I have qualified as a riding instructor nearly 20 years ago now and have been teaching practically ever since. I have also qualified as a judge, because I wanted to be able to see more and understand more. Then I found out about the Bowen Therapy and now I think I have found the missing-link in my teaching and training.
If a horse is having problems making a symmetric circle, no amount of inside leg and outside rein is going to help if the horses back or poll is out. Likewise if a rider’s hip is rotated, the horse may pick up wrong canter leads or disunite.
So to be able to progress and get better, we have to not only learn to ride theoretically, but we have to be physically able to follow instructions. Just ask yourself: Have you been having problems with your horse on turns and circles, canter lead or jumping? Take a moment to consider how you are sitting in the saddle. Are you balanced, with your weight evenly distributed? Are your stirrups the same length? Are you sitting over your horse’s centre of balance?
Pain and tension often goes unnoticed (or ignored) in riders as the body is very adept at compensating; after a period of time however, you ‘mysteriously’ begin to feel pain in for example, your shoulder. Sometimes this pain is actually referred pain, in other words, the original problem may have been in your knee but the pain is now being felt in your shoulder, and so on. By helping to relieve pain and tension, Bowen encourages the rider to provide a more even, balanced weight on the horse’s back.
An unbalanced, crooked rider often results in an unbalanced, crooked horse – and vice versa!
The benefits of Bowen for the rider include:
• Improved position in the saddle
• Improved balance and feel
• Increased joint mobility
• Improved recovery time after injury/fall
Other common problems addressed in riders include:
• Lower back pain
• Hip/pelvic pain
• Shoulder pain
• Whiplash/neck pain
Just to give an example:
S. had problems with her horse’s general way of going. She struggled to keep him in an outline and he was always stiffer on one rein. He had trouble to canter on one rein. S was aware of her problems. She knew that she carried one shoulder higher, that her arms where stiff and her back not very supple.
As a result she would ride with very short stirrups to make it more comfortable for herself. S spent lots of time and money trying to fix her problems; she had many lessons and even learnt a series of exercises to help her straighten up. It didn’t work, because the back pain and tension in her shoulder just wouldn’t ease off, so she couldn’t straighten up. Bowen has helped her a lot. The pain and tension went and she can now use the exercises and lessons to be more aware of her body and finally progress in her riding.
This mounted photo was taken before S had Bowen. The left shoulder is much higher then the right one. The photo on the right shows S after her treatment. She is now much straighter.
There are probably as many answers to the above question as there are trainers out there so I thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to discuss in more detail how we look at this aspect of riding within Aspire training courses. Our approach is based on belief that nothing changes in the horse unless the rider changes and this is why rider’s awareness and ability to either straighten themselves or learn how to have that effect on the horse is at the basis of all Aspire coaching.
Leisure riders, with their often sedentary day jobs, benefit hugely from balance and awareness specific exercises or therapy. Healthy movement is fluent and harmonious and that’s what we aim to achieve at every level in both horse and rider.
I personally use a combination of awareness exercises on equine simulator with postural assessments consultations with Kari, which I will write about in more detail soon. Today I would like to give the blog space to another freelance instructor working with me – Mariana Broucher. Apart from being a riding instructor, Mariana is also a Bowen Technique therapist and uses her dual skills to help both riders and horses. You can see Mariana’s Bowen related website here: http://www.equinebowen.net/
Over to Mariana now!
All the best,
Why use the Bowen Technique for riding?
Why do athletes use Bowen? Anything that can help improve performance and help prevent and deal with injuries while keeping the athlete’s flexibility can translate into tangible results like knocking off a few seconds from one’s personal best.
And this is very important not only for top athletes, but also for the everyday horse and rider. Preventing injury and enhancing performance is what saves us money (vet bills are quite high nowadays) and who wants to live with pain anyway. How can we get a more effective and more balanced position if that shoulder keeps aching and that back hurting and we can’t sit straight because one shoulder is higher or the pelvis tilted?
What is the Bowen Technique?
Created by Australian Tom Bowen in the second half of the 20th century, the Bowen Technique is a gentle hands-on remedial therapy. It works with your whole body to bring its muscular/skeletal, emotional and physiological systems back into balance. A series of rolling type moves is made over superficial and deep fascia at specific points on the body. Working through light clothing or directly on the skin, the gentle moves trigger a response in the body to kick-start the natural repair process more specifically; the moves stimulate the nervous system to release tension in the soft tissue.
“Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy”
The body has an innate ability to fix itself. The aim of the Bowen Technique is to facilitate and stimulate this process, while ultimately achieving freedom of movement and equal tension through the form.
So how can Bowen help riders and their horses?
Quite often unforeseen problems arise during lessons which can slow down or even stop progress. This could be anything, from unexplained back pains (for the rider or the horse) to various imbalances and levelnesses issues, or just the inability to learn a certain move or exercise.
By having a closer look it is sometimes possible to find the root of the problem, sometimes not. The Bowen Technique always addresses and rebalances the whole body, regardless of the symptoms. This is very clever, because quite often a symptom like for example an aching left knee has its origin somewhere completely different, maybe in an old shoulder injury. As the body has been compensating to relieve pain in the right shoulder it might have slightly shifted its balance, resulting in a sore left knee maybe months later, when the old shoulder injury is long forgotten. By addressing the whole body, Bowen can not only relieve the “referred” pain in the knee, but hopefully release tensions around the shoulder, which was the initial source of pain.
Case Studies: Alice and Ruby
When I first saw Alice’s mare Ruby I met a very bossy horse. She would run people over, barge out of her stable and generally be very strong and “stressy”. In September 2011 a vet examination showed some abnormal cells on her ovaries. This cleared up by January 2013 but thermal imaging showed an area of muscle tightness in the right gluteals and also muscle spasm in both hamstrings.
When ridden, Ruby would be quite erratic. She refused to go in a straight line (even in walk). The walk and trot were very irregular. When turning she would lean on her inside shoulder. She would hurry into canter transitions and just wouldn’t canter on the correct lead. She also wasn’t capable of going in an outline.
After 3 treatments Ruby was more relaxed in her stable and when being handled. She seemed much less stressed and happier. And she started to canter on the correct lead without rushing into the canter transitions and she generally looked straighter and more regular.
Ruby’s rider and owner Alice was very happy, especially as she could now see a progress in her lessons. But treating only the horse was in this case not enough, as Alice herself had quite a few issues. Alice suffered from back pain that would often be so bad, that she couldn’t ride at all. And when she did ride, she was very unbalanced herself; she would be leaning forward too much and at the same time collapse in her hips and her pelvis was shifted to the left. So it was actually hard to tell if the problems were Alice’s or Ruby’s.
As is visible on the picture below, Alice sits more to the left, because her pelvis is shifted that way, as a result she is collapsed in her hip and her left shoulder seems higher.
Pelvis is “shifted” to the left
After receiving Bowen the pelvis seems much straighter
The below picture is taken after 3 Bowen sessions.
After receiving 3 Bowen treatments each, Alice straightened up in the saddle and no longer suffers from back pain which would eventually stop her from riding. As a bonus Alice can now walk up or down stairs without having to lead with one leg.
Ruby is calmer, straighter and more regular. In addition she is now more attentive to her rider so both seem to enjoy the riding much more and can now get the most out of their lessons.
From May 2014, Mariana Broucher co-runs Aspire 2014 courses in Orpington, Kent. Please contact email@example.com for more information.