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“Living Your Riding Position”"

April 1st, 2004 WPDA General Meeting with Dr. George Felder

Dr. George Felder has been an equestrian for all his life and has intensely studied dressage and body awareness for many years. His presentation included information about Yoga, the Alexander Technique and Dressage using quotes from Sally Swift, Bauchet, Barbier and Museler.  Riders can’t go wrong when combining these authors and disciplines into their repertoire of communion with the equine.

George began the lecture with his history of how he started exploring ways to relax. "Being a type A person, led me to explore. It was that or go crazy. I had to learn to slow down and riding was an outlet for my intense personality. But I discovered that dressage is very humbling. You can be a great looking rider on the horse, but be totally ineffective. A good riding position equals the most efficient movement from the horse, and a good position has to be dynamic - it cannot be just good posture." George used the example of a surfer to explain that good posture is not just standing on the board and assuming the position of a surfer, but rather knowing the moves to ride the waves. Thus, to really surf or ride, it takes a dynamic position not just good posturing! "The horse is like the waves a surfer has to encounter, they have to bend the knees and hips to move with each thrust from the water underneath them, just like we have to go with the horse and not just sit stiff and rigid against the horse’s movement. To acquire this dynamic positioning and ability to feel the horse requires years of dedication to the sport. With a practice of some kind of body awareness techniques such as Yoga or the Alexander Technique one’s journey will be enhanced.

Riding requires all of our five senses and also the 6th sense which George called kinesthetic awareness. Another way to tune into this awareness type riding is by practicing such exercises as Sally Swifts "soft eyes" which allows the rider to become more aware and receptive. As a result, the body goes to a place where it can relax.

This is the opposite of tunnel vision, or the concept of being too focused and fixed on one thing. Focusing while learning to ride is a common fault especially during lessons when our trainers are constantly saying "do this, do that, and do this, do that." Until students actually feel the "this and that" of what they are doing, they have not learned anything.

Learning to ride is like learning how to play an instrument. First you have to consciously learn what you are doing, then in time you can eventually play without thinking about it. This is when the ability to play goes into the subconscious and you play on automatic pilot. This is how it needs to be with riding. The rider needs correct position, with a dynamic feeling body, and then the ability to just do "this and that" (coordinate the aids) will just happen. George called this the "cosmic consciousness of riding", or being in the zone.

In books we read that riding should be effortless and when one lets go and rides with soft eyes and dynamic positioning, it is easier. But with most of us it is an uphill battle trying to overcome our inability to let go and ride dynamically. Just think of all those years you were told to "sit still, stop fidgeting". And these are commands from both our riding instructors over the years and our parents at the dining room table. But in order to really be able to ride well we have to learn to allow the correct use of our bodies to take over. The Alexander teachers call this correct use of body ‘Primary Control’. We have such "downward pulls" in our lives from not only gravity but muscles contracting, that it is very hard to overcome, let alone overcome while riding a horse. Then of course, over the years we get "habitual positioning" with our bodies and that really interferes with our attempts to "maximize our ease of movement and maintain a dynamic posture on the horse."

Dr. Felder believes to be able to go with the horse in a dynamic position, we have to acquire these abilities first off the horse and learn to "Live our Riding Position". We have to practice yoga or another kind of exercise that stretches, strengthens, coordinates and relaxes our bodies. We must know our bodies, learn how to center, and be able to experience " the now", or live in the moment...! (Editor’s note: Sometimes I think most of us ride just to experience living in the moment and to be able to let go of our constant thinking about doing.)

At the end of the presentation, Amaera, George’s wife, led the audience through a Yoga exercise. After her brief introduction to Yoga, if we were not already sitting straighter in our chairs and letting go of our own personal "downward pulls," to make our bodies a little better for riding then, by golly, we were inspired to get out there the next day and do something to improve ourselves so it would reflect in our horse’s way of going. (To be Continued)

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