Just like a child's building blocks, if your body parts are not stacked one on top of the other you could fall down. However, you have an advantage over wooden blocks. Your muscles prevent you from falling down, or off a horse. Your muscles unconsciously contract and hold you up. Problems arise because the muscle effort that goes into keeping you from falling off the horse also prevents you from being able to freely follow the horse's motion.
The Centered Riding term for Alignment is "Building Blocks." The blocks that Sally Swift (developer of the Centered Riding approach) refers to are different segments of your body. Alignment can be divided into five segments: the head, followed by the shoulders, torso, pelvis, and finally the legs (including the feet).
Try this experiment: Take one hand and shake it. Continue to shake your hand and tighten one finger. Notice what happens to your hand (and your breathing). When you tightened one finger, you tightened your other fingers and your wrist and you limited your breathing. Simply tightening one finger affects other parts of your body, making them stiff.
When you are not in alignment, you must contract more muscles to hold yourself on the horse, restricting the horse?s ability to move underneath you. This gripping generally causes the horse to either go too fast or slow down and stop. Then you have to work even harder just to get the horse to go at all. It is the rare horse indeed that happily keeps going in spite of a rider that is gripping on his back.
The thing that keeps you on the horse is gravity. If there were no gravity, you would just float away. This would make a lot of horses happy and alleviate the problem of sore backs in horses! Since gravity is what keeps you on the horse, you need to stay in alignment with gravity, and then you won?t have to work too hard to stay on.
Because gravity is constantly trying to pull you down to earth, if one or more of your blocks is not in alignment with gravity, things begin to stiffen and limit your ability to go with the horse?s movement. For instance, if your head, which weighs between 10 to 15 pounds, is in front of your shoulders, your neck muscles have to contract. Gently experiment with sticking your chin forward. Feel the strain this puts on your neck when you do this. Notice how having your head forward limits the movement in your shoulders. What will this do to your ability to follow the horse?s mouth with your hands?
Just as a point of interest, notice the position of your head and neck when driving your car. Glance at other drivers (being careful to drive safely while you do this) and notice how many people drive with their head poking out in front of their shoulders. This puts a tremendous strain on your neck and can be the cause of headaches.
Now think about your head being poised over your shoulders as if it were floating up like a helium balloon or as if you were a horse and you pricked your ears. Notice how this lengthens the back of your neck and releases your shoulders. How do you think this will affect your horse?
On a relaxed rein experiment by sticking your chin out, tucking it too far in, or having it poised over your shoulders. Notice what the horse does as you change the position of your head. How does this affect the feeling in your seat and the quality of your horse's gaits?
When you find your alignment or "stack your blocks," starting with your head, you begin to use balance to properly position yourself on your horse.
Wendy Murdoch, author of Simplify Your Riding: Step-by-Step Techniques to Improve your Riding Skills, has been teaching rider awareness for nearly 20 years and currently teaches riding clinics around the world. A lifelong student of the connection between humans and horses, Wendy's goal is to simplify riding by showing riders how to achieve what many highly accomplished riders do naturally.
Book info: Carriage House Publishing, 223 Silver Street, Middleton, NH 03887, 603-755-4596. Price: $24.95, ISBN 0-9670047-