Inhibition in Action
published in STATNews, May 2011)
was a cold, clear October morning when I went to meet Marie
and Dabs on a farm at the foot of the Sussex Downs. As I
walked into the farmyard, I was struck by the fact that
there were two of everything. Two goats first came to greet
me and see if I was good for a scratch round the ears. Then
there were two dogs, one of which was a very convenient
height for warming my hands on. Of the two horses, one was
dark and friendly and resigned to being left in the stable,
the other was looking interested and saddled ready for
action. This was Dabs, to whom I was introduced by Marie.
Marie is a barefoot rider, which is a little misleading as
she was wearing a nice pair of riding boots. It is actually
the horse that is unshod, and that was also a little
misleading, as Dabs was wearing four rather sweet rubber
boots, shaped to the hoof and fastened with Velcro. There
were no metal shoes hammered into the hoof. But being a
barefoot horse is not just about the shoes. The horse is
given a more natural lifestyle. A carefully balanced diet is
all important, particularly in limiting the amount of sugar,
as this can lead to inflammation in the joints, and
laminitis (inflammation in the binding structure of the
hoof). Marie also chooses not to use a bit to the bridle,
and wants to practise careful, balanced riding. This was my
reason for coming
-I was here
to observe a lesson in
Alexander Technique given by Carolyn Nicholls.
walked to the riding area, where Marie removed Dabs'
shoes. I was impressed with how helpful he was, picking up
his feet for her in a very gentle horselike way. I had never
seen a horse quite so helpful, and Marie later explained
that this is actually a big deal.
wild, horses can be at risk from predators. By
giving you their hoof they are limiting their powers of
running away, so they have to trust you.
Marie attached the reins, and she and Carolyn moved to the
centre of the area, while I remained by the gate. Marie
encouraged Dabs to walk, trot, and canter around in almost
circles, explaining that this warmed him up before riding.
Carolyn reminded Marie to think of her use. As
she directed, Dabs seemed to move more freely, being very
aware of his surroundings and his rider. I noticed that each
time he approached where I was standing, he kept a wary eye
on me -an unknown human obviously needs watching. I too
looked after my own use so that he wouldn't
find me quite so worrying.
Marie mounted, I moved to the centre of the ring to stand
with Carolyn and observe how she taught Marie ‘at a
She suggested Marie lengthen down the backs of her legs,
heels directing down. Marie seemed to be sitting well into
the saddle, and I was surprised how much movement there was
in her back as Dabs walked. It flexed forward and back, and
from side to side. I had previously thought that riding was
very good for the back, but Marie told me that riders
frequently have problems
don’t think about their use.
story of a rider whose back `went'
when she was in the saddle, and she was faced with the
problem of getting to the ground. As someone who has
suffered in the past from a back in spasm, I can hardly bear
to think about that.
Marie changed the pace Carolyn encouraged her to use more
inhibition, resisting the desire to push with the back to
make the change happen. She suggested choosing whether to
change on an out-breath or an in-breath, and to notice the
breathing rhythm of the horse, synchronising with her own
breathing. I have to confess I found it very hard to see how
Dabs was breathing as he trotted past. But Marie afterwards
said that she really wants to work on the breathing in
-it obviously struck a chord with her.
brought Dabs to a halt, and then they went backwards.
Without apparent argument. I was very impressed. But Carolyn
suggested that as Marie prepared, she direct her chest
forward, keep her hands open on the reins, and
Dabs back. There was a moment of waiting, of doing nothing,
and then Dabs moved backwards more smoothly. You can see
this moment on the YouTube video at
later, Marie and Dabs again came to a halt. As Marie asked
Dabs to reverse, I became aware something was wrong. Dabs
had noticed a strange noise (it was so distant it took me a
while to realise that this was the earth-shattering problem
it obviously was for Dabs). His ears went back, and he
clearly thought some life-saving action was necessary. Marie
waited, Marie inhibited. We could see Dabs'
attention coming back to her, his ears going forward, his
he was being asked to do something, oh all right then. He
went backwards. Marie was very pleased; she mentioned how
she had been so frustrated about Dabs' anxiety, but she was
much calmer about it now, and it was no longer a problem.
lesson progressed, I could see more clearly how Marie's
use was reflected in Dabs'
-his ears were a great indicator, as they went forward when
he was happy, and he was clearly happy when Marie lengthened
up. He also raised his head, seeming to free his own neck in
harmony with Marie, and I was reminded of the section in
it was the fashion to tighten the horse's
harness to force the neck to arch and the head to be held
up. It was supposed to look better, but restricted the horse's
breathing and reduced its muscle power. Here was Marie
achieving that same result
held beautifully high -without the disadvantages, by
end of the lesson, Marie told me she had been having
Alexander lessons for about six months before she had her
first lesson on horseback. Today was her ninth lesson with
Dabs. She was thrilled at how much her riding had improved
and said she could not have achieved it without the
Technique. Her comment to Carolyn on the video of the lesson
looking at the first three or four videos earlier, and the
change between those and this one is absolutely stunning,
absolutely stunning. You just would not think that it was
the same horse and rider. I hope you are very proud
-you have helped us both so much."
met Marie and Dabs I was a little doubtful about this
barefoot business. Horses are shod and wear bits, and surely
that is the way it is. Indeed, Marie told me that although
she can compete and be judged in competitions, she can't
receive a rosette because Dabs doesn't
wear a bit. But now I have seen them in action, and
understood that Marie bases her care of Dabs on how horses
naturally live in the wild, it all makes so much sense. I am
sure the spirit of Anna Sewell is cheering her on.
1. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: required reading for
animal-loving children, although tissues are needed!