The Alexander Technique with a riding simulator
The Alexander Technique has been associated with riding for almost a hundred years.
The Technique, devised by FM Alexander, a keen horseman, in the 1890s, is a method of using one’s muscles efficiently, with ease. The Alexander Technique brings about the correct muscular tonus required for a movement to be carried out, neither overly relaxed nor tense. Although it is used by many for improving posture, this is not its purpose but a by product of practising the Technique. It is natural that riders should be attracted to the Alexander Technique since it encourages a deep seat, improving their performance in the saddle.
Saddle work has long been a part of teaching the Alexander Technique. It usually consists of applying the Technique while sitting in a saddle on a wooden horse. This allows greater freedom in the legs, pelvis and back. It enables the rider to balance the pelvis correctly, allow her weight to rest on the saddle while maintaining an upwards direction and developing springiness in the spine. The movement of the horse can then be absorbed more easily and the rider can stay balanced, promoting harmony with the horse.
For three months the Alexander Technique Centre in Imperial Wharf, Fulham, has a riding simulator to be used as a further aid in applying the Technique to riding. This mechanical horse simulates five adjustable gaits: Walk, Collected trot, Fast trot, Collected canter, Medium canter.
The riding simulator performs uniformly, unlike even the best-schooled horse. Because a teacher is always right next to the rider, more accurate monitoring and feedback can be given.
Riders often find transitions difficult and a riding simulator can help the rider feel safe, knowing she has full control without having to worry about the reaction of a tired, bored or fresh horse. The rider learns how to maintain balance and poise with little effort throughout the transition. If she stiffens during a transition on a real horse, this will hamper the horse and interfere with his movements. She may inadvertently pull on the reins causing the horse to hollow and possibly halt. However, when the rider is balanced through the transitions there is infinitely less chance of involuntary pulls on the reins and transmitting mixed messages to the horse. The advantage of the riding simulator is that one can work with a ‘horse’ who is not learning bad habits from the rider and does not object to going over the same movements again and again.
In all paces, but particularly canter, the rider may grip with her legs, and this so cause a ‘clothes-peg’ effect which squeezes her out of the saddle. By using the Alexander Technique on the safe horse simulator, riders learn how to keep their legs in appropriate contact with the horse.
The horse simulator is ideal for
- beginner riders
- introducing children to a full-size horse
- riders new to the Alexander Technique
- riders wishing to work on particular paces or transitions
- riders recovering from injury
- riders who have become nervous and would prefer to improve on a virtual horse before returning to a real one
It is also of use to non-riders, from an Alexander Technique perspective, because the demands of riding promote the freedom of movement that the Alexander Technique facilitates.