The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alexander in the Lyons Den

I pretty much love John Lyons. Especially because he says this: "Horses are important to God .... "

Lyons is not as radical in his approach as the teachers I now try to emulate, and in the past, I have over-pressured horses using his techniques. I feel sure, however, that he himself would not make that same mistake. C'mon, the man's a mensch.

Lyons teaches many useful things, but there is one thing which I have found particularly useful. Several years ago I attended one of his weekend clinics. I was already familiar with the idea of using only one rein for halting, backing, etc. At the clinic I witnessed him sitting backwards on his horse, using one rein to steer the horse every which way, asking the horse to turn forehand or hindquarters at will. Some people were confused as to how this is possible, as he did not appear to be doing anything with the rein at all. What he said was that you think with the rein of the result you want. There is no cause-and-effect push-button technique - the result is achieved by the clarity of your thought communication.

In a previous incarnation, I trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique teacher places her hands upon her student with the intention of suggesting or "directing" various improvements in the student's "use" of her body. The hands are not supposed to demand the improvements, or manipulate or coerce - rather, the teacher tries to direct her thoughts through her hands into the student, so that the student's body will hear the suggestion and respond accordingly. The teacher's hands are the "aids."

It is extremely important that the hands do not insist or coerce, as the desired improvements largely consist of the release of habitual muscular shortening. You can demand that a muscle shorten, but you can only request that it lengthen.

The Alexander student's primary directive is to go "forward and up." "Forward" refers to the head having a certain "noddability" at the atlanto-occipital joint, i.e. flexing at the poll. And "up" refers to a vertical release along the spine, aka lengthening the topline.

That is why it is not appropriate to talk about "putting" a horse into a frame, or to pull a horse's head into position. The great desiderata of dressage - lengthening of the topline, and flexing at the poll - can only come about through release.

John Lyons made me realize that as you are sitting on the horse, you can use the rein, not only for "thought steering," but also as a remote hand to make suggestions to the horse about possible improvements and ways to think about what he is doing.

For example, you might notice that your horse is tense in the abdomen. Your mind, via your hand, via your rein, can say: "Hey, look at that - you're tightening your tummy too much - how about letting that go?" And the horse will respond. Or you might feel that your horse's head is disconnected from the rest of his back. (Often there is a break at the shoulders.) With your hand, you can ask the horse to sense a connection from his jaw/head/poll back to his withers, or his back, or all the way to his tail. Gus is long-backed, short-legged, and heavy on the forehand. When I started riding him, you could only ask him to connect back to his shoulders. Gradually we've gotten to where he will connect to the part of his back under the saddle. Other horses will immediately be able to connect all the way along the topline if you suggest it to them.

I very much respect the view that collection has to come "from behind." But much of the Alexander teacher's conversation with her student's body takes place between her hands and the student's head. I'm reluctant to totally relinquish the ability to say things to the horse, via his head, with my hand. I think the key thing I have to learn, in order to be able to validly continue using this helpful tool of communication, is to relinquish the use of the reins for control. I don't think I ever really realized this distinction until writing it here - the difference between using the reins for communication and using them for control.

Ok, so I'm going to have to spend even more time at the barn. Dang.

The one and only F.M.

No comments:

Post a Comment