May 3, 2012

In Which I Find My Calling

One more post about my Centered riding clinic experience. I want to make the point that the work didn’t just make sense in my own body and as a rider. What I had not anticipated at the time was that riding in a physiologically correct manner could change, permanently, the *horse’s* body. So bear with me.

I had been a piano teacher and an English teacher, a kindergarten teacher, and a tutor. I had never been interested in teaching riding or being a trainer. How many years can you tell someone to get their heels down? Bleah. I had followed the universal assumption that a rider was either talented or they weren’t, that a horse was either willing or he wasn’t, and there wasn’t a whole lot you could do except keep working at it and hope for the best. But Susan taught me otherwise.

The CR certification clinic was intense. Four (five?) days in the spring, the summer off for teaching, then four (five?) days in the fall to discuss and refresh. Again we rode twice a day and then studied Susan’s great illustrations, our little plastic human skeletons,  and each other. I got it, I felt it, I knew it was life changing, but I didn’t know how to apply it to a student.  We had to demonstrate practice teaching  and I was dreading it. I just couldn’t see, in a new person, what exactly was out of place. Nor did I know how to fix it.

When my student teaching demo turn came up, I stood there, watching my demo rider trotting around, and felt overwhelmed and helpless.  I knew she didn’t look great, and the horse wasn’t too thrilled either, but what the heck was I supposed to tell her to do to fix anything? Susan, God bless her, saw my discomfort and walked in to the ring with me. She brought a dressage whip.  The demo rider came in to the middle with us. Susan held up the whip parallel to the rider’s body. ‘Head, shoulder, back, hip, knee, foot. Where are they? Are they aligned?’ We went to the back of the horse. She held up the whip, sideways this time. ‘Where is her head? The neck? The shoulders? The ribs? The waist? The hip? The knee? The heel? Her spine?’

Wow. Put the rider on a grid, and see what is out of place. Go to the core, to the seat, the thigh, and pelvis, and work outward. Extremities take care of themselves, when the hip and pelvis are correct. And then put the horse on the grid. What's off? What's out of alignment? Does it go away when the rider is fixed? OMG.

Seeing my demo rider through this invisible grid made everything clear. As she rode around  I was able to see  where her body was out of alignment and better yet could see why, and had some sense of how to correct it. And I saw, with the corrections, her school horse reaching for the bridle, stepping under more deeply, and lifting his back. For the first time I saw riding as an actual teachable skill that had real results in both horse and rider. Talent, of both horse and rider, was a myth. Problems had a cause, and hence could be fixed. Who knew.

I thought about the training issues that I had experienced throughout my riding life, the difficult horses I had worked with. Maybe  they wouldn’t have been difficult at all, if we had been better riders. Not stronger, not tougher, not more experienced, just straighter, softer, more even, more balanced, more level, more self supporting, more ambidextrous, clearer in our ability to ask for things, and to allow the execution of the request.

I had always loved teaching. I just hadnt seen the point of teaching riding. I had always loved soundness and problem horses, now I could actually have an effect on them.

Now, I could teach what I loved.


  1. Wow!, what a wonderful light bulb moment. And the teaching fits in so perfectly with your love of healing. Wonderful! Good for you. Now you go out there and straighten all those crooked riders!

  2. It never gets old! Getting to the bottom of the rider body, correcting it, and watching the horse respond is a wonderful thing. Do the body work and fitness work on top of that and amazing things happen!
    Its addicting, and satisfying in ways I never could imagine. Thanks Elaine for understanding! I think you also have that tshirt >;->