My Horse, My Teacher

How often have we heard the phrase: “Our horses are our best teachers?”

By this, we usually mean that each horse “teaches” us how he is best ridden. Through listening and feel, we learn how to improve performance by sitting better and giving correct aids.

What if you take this a step further? Think of when your horse moves really well with a soft poll. Can you let your own head/neck movement be that easy and free? While riding?

In Improve Your Dressage Seat workshops, we practice the same springy “throughness” of movement through our back that we look for in our horses. One of the first things we practice is a delicate balance of the head on top of the spine, (the human poll!). This head/neck/back balance influences the quality of posture and movement in all vertebrates.

You can try a tidbit from the workshop here:

See how high up the neck goes to connect with the base of the skull.

See how high up the neck goes to connect with the base of the skull.

Notice where the base of your skull meets the top of your spine. It is very high up, almost between the ears, above the jaw bone. Take a moment to find this spot by running your hand up the back of your neck until you feel the little indentation beneath your skull. This part of the skull is called the occiput and the first vertebrae of your cervical spine is called the atlas. The atlanto-occipital joint is even higher up and further inside your skull than the indentation you can feel. Now put your fingers just in front of your ears. Your atlanto-occipital joint is here, between the ears, and behind the roof of the mouth—much higher than we usually think!

See if you can nod your head a few times from this very high spot—it feels different than how we normally nod—usually we nod from about the height of the jaw line. Notice that you can release the muscles surrounding the base of the skull as well as around your whole neck, including your jaw. Now you have a free poll. Your horse’s poll is also between his ears, and in the ideal coordination, it is the highest part of his neck.

Try letting the base of your skull and your jaw and mouth release when you are riding. Allow your skull to balance freely on top of your long spine. Can you feel a difference in your horse? This takes practice! Let me know how your experiment goes.

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