Getting the Horse to Move

 I am a forty-seven-year-old hospital consultant and am a keen horsewoman, having my own horses. In 2010 I had had symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling down my left leg for just over two years. Initially a slipped disc was diagnosed, for which I had physiotherapy for about five or six months, to little effect. I also had a few sessions of Chinese acupuncture for the pain, but didn’t feel it made any difference. 


I subsequently became unable to stand up straight (though I felt that I was!). A repeat MRI scan showed that I now had a spondylolisthesis (where one vertebra slips forward relative to the one below it). An orthopaedic colleague offered facet joint injections for the pain (which I declined on the basis that I needed the pain to stop me doing things I shouldn’t do that may further stress my back) and also said that it looked like I would need surgery to fuse part of my spine. This really worried me as it would mean losing part of my body’s shock absorption mechanism. I had a few sessions of osteopathy but was less than impressed about its effectiveness for me. 


At this point I was getting desperate! I knew about the Alexander Technique thanks to the eighty-five-year-old teacher I go to with the horses, who has great posture having used the Alexander Technique for years.


The Alexander Technique ‘fixed’ me! Or should I say taught me how to direct and consciously use my body better. After about six lessons my back just got straighter and straighter, and the lump from the spondylolisthesis disappeared. I started thinking that maybe I just imagined that there had been a lump there at all, but there certainly isn’t anymore! The pain, numbness and tingling had also gone by lesson five. 


I get an ache sometimes, particularly if I lie flat on something that has got no cushioning, but it usually wears off quite quickly because I use what I have learnt in my AT lessons Alexander Technique lengthening. 


I ride using the principles of natural horsemanship (which I also teach) and classical riding. With both my aim is to work in harmony with the horse, endeavouring to help the horse use its body well and efficiently, from back to front, rather than forcing it (by pulling on the reins) to adopt a shape from the front end. 


For my riding, the Alexander Technique has helped to make me much more consciously aware of what I’m doing, and how this influences what the horse does and how the horse is using its body. Whether I’m riding or working on the ground with the horses, if I’m tipping forward and sticking my pelvis out, they will drag their bum as well. Whereas, if I bring mine in, they’ll engage and use themselves differently, such that if I’m working them at liberty, loose in the school and I’m on the ground, I can stop them just by releasing my lower back to tip my bum in, and they’ll stop. 


I am using my way of going to affect the horse’s way of going. I always have done this to some degree, but by having that consciousness of being able to adjust and let go of tensions by thinking rather than doing something, it just seems to happen (mostly), and then you become aware that something in the horse has changed too, which is completely beyond my scientific training, but, it happens and is truly amazing. If things change for the better then it’s cool. 


 I wish I had learnt Alexander Technique years ago! But hey, you shouldn’t beat yourself up about What you didn’t know. However you should beat yourself up if you know about something good/ better but ignore it and continue doing what you’ve always done! I think AT lessons should be recommended to ALL riders.