Do you look down you ride? Tilt your head to one side or jut your chin forward? Do you brace down against your horse’s back in transitions? Lengthening your head and neck will make you more stable in the saddle and more effective in transitions.
Next time you ride notice what you do with your head and neck. Do you stiffen your neck? Does your horse stiffen his? Do you round your back and shoulders in the downward transitions in an attempt to absorb the horse’s motion? Do you work on a computer or drive your car a lot? Does your neck bother you all the time? Tensing the neck is a common problem even for people who do not ride.
Shortening your neck when you ride has the effect of compressing your weight onto the horse’s back. This can make you a heavy weight even when you are a rather small person. Looking down causes your horse to stop at a jump or not go forward. Tilting can cause you and your horse to lean. Therefore balancing your head is a good idea no matter what you do. And while most of us have not been through charm school this Minute gives an old idea new life.
You may remember hearing that your grandmother had to carry a book on her head at school to learn good posture. While you might think this is a pretty archaic idea it has merit when it comes to improving your riding. Learning to walk with a book on your head teaches you to lengthen upward instead of slouching around.
When you think about this it makes sense since your head weighs about 10lbs.. That is about as much as the average bowling ball! This weight is at the top of your spine. Your muscle and nervous systems have to work overtime as long as your head is not well balanced over your pelvis and/or feet. Aligning yourself to carry a weight on your head effectively will help your overall posture and effectiveness as a rider and ease some of your neck stress.
You want to start with something fairly large and lightweight like a children’s book. I used a gardener’s kneeling pad in the photo 1 and Barbara used a turban made out of a large piece of cloth. Place object on your head and see if you can keep it from falling off. Once you have mastered standing still begin to walk around the room. Take the object down frequently and rest for a moment or two. It is important to observe if you are straining to keep the object from falling off and you might be surprised at how tired you get! It takes a lot of focus to keep the something on the top of your head when you aren’t used to it.
In Africa the women balance all kinds of objects on their head from baskets of fruit to bundles of wood but they start as little children and work up to larger loads. Starting with something lightweight gets you used to the sensation and alignment. Once you can carry a light object you can add some weight to test yourself. Be careful though and remove the weight if you feel any strain.
Check how you are carrying the object in a mirror. Do not increase the weight if you are increasing the curve at the back of your neck and jutting your chin further forward under the load. Otherwise you might strain your neck. Think of lengthening through your spine towards the object on top of your head so that your neck elongates.
Use this Murdoch Minute to lengthen your neck and balance your head. When you ride remember the feeling of being long through your neck and balancing with something on your head and always remember to enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch is available for lessons and clinics in the Northern Virginia region as well as throughout the United States. She teaches riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. On-line join Wendy’s Facebook group Fans of the Murdoch Method and find more articles, blog and her new book 50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding, based on the Murdoch Minutes at www: murdochmethod.com