injuries.
What motivates us? As a person, as a rider, as an athlete – what is it that makes us interested in ourselves? Do we even have an interest in exploring what and how we do and how it affects us and others around us, for example, the horse? Pain is often the motivator. More than half of those who attend AT complain of back or neck pain. It is not nice to ride with a sore back. It is possible that doctors have advised to stop riding overall.
Maybe we are motivated as a rider by the desire to be like Queen Elizabeth II? This means being nimble and in good shape until old age and being able to enjoy the beautiful nature from the back of the horse. Every rider could be motivated by the desire to discover the potential of nature in both themselves and their horse. The athlete’s goal is to develop this potential to the maximum without exertion and injury. Carl Hester, a multiple British Olympic team member, did not say this without a reason: “Alexander’s technique is one of the most valuable tools a rider can have.”
Are you interested in developing further as a rider? Watch Karmen’s Alexander Technique training today!