TSB author Wendy Murdoch at the 2014 USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Educational Symposium, where she was a presenter.
We caught up with ever-busy instructor and clinician Wendy Murdoch following her stint presenting at the 2014 USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Educational Symposium and asked her to tell us HOW those fabulous 5-Minute Fixes of hers can really work to make us better riders in no time. Here, Wendy breaks it down for us, while giving us a chance to try one of her favorite Fixes for ourselves.
Wendy’s book 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING has been an overwhelming hit since TSB published it four years ago. Now Wendy’s highly anticipated follow-up is finally here! You can order 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES at the TSB online bookstore (CLICK HERE).
TSB: Your new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is a follow-up to the bestselling 50 5-MINUTE FIXES TO IMPROVE YOUR RIDING. Is it really possible to improve your riding and jumping skills in only 5 minutes? How are your techniques effective when they require so little time?
WM: Many of the Fixes in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES can definitely be done in only 5 minutes! That’s the thing that I think is so important for the reader to understand. It doesn’t have to take months, years or decades to improve your performance over fences. What is necessary is a clear understanding of your own body and how it works.
Take the hip joints, for example. One question I ask at all my clinics is, “Where are your hip joints?” More than 90 percent of people think that their hips are where their belt rests rather than where the joints actually are. I find this misconception of hip location across the USA and Europe, and in riders of all disciplines. (So this isn’t just a problem for people who jump!) But in 5 minutes, you can read the chapter in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES on locating your hips from the front, both on the ground and on the horse, and make a tremendous difference in your riding and in your horse’s performance!
Other Fixes may take a bit more time to learn and practice, but once learned it will only take 5 minutes in your mounted warm-up to remind yourself of the lesson and therefore improve your riding. And, of course, there are so many exercises you can do off the horse, which you can practice while at the grocery store, at your desk at work, or while sitting at a boring dinner party! Doing just a few minutes of your favorite 5-Minute Fixes every day can significantly improve your riding not to mention your ease and comfort throughout your day.
I believe my techniques are effective for several reasons:
Accuracy is important because we communicate our desires to the horse through our physical body, which interfaces with the horse through the saddle. If we restrict one joint in the body, all the other joints become restricted. With my 5-Minute Fixes I am not telling you to find your hips somewhere in the general area of your pelvis. I show you how to find the joint from four different perspectives so that you know exactly where this most critical joint is in your own body. When the rider is accurate it takes very little to aid the horse because the message to the horse is clear and concise, something that is very important during a jump round. This degree of accuracy is lacking in most riding instruction.
I hear world-class instructors demonstrate and tell their students that their hip joints are the boney projections on the pelvis (called the ASIS—Anterior Superior Iliac Spine). These instructors will go on to say “put your hips in the saddle.” This is physically impossible! The students try to do as instructed, but because this instruction is totally inaccurate, the riders become increasingly restricted in the hips. The tension in the rider’s body goes right into the horse, who then also becomes stiff. After that, it usually becomes the horse’s problem for not performing correctly!
I have spent my lifetime learning, understanding, and teaching good body function for horses and for humans, on and off the horse. When I say “function” I mean the rider’s use of her body in a way that works with how the skeleton is designed. Using our body efficiently minimizes injuries, helps to prevent falls, and significantly decreases fear, as well as improves our horse’s performance.
The nervous system recognizes when we are in good balance on the horse and warns us through the emotion of fear when we are unstable or unprepared to jump a certain height. Ignoring this fear means we run the risk of injury. When my students learn how to flatten their lower back, for example, this fear immediately decreases. Therefore our emotional state is tied to our physical position. If we ignore emotional warning signals, we run the risk of getting hurt. Honoring our fear and learning to be more secure makes riding over fences much safer and more enjoyable.
The first section of 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES explains this fundamental position of the lower back and pelvis, which is critical a secure position over fences. The position I describe had been taught for centuries as the forward seat since it was first developed by Caprilli in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, this basic position has been replaced with a hollowed lower back position, which puts the rider and horse on the forehand and is very insecure. To overcome this fundamental flaw, riders grip, squeeze, lean on the horse’s neck, limit the height of their fences, or quit jumping altogether. Throughout my new book I explain the biomechanics of good function and its relationship to the horse so that the reader understands the basic principles that govern jumping.
It all sounds rather complicated when I try to explain why my 5-Minute Fixes are effective, but I think it all comes down to taking complex concepts and breaking them down into simple practical lessons. In my books the anatomy and function behind the lessons are separated out into sidebars. The lessons themselves are divided into “On the Ground”—meaning off the horse—and “On the Horse” mounted lessons. This way the busy reader/rider can skip the sidebars one day, and just do the lessons, or alternatively study the anatomy or only do an unmounted portion of the lesson on the days she can’t ride.
Feeling Differences/Asking Questions
I think the reason my techniques can be so effective is because I teach the student to feel, think, and sense differences, and therefore have the knowledge needed to choose what is best for her and her horse. You might say I make the student responsible to her horse rather than to the instructor.
Most riding instruction is based on a military way of teaching, which takes the student’s power away: The instructor tells you what (not how) to do something, and you are to do that no matter what. There is no consideration for the student’s level of understanding, competency, pain, previous injuries, or ability to comprehend the task. This style of teaching makes the student totally dependent on the teacher who determines what is “right” or “wrong.” The rider is at the mercy of the instructor.
I want my students to be knowledgeable, independent, empowered, and able to make decisions for themselves. When I first start working with a student who has been taught by a very demanding instructor, it becomes immediately apparent that the student is simply trying to please me with her performance. It takes a few lessons before the student can start to move away from this behavior and start to listen to how her horse responds. Rather than telling the rider what I want her to do, I ask her to feel a new position—for example, flattening her lower back vs. a hollow-backed position. Then I have her ride while going back and forth between the “new place” (flat lower back) and the “old place” (hollow back), without judgment!
This is very difficult at first because the rider is terrified she is going to get it “wrong,” which prevents her from feeling how her horse is responding to her position. But after a little while, I say, “The horse gets to vote.” This puts the responsibility on the rider and her observation of the horse’s response to her change in position.
This style of teaching, where someone is asking you questions rather than telling you what to do, is hard to grow accustomed to, at first. But in the end, the rider who takes responsibility for her learning, experiences, and decisions, while listening to her horse, will achieve the kind of true partnership she is seeking.
Wendy was a recent guest on the Horse Radio Network’s “Horses in the Morning” show. Click the image to listen.
TSB: How might your JUMPING FIXES apply to riders who don’t jump competitively, or don’t jump at all? What can every rider learn from this book?
WM: That’s the best part about this book! There is so much information that applies to all disciplines, not just jumping. I wanted to write about jumping because there isn’t anything on the market that tells riders how to achieve a good jumping position, but I wrote a book with lessons that apply to all types of riding.
I see so many people who want to learn to jump but are afraid, or who limit themselves to cross-rails because they don’t have a good base of support. I have also taught top competitive jumper riders who are missing some of the fundamentals I outline. The information in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is the basis for the United States Pony Club’s “Basic Balance Position” over fences for all Rating Levels. Once they start using my Fixes, the adult amateur hunter/jumper students I teach are more successful in the show ring and find they can ride without pain, something many of them are experiencing when they first come to me. Of course, many of my students simply want to enjoy trail riding, fox hunting, and being able to jump over a log or get up out of the saddle while galloping with me across the Masai Mara in Kenya (a horseback safari trip I take regularly). The lessons in my new book apply to these riders, too.
I always say: “Gravity is not discipline specific.” No matter what discipline or breed of horse you ride, you still can benefit from knowing how to flatten your back; find your hips; free your hips, knees, and ankles; and soften your jaw. These topics and more are covered in 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES—while they may be described in conjunction with a forward position, the lessons themselves apply to anyone who rides.
TSB: What is one of your favorite JUMPING FIXES and why?
WM: Oh that’s easy. My favorite Fix is “Grounding Your Foot for a Good Base of Support.” This lesson comes from Dr. Feldenkrais, who developed the Feldenkrais Method®, and it is called the “Artificial Floor” to those that know his work. To me, this was the most brilliant idea he ever had because it is so simple, yet so profound. I adapted it to the saddle in 2001 when I started my Feldenkrais Training.
I don’t know if riding instructors have realized it yet, but my books are written in a way that they can be used as lesson plans for teaching—you can take one lesson a week to teach to your students. If there is one lesson I could persuade all riding instructors to use with their students, this one is it!
You do need an assistant or instructor when doing this lesson on the horse, but the unmounted lesson is also fabulous. For years I have taught the unmounted part: balancing a board on the hands and feet and then rolling over. This teaches the students how to have “independent” limbs, coordinate movement, and learn about timing rather than force or speed. Of course, it also causes lots of laughter and it is fun! I have students in their sixties who can roll over with four boards when younger riders can’t, meaning age is not a deterrent, while body awareness and control are the keys.
The reason the mounted portion of this lesson is so profound is that riders do not realize how hard they push against the stirrups. They become accustomed to the pressure so it becomes normal. This affects their joints, their movement, and the horse’s movement because that pressure is transmitted to the horse’s shoulder area through the stirrup bar. Excessive pressure on the stirrups can cause a lot of problems, especially when jumping, because during the landing phase the force of the rider coming down on the stirrups goes right into saddle through to the horse’s back, which can cause pain and lameness. The “Grounding Your Foot” lesson shows you that you don’t have to brace against the stirrups to be secure in the saddle. Instead, having flexible joints to absorb the horse’s motion is better for both horse and rider.
When riders feel the difference in their legs after doing this Fix, they come back for more—and so do the horses, who immediately sense a change in the pressure on their back. This is such a win-win-win Fix, I hope everyone will try it!
Ready to try “Grounding Your Foot for a Good Base of Support,” one of the 5-Minute Fixes from Wendy Murdoch’s new book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES? Here are the steps to the unmounted lesson:
1 While lying on your back place a small board or child’s book on the bottom of one bare foot. Repeat the process of placing the board on and off your foot a few times. For many students this alone is a real challenge! Be patient with yourself. Or, you can have someone place the board on your foot for you. If you are having great difficulty with your foot do Steps 5 and 6 first. This way you can let your hand teach your foot how to do the movements. How much of your foot touches the board? Do all of your toes touch? If you spread them apart can more toes touch? Be sure to relax your toes.
2 Explore moving the board in a variety of directions: closer to your head; farther away; taking the whole leg to the side; and rotating the foot and knee in and out. Watch your foot as you do this. Can you keep the board from falling off? Go slower in order to control your movements. Do not be frustrated if the board falls. Simply try again going slower next time. The board highlights the orientation of your foot as you move. If it drops off, simply put it back on and continue. Falling off is part of the process of learning. Figure out why it dropped off rather than getting frustrated when it happens. Explore moving other parts of your body (hips, knee, lower back) to keep the foot oriented upward toward the ceiling.
3 Take the board off your foot and rest frequently so that you can sense and feel the effect. Often the learning process happens during the rest. When you begin again you will find you can do the movements more easily than before. Pay attention to where you feel tired or strained, and to your breathing. Holding your breath will make the exercise harder. Go slowly and rest frequently, or leave the lesson and come back later after you have had a break.
4 Repeat the process lying on your stomach.
5 Roll onto your back and place the board on your hand. Explore moving the board around in all the ways you explored with your foot. Feel how much easier it is to do this! In general, we are much more aware of how to move our hands than our feet. Rest.
6 Roll onto your stomach and again place the board on your hand. At first this may seem more limiting, but take a few moment to see where you can go. You might even find you can roll over onto your back without losing the board!
7 Put the board on the foot again. Is it easier now that you have explored the idea with your hand? Can you move your leg in a circle without the board falling off? Stand up and walk around noticing the difference between your two feet.
8 Repeat with your other foot and hand. Which limb is easier? Does this easier side correspond to your “weaker leg” when you ride? Perhaps this is your supple leg and it is the other one—the “stronger” one—that is too rigid. When you ride, notice if your legs feel more even when you can do the foot on the board exercise in a similar manner on both sides.
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