Horses, Humans and the Alexander Technique

Woman riding a horse
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What is the Alexander Technique?

In its simplest definition— moving without tension in your body. This technique is not medical treatment, nor is it a form of exercise. Instead, it is a retraining of the brain to use only the effort truly needed to perform activities. It can improve freedom of motion, balance, and coordination. Once one becomes familiar with the technique, they will become less tense and have more energy for all daily tasks.

History

Frederick Matthias Alexander, an orator from Tasmania, developed this technique. He was frequently losing his voice after performances, but displayed no signs of any medical condition. He learned that by correcting his unconscious posture while speaking, he could stop the constriction of his neck and thereby prevent the loss of voice. In time, Alexander learned that correcting these subtle movements had an overall positive effect.

Man walking beside horse with arm on its back

Method and Process

The Alexander Technique focuses on mindfulness strategies while in action. This means that the person will learn to intentionally change their habitual movements to cause less stress on the body. Since everyone starts out with different habits, there are no set exercises that must be taught. Instead, the teacher can act as a mirror to show the student how they can change their unique set of habits to make the best use of their muscles. With this knowledge, the student becomes better balanced, and develops a new sense of coordination.

There are two specific things that are taught as part of the Alexander Technique. The first is the working rest. This rest involves lying in a semi-supine position, so that the long-accumulated muscle tension can become more balanced. The second is the whispered “ah,” which helps to create unrestricted breathing and better vocalization.

Alexander and The Rider

The Alexander Technique is regularly taught to singers, actors, and athletes. Among these athletes are the horseback riders. Horses and riders must have clear communication with one another, and much of this communication is by the use of aids or verbal commands. However, the connection with the horse is so powerful that our unconscious muscular responses can act as signals to them. For example, riders may cause confusion for a horse if they tense up while asking them to move forward. This tension may lead to a slower response from the horse than is wanted— causing strain on the horse’s body over time.

When a rider uses the Alexander Technique, he or she becomes aware of these unconscious patterns and can correct them. When this happens, communication between horse and rider will dramatically change. The rider will be able to recognize their horse’s tiniest movements, which will result in better movement overall.

Self-carriage and HorsemanshipMan standing beside horse with arm on its back

Classic horsemanship and the Alexander Technique go hand in hand. Good self-carriage in a horse is characterized by the head moving out from a flexible neck. This allows the horse’s mouth to meet the bit. The back should become rounded and relaxed, with no tension in the muscles. Finally, the horse’s hindquarters should become fully engaged. This gives the horse a more natural alignment, and helps the body absorb the horse’s movements without having a negative impact on the muscles themselves.

When combined together, the Alexander Technique and classic horsemanship make the perfect pair. When horse and rider are both relaxed, and engaging all their muscles in more effective ways, the rider can communicate with the horse without having to be forceful. Not only does that help the relationship between horse and human, it also sets the team up for a better chance of success in the show ring. Furthermore, resulting in far fewer muscular or skeletal problems from unnecessary tension.

The Alexander Technique and Equine-Assisted Learning

Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) and the Alexander technique are absolutely complimentary to one another. EAL helps humans move forward, and remove negative habits and actions from their lives. By teaching using the Alexander Technique, the human will learn to better align their body, which will lead to better overall health. When someone feels better, they can more easily focus on moving forward.

But the Alexander Technique is not just for humans. The technique not only helps equines develop a superb self-carriage. It also can help relieve tension in their bodies when they are not being ridden. When the horse’s body is free of tension, they can act as a better mirror for the equine-assisted learner. This freedom from tension can help the equine pick up less of the learner’s tension when they begin. Horses are incredibly empathetic, and using the Alexander Technique to keep tension out of their muscles will help them remain free of the tension brought on by humans.

Yarcort and the Alexander TechniqueArms hugging horse's head

Yarcort uses the Alexander Technique for the overall well-being of our horses. Our trainer, Tanya, spends 30 hours each month releasing the tension that the horses accumulate from their work with humans. Horses pick up our energy, and just like humans, they build up tension in their bodies from these interactions. It is important that we help them release that tension. They give so much to humans, and using the Alexander Technique is one beneficial way that we can give back to them!

If you carry tension in your body, try Equine-Assisted Learning. Contact Yarcort today to explore ways that we can work together!

 

Author: Crystal Lynn
Editor: Judy Conti
Graphics: Apple Perez