Sunday, May 14, 2017

The importance of releasing the poll

Sarah-Jane Clarke
If someone would have told me five years ago that you will enjoy a lesson where you mostly walk with your horse I would have laughed. I actually tried a lesson like that but was not able to enjoy it since I thought it was frustrating not to trot and canter and learn new things.

After getting more and more acquinted with myself and with the physical and psychological aspects of both mine and my horses body a lot of things have changed. One of them is the fact that I now understand why we do things at a walk and why it is sometimes better to do things slowly and with time. Really just returning to the basics time and time again and remind both horse and rider that it really is all about the small things is something that I truly enjoy.

When I heard that Sarah-Jane Clarke was coming to Finland I knew I wanted a lesson with her. I remember reading about her but even more than that I nowadays trust my intuition. It just felt that she would be the perfect teacher for me and Thor at this point in our learning curve and when we met her today I knew that we were exactly in the right place. Sarah was not only clearly a fantastic and extremely talented rider but she was also talking about the things that I hold very dear to my heart nowadays.

Let's start with this.

"When working with horses it is very important to be grounded."

We are all energetic creatures and as humanbeings we tend to jump all over the place with our thoughts and our bodies. We come to the stable and ask horses to do things for us and rather than working together and cooperating we fight each other, use strong tools and are not able to find a peaceful way of coexisting.

It really is all about us and how we feel when we are around our four legged friends. As Sarah-Jane said: "If we are not grounded how can we give clear signals to our horse?" If our thoughts are everywhere, how can we expect our horses to have their thoughs with us. IIf our energies are on different paths it is impossible to flow in the same direction.

Stiff and unflexible horses

During the lesson we were also touching the area of crammed horses. Human-beings like to control things and we like to tighten the reins, we tense up and get rigid in our bodies, close the mouth and our gaze and forget to smile. What we however do not realize is that when we feel tight and try to control things we block the horses forward movement and the energy that moves the horses body in the right direction. Rather than training supple, elastic and content horses we get horses that come up in the front legs, have a short and blocked gait, a stiff back and an unflexible poll.

When we had been working with Thor for a while today Sarah-Jane said that she can see the joints in the front legs starting to move. From being a bit stiff I could also feel Thor's movement become more supple and the joints were much more springy rather than being blocked and stancy. I could really feel the softer rhythm and the softening of Thors body. "If the horse is worked properly, the joints will become springy. Unfortunately today's competition world with all the rules and regulations are often detrimental to the horse. I am not against competitions. It is just how the peoples minds are set and all horses are different.

"Speed hides everything"

When I said that I truly enjoyed working in walk today Sarah-Jane said that she works the horses a lot in walk since speed only hides the incorrect aspects of training. She pointed out that Thor was hiding his stiffnes by increasing the speed and when he walked faster he lost his balance and the front legs lifted up making him stiff in the back and the whole body.

"All horses are different"

What works with one horse does not work with another. As Sarah-Jane said all horses and riders are different. We do not need a specific system but we need to focus on getting back to the basics and changing the small things (such as not having the inside shoulder in front of your inside hip).

During the lesson Sarah-Jane paid a lot of attention to the horse but as much of the training was directed toward me. At the beginning she asked me to think of the figure eight in walk and to release the hips with the walk. To be relaxed and follow the horses movement in the correct manner. After that she asked me to follow Thor's stomach with my legs and use them in the same rhythm as the horse stomach moves. When I started to focus on moving in the rhythm of the horse, Thor clearly slowed down and came 'more under me'. I was also asked to do 'the Saturday Night fever' movement where I was moving the diagonal shoulder and hip and in that way releasing the lower back and supppling the hip joints even more.

After all the disco dancing on the horse Sarah-Jane wanted me to push my tailbone down a little bit so I don't round my back too much. By pushing the tailbone down I automatically became straighter in the upper body and more open in the chest.

Do not think inside first

When we ride one of our biggest problems is that we pull with the inside rein and block the horses movement. We easily think inside first but we should start every riding session by thinking outside and around, stepping our outside hip to outside knee, releasing the outside leg. We also naturally tend to lean a little bit to the inside so this is good to keep in mind when riding e.g. circles. Sarah-Jane said that balance really is the same in everything we do and horses work just like trailers. If we do not make an outside turn the trailer gets crammed up and in the worst case goes into a complete block. "Think of hugging the horse from the outside with your hands giving the horse the secure feeling to release into the outside aids."

The importance of releasing the Poll

I think the most interesting thing that I learned today was how important it is to release the horse's poll. Sarah-Jane started the lesson by doing a releasing exercise to Thor from the ground. She touched the nose and the poll at the same time and said that the poll being relaxed is a prerequisite for a supple horse. That without a supple poll everything else in the horse will be crammed up.

I must say that I had a wonderful lesson with Sarah- Jane today and when Thor released his poll at the end of the lesson I felt like the whole horse grew with one centimeter and I could feel a clear increase in his energy levels. He put his sheet down and his whole body started to move more as a whole. His ears turned forward and he felt so content and happy. Just the way that I want my horse to feel.

Thank you Sarah-Jane Clarke and Thank you Thor for being such a star!

More training sessions on my blog can be found here.
More information about Sarah-Jane Clarke can be found on her webpage Elite Andalusians.

No comments:

Post a Comment