In the July issue we saw how doing some specific ground exercises with a horse to help it release tension, then balancing the rider’s position, improved the softness, attention, engagement and communication of them both. Last month we focussed on how Connected Groundwork can change not only the shape of a horse but also its balance, attentiveness and engagement. Now, let’s look closer at what Connected Riding® actually is.
Connected Riding® was developed by Peggy Cummings, an American who lives in Seattle, Washington. After years of riding mechanically (with a variety of well known professionals) and shutting down the movement of her body with the horse’s she acquired a variety of compression injuries and complaints. This led her to look for better ways; she studied with Linda Tellington Jones, Sally Swift and began practicing Feldenkrais exercises. Connected Riding® was the result.
Posture and how you use your body is a big part of Connected Riding®. Most people these days know something about body language, particularly with regards to moving their horse loose in a round pen. What they tend to be unaware of is how the different ways they hold and use their body affect how clearly their communication reaches their horse. We start with exercises for the riders, without their horses, to help enhance our body awareness and understanding of our connection to our horse.
The next step is Connected Groundwork®, “to develop the muscular, postural and movement patterns of the horse towards self-carriage,” says Peggy. “Tightness, bracing patterns, crookedness, and on-the-forehand tendencies exist in all horses”, but the series of exercises teaches the horse how to release tension, lift his back, shift his weight and rebalance, developing his ‘pushing’ power. Common areas that horses hold tension are the poll, behind the cheek, neck, base of neck and shoulder. The groundwork exercises start educating the horse how to release in these areas, and then how to carry himself that way. Doing these exercises before riding also prepares his muscles more quickly and effectively than getting straight on. The exercises work not only on a physical level but on an emotional one – you can’t have one without the other – ultimately resulting in a truly balanced and ‘ok’ horse.
A variety of walking exercises follow, encouraging the horse to continue releasing through the body, softly bending, and pushing through from behind.
Peggy continues, “Connected Riding® is based upon the premise that a rider’s body must be free and able to move astride a horse… rebalancing automatically with each stride.” The inner thigh and knee should be soft and relaxed, the foot level. In an attempt to keep their thighs close to the horse and toes pointing forward, many riders, particularly females, end up tightening the thigh muscles, tipping the pelvis and upper body forwards and causing instability. The pelvis must be level (seat bones pointing straight down) in order for the upper body to rebalance and for the legs to be able to act independently. Riding with a hollow back, pelvis tipped forwards, causes your horse to hollow also, to string out and raise his head, and makes it very difficult for him to round up under you and engage / collect. On your horse, try bringing your knees right up, jockey style. Feel your seat bones, and how flat your lower back is. What does it take to recreate that feeling with your legs down? Put yourself in your horse’s position: go down on all fours and have a friend ‘sit’ on you. Have them try 3 different positions – slouched, arched / sitting up straight, and neutral / level – and see what you, the horse, feel.
In correct balance everything becomes easier, as the rider feels more secure and communication with their horse is quicker, clearer, and easier. Over reactive horses become calmer, and sluggish horses more willing; rider and horse become ‘connected’.
Connected Riding® is a progressive, ongoing system, where each lesson or clinic will enhance and expand your understanding and ability, and your horse’s attention and engagement. Regular clinics are held countrywide; see ad on this page, or check website for details.