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The Women & Horses Newsletter - April 2002
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         Women and Horses Newsletter, April 2002

This newsletter is only sent to those who signed up for it at
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       ~~~~~~~From Mary D. Midkiff~~~~~~~

Re-Thinking Posture (Part One of Two)

Most of us, myself included, have always thought of posture in a
negative and distasteful way. When I was a teenager, my 
grandmother always reminded me to sit up at the table, my mother
was always chiding me to stop slumping, I read of lady's 
finishing schools with their torturous methods to make girls 
stand tall with their chins high in the air, and of course I had
a few teachers ask me to walk around with a book on my head with
the goal of making it from one end of the room to the other 
without a spill.

I imagined a person with good posture to have a statuesque 
appearance, military-like stance and rigid countenance. Riding 
with good posture for me was always about arching my back in 
order to sit up straight and bringing the shoulders back and the
chest out. This is the way I found it easiest to obtain, not 
that it was comfortable.  I always interpreted "sitting up" from
my instructor in this way, and was praised for obtaining this 

Maybe many of you, especially women and girls, have also been 
plagued by postural considerations in your riding. Wanting to
appear elegant and confident in the saddle and obey the 
instructor's command is something we all aspire to (or at least
used to), especially in the show ring. "Sitting tall" in the 
saddle trying to achieve good posture and appear relaxed is very
difficult to do especially when you aren't breathing because 
your chest is inflated, your back/spine is shortened due to 
arching and your shoulders are squeezed backward tightening your
upper back which limits the movement of the ribcage. It's a 
wonder we can stay on the horse with this much oxygen 

It's time we all begin to re-think posture. I'm hoping many of
you have searched for and participated in body awareness type
activities. Techniques such as Alexander, Feldenkreis, Yoga, 
Tai Chi, Pilates and many more are bringing heightened awareness
of how to achieve good posture and healthy body movement without
stress and strength.

From now on I will refer to the dirty word of "posture" as body
alignment. That's all it really is. To achieve your full range 
of  motion, maximum breathing ability and stress-free joint 
movement your body must be in alignment. How many of us on this
planet know or have felt straightness in our bodies? Very, very
few of us have any idea what it feels like to be clear through-
out our bodies so our internal organs can function as they were
designed to and our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones can 
operate to support us.

Think of your body as a skyscraper. Skyscrapers are built to 
withstand hurricane-force winds, a shift in the foundation due
to an earthquake and heavy snow loads on the roof, for hundreds
of years. These buildings are meant to move as they need to to
compensate for their height above their base. The buildings that
are not constructed properly and are "fixed" begin to destruct
under pressure. Windows shatter, bricks pop out, cracks appear
in walls and ceilings, all signs of the inability to move and 
change with pressure and force.

If you are a skyscraper sitting on your horse you must be able 
to move above a foundation or base. The base is your pelvis. It
must always remain in a neutral position (not too tucked under 
you and not leaning forward on the pubic fork), in order to 
support the length of mass above it. From the pelvis upward is
one tall piece that needs to be able to balance and rebalance
with force.

Your hip joint is the hinge between the base and the skyscraper.
In women especially the hip joint must always be open and 
functioning. Practice keeping your knees open as often as you 
can while you are in the saddle. This is where your power and
connection to your base will come from.

In body alignment, the spine is straight and lengthened. You are 
out of alignment if the spine is shortened or jammed, which then
affects all of the other parts of your body.

Here is an exercise to start you on the road to alignment and

     Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and
     allow your knees to relax. Now grasp your ankles and grow
     as tall as you can with your upper body, keeping the back
     flat and straight and slow pull yourself forward. Stop 
     going forward if you feel your back wanting to change to
     hollow or round. Watch yourself in a full-length mirror 
     from the side to make sure your back is staying straight   
     and tall. It may take you awhile to be able to keep your
     pelvis on the floor and at the same time grow as tall as 
     you can above it and move forward.

Taking Pilates or Yoga classes will help you on your way. I 
can't stress this kind of bodywork for riders enough. You will 
learn body alignment techniques and strengthen your inner 
abdominal core, so essential to your safety, performance and 
effectiveness in the saddle. A deep strong core will also keep
your back healthy and pain free.

Begin re-thinking posture. You can be tall, straight and relaxed
in the saddle all at the same time while your breathing remains
regular and deep, but only through learning how to bring your
body into alignment and riding with a lengthened flexible spine.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article where I will go further 
into alignment aspects for riders. In the meantime, practice 
this exercise and many others. You and your horse will benefit
greatly from this approach.
           Women have a special magic with horses...
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