Horse Sense and Sensibility — 18 Comments

  1. Great, original post Robert.
    In the TV show the Dog Whisperer, ‘Cesar’ often ends up teaching the pet owner. He talks about the pets’ ability to sense fear, and to even sense body language. I think Alexander teachers know how to touch animals to calm them down which might influence their lengthening and widening (or their narrowing and shortening) It’s a great area for discovery.

  2. Re horses especially, Danny Pevsner is your man. He and Walter were good friends. Also Gloria Pullan, who teaches saddle work at CTC/Lansdowne Road.

  3. A great blog and thank you for posting it Robert. I once attended a workshop with Robyn Avalon that combined horse riding and Alexander Technique. I had been frightened of horses until then but during the workshop I learnt how to relate to the horse through Robyn’s hands. I could feel that the horse sensed her hands through me and together we found our one-ness. From then on I took riding lessons and explored this relationship with a wonderful teacher who knew Centred Riding. And I have learnt to use my hands too… thank you for the reminder.

    • Thanks for your posting Robert. I have been looking for a Centered Riding instructor myself lately with no success in the Boston area. I wanted someone local but none of the horse farm I left phone messages with got back to me.
      Any suggestions as to how to find such an instructor? It was meant to be a birthday present to myself (Nov 25!) but had to let it go for the lack of response. Wondered if the season is past and the farm not functioning? Still, you would think they would return the calls they get?

  4. Hi,
    this is very interesting topic, and I’d like to share my experience:

    I have just recently started riding, but right away I noticed how every horse became restless after putting their saddle on. I then started to put my hands on their back, under the saddle. Right away they become alert but calm. I think horses love Alexander-Technique 🙂

  5. Hi Robert,

    Great timing on your post – over the last month or so I’ve had the chance to teach two students, both very accomplished riders, and we organised a couple of lessons at their riding school, with horses included.

    Teaching the students while on horseback was pretty amazing. The horse is trained to pick up instructions from the rider, and the rider to pick up feedback from the horse; but the horse is much better at it than the rider is! In lessons, this means that every time I did hands-on work with the rider, the horse picked up the changes quicker and more sensitively than the rider. Every time. And responded accordingly, even to the extent that the horse moved differently once they started walking.

    However, at the end of the lesson, they let me do a little hands-on work with the horses. I’m not well versed in horse anatomy, so there was a bit of guesswork and extrapolation as to where to put my hands, but the results were quite astonishing. Both horses changed, letting go of muscular tension and in the process subtly changing the relationships of the different body parts. Well, I say subtly. One horse changed so much his rider (who was still mounted) could feel the difference along the length of his spine, even through the saddle.

    Even more interesting to me was the relationship between the personality of the horse and their response to hands-on work. Harry, the horse I mentioned above, is ever so laid-back, and was quite happy to go along with whatever I asked – and changed enormously. Clarice, the other horse, changed, and didn’t like it one bit. She kept resisting and changing back, even shaking her head to protest – or dislodge that annoying pair of hands that was taking her into new and unexpected territory. Her rider’s comment was “I’ve always thought she is a bit of an up-tight horse, just watching her in the field”.

    This is so much like the variation you get in human students I was quite taken aback. Generally, the more laid-back and easygoing the human student, the less they resist changing, especially at the outset. I didn’t expect to find it in horses! I’d also assumed animals would automatically be completely without unecessary tension. They don’t have debts, office desks, ballet lessons and all the other input to our habitual movement we humans have. They haven’t increased their pace of evolution as FM talks about in Man’s Supreme Inheritance. But they do still have unnecessary muscle tension.

    We’ve stopped lessons for now. Here in the UK winter has set in with a vengeance. But I’ll be back in the riding arena next spring (unless I track down a student with an indoor arena first!). Harry, Clarice and I have so much to learn.

  6. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for sharing those experiences. I done some riding myself – mostly trail riding – but that was long before I encountered the AT. And I’ve not had much experience AT-wise with horses but your experiences confirms what I’ve heard from several AT teachers.


  7. Robert, as an animal lover this post is close to my heart! I’ve ridden horses since I was a child, but I wasn’t introduced to the Alexander Technique until middle age. I think I must have surely tried the patience of my first teacher because at every lesson, and sometimes many times during a lesson, I would excitedly exclaim, “This is just like riding!” It was centered riding only better! And of course, like a duck to water, off I went to learn how to become an Alexander teacher myself.

    There are actually horses who perform a role very similar to that of the Alexander teacher. They are called “schoolmasters.” These are very special horses who are highly trained and usually retired from competition. Many horses who reach this level of training will not tolerate a rider who is not equally skilled, but a few have amazingly kind dispositions and find their calling as teachers of aspiring riders. Despite their high level of training, a schoolmaster will patiently carry riders who are still learning the finer points of riding. Through years of training, schoolmasters are very correct in their use while carrying a rider, and improve the rider’s use in much the same way that the touch of an Alexander teacher does. Because the horse is so very well balanced and correct, the rider is able to learn correct “feel” and balance. Like an inexperienced dancer paired with a great partner, the rider suddenly “dances” quite well. But put that same fledgling rider on an unbalanced horse and you will see the rider unwittingly reflect the incorrect balance of their equine partner, and be at a loss to sort it all out!

    Just like an AT teacher will patiently help a student sort out going wrong, a schoolmaster will pleasantly ignore incorrect cues from their student. So the rider learns to eventually “go right” by “going wrong.” Its always a delightful moment in a lesson when a rider is “rewarded” by the horse finally performing the maneuver that the rider has finally learned to “ask.” And since the schoolmaster will patiently ignore incorrect use and commands, I guess you could say they have learned inhibition as well!

  8. I’ve certainly experienced “schoolmaster” horses as a young horse-crazy girl and remember wondering at the time who was giving who the instructions.
    You asked if we knew about other animals giving “lessons.”
    There’s a pretty common signal of success my students will get who have pet dogs as they are experimenting using Alexander Technique to walk across the room. Their dogs will jump up and walk with them – to the extent their intent to move is clear and even if it’s only for a few steps. This has been so reliable that I’ve encouraged some students to reward their dogs’ sensitivity to human mannerisms and use it as their feedback of success with practicing A.T.

  9. May I also encourage other Alexander Technique teachers to investigate animal training methods, since we are involved in “training”? A short and entertaining instruct on why behaviorist reinforcement works the way it does was written by a person who went on to found a huge dog training school of thought, called “Clicker Training.” Her name is Karen Pryor and her seminal 1984 (1999 paperback) book was titled: “Don’t Shoot The Dog.”

  10. I’ve worked with horses a little bit. It was a long time ago, but I remember placing my two hands near the shoulder and hip joints and directing myself into width. They seemed to like it – took nice deep breaths, that sort of thing. I also had the sense that they appreciated the work on their riders.

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