A little while ago I got the chance to teach my first Alexander riding lessons. Not in the classroom on a saddle stand, but in the riding arena on horseback. It was an amazing experience. My students learnt a lot. I learnt more.
For those not in the know, a good rider has been taught to pay close attention to her (or his) horse. How it moves, responds and behaves. The aim is to be as neutral as possible, not to get in the horse’s way.
For its part, the horse is trained to pick up signals from its rider. Horses are naturally very good at this. They pick up all sorts of signals, of incredible subtlety, and not just the signals the rider wants to send.
So when an Alexander teacher turns up at the riding arena, and starts work, the horse responds. It behaves differently to usual. It moves differently. It spots the changes, very quickly and clearly. Usually better than the rider does, even though it’s the rider that has the hands-on work(*).
From the teaching point of view, it’s fantastic; the horse will constantly tell the student exactly how they are doing. If they are less tense and move better, the horse is less tense and moves better. If they start using their body the way it was designed, the horse will start using its body the way it was designed. And if the student forgets to ‘think Alexander’ and slips back into old habits, the horse will point it out in no uncertain terms. If I was to follow the student, talking constantly, I couldn’t achieve nearly as much.
Both my riding students have improved specific problems and general riding standards. After just five class lessons and two horseback lessons. One has unstiffened her knees and lengthened her stirrups. The other has a more even 3-point seat, and has stopped slipping sideways in a rising trot. Both have a better connection with the horse. These are all good things.
If you get the chance to do Alexander riding lessons, either as teacher or student, I recommend you take it.
photo by diamondrio via tumblr
(*) I also got chance to do hands-on work with the horses. Even more amazing. All will be revealed later this year, in a podcast with Robert Rickover at BodyLearningCast.com.