Horseback riding has many disciplines, including dressage, Western cutting, three-day eventing, show jumping, and barrel racing. To really master the art of riding requires internal focus, discipline, and fitness.
The rider must develop inner awareness and mental balance as well as physical balance and fitness in order to be able to face all challenges. The best riders are like dancers: fluid, supple, strong, with a sense of rhythm, tempo, precision, and soft focus. Natural born riders have the “feel,” an inner quiet, a stillness, and intuition.
Teacher Sally Swift is the founder of a comprehensive course called Centered Riding.
The following are the four basics of Centered Riding, which bring the mind and body together.
• Soft Eyes—Encourages visual and physical awareness, better peripheral vision, and improved “feel.”
• Breathing—Emphasizes correct breathing for better posture, relaxation, and energy.
• Balance or Building Blocks—Aligns the rider’s body for improved balance and ease of movement.
• Centering—Using the center of balance, movement, and control (located deep in the body) gives quiet strength, harmony, and power, as in martial arts.
Riding master Alois Podhajsky, former chief of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, uses principles that develop inner awareness when teaching dressage and three-day eventing. He always advised his students, “If there is a problem with the horse, the rider needs to look inside.” Why? Veteran riders know that most of the existing problems come from the rider/trainer and their failure to creatively train while staying quiet and unmoved, never getting angry. The horse is rarely at fault.
Students often find that the things they learn from riding apply to every aspect of their lives, and they are able to deepen their ability to balance relationships. Because of this characteristic, programs designed to develop a deeper self-awareness have integrated work with horses.
Miraval Health Spa in Tucson, Arizona works with people (often non-riders) to find and move beyond their limiting beliefs while working with horses. Barbara Rector, M.A founded another global program based in Tucson called “Adventures in Awareness.” Ms. Rector says, “The purpose of Adventures in Awareness is to develop consciousness while expanding awareness.”
Riding provides a continuous isometric workout for the rider. Serious riders also add cycling (to and from the barn), yoga, weights, and oftentimes Pilates training. The most important aspect of riding is the inner balance it can develop, feeding the soul as well as the body.
Talking with a wide cross section of riders, most will admit that riding relaxes and quiets them at the same time. One rider, Janis Sollenbarger, said, “ I had to go to the barn after work before I came home; without horse time I wasn’t fit to be around!”
So if you would like to experience a physical workout that can build inner peace and harmony you might try riding. Riding also provides a good way to get closer to nature and it’s beauty.