Saturday, 20 October 2007

Perception, timing and feel - why I blindfolded my client today?

I blindfolded one of my clients today. We always laugh with Sheila saying that she is my guinea pig, which is true. I test my ideas on her and Rex, we discuss and more ideas come up. It's a great learning experience for both of us. In fact, I think you can learn much more through teaching than you can by just assimilating knowledge for yourself.
Fortunately, Sheila not only doesn't mind my games but is very happy to take part in them!
We always play as safe as possible and I never take chances that I think will be too much of a gamble.

The blindfold idea has hunted me ever since, as a 16 years old helper at a riding school in Poland, I had a group of blind children to teach. They were in between 10-12 years old and none of them ever sat on a horse. Teaching them was an incredible experience as most of them were blind from birth or their vision was so impaired that the only thing they saw was light differences.
We had those kids on a 2 week camp and while they were absolutely bewildered in the beginning and their balance was far from good, they had an incredibly high perception of the movements of the horse's body.
Many years later, while teaching at Richmond Park in London, I met a blind lady who regularly hacked out on a lead rein. She had a very good position, her balance was good and even in varied terrain she seemed to follow the movements of the horse very naturally. She really 'felt' the horse with all her senses but the vision. What was also interesting the pony she always rode was significantly quieter and less spooky with that lady on board...

I started wondering...if you were a very vision reliant rider (you stare at the neck to maintain outline, you can only sit straight if you see yourself in a mirror, your hands are not level if you don't look at them etc), would you benefit from 'blind riding' experience? Would switching off your most used sense switch on your proprioception or 'muscle sense' and would this in turn help you with identifying minute movements within the horse's body? Would this help with timing of your aids? Their application?
I will be testing this on Sheila during this coming winter and I will be posting updates on here. During this first session the rider was quite tense and worried she will catch her legs on the fence. She noticed she felt fairly well balanced on the left rein but got dizzy and lost a lot of alignment on the right rein.
Her overall balance was good, she was able to go through transitions in all gaits and her position in canter was very good. She tended to lean forward at times more than she normally does which was caused by tension. She had no idea where she was at any given time but was able to ride simple figures when I directed her by letters around the arena.
We will be doing it again next time.

Some additional reading:
Therapeutic HorseBack Riding For The Blind
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