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


Anonymous said...

Compliments, that's a great idea!
I think that once you win the tension of loosing such a great instinctive aids, as the sight is, the feeling of the horse sensitivity can improve greatly.
I think can help a lot to find out where your tense point are, where your body tight more, and once you can relax, is a great way to understand how much we can understand about our ride just throught our seat/leg contact and, most important, how much we can communicate with it. Especially if you try to take away the rein as well (I think that can be quite istinctive try to grasp on them), the rider cannot avoid to think and feel what really is underneath him.
Very, very interesting, I have to try it myself! ;)
Please, keep us updated!!
:) Mak

Suzie said...

This is really interesting - I used to ride with a blind lady, who had been blind for about 30 years. She had a horse on loan and could ride far better than many of the other people at that yard. She had tremendous feel and could sense when the horse was tilting his head a fraction, and could even feel when his ears were back. She used to use a stereo in one corner of the school and (provided it wasn't windy) could tell you exactly where she was in the school at any time - even by letter name.

Her horse's favourite trick was, if there were any jumps in the school (his rider obviously wouldn't know this unless she was told) he would take any opportunity to pop over them. She found this hilarious, and never once became unbalanced or unseated by it.

Great idea - I often close my eyes for a few moments to establish the rhythm in my head, but I guess the problem with that is that it is so tempting just to take a quick peek - blindfolding means that you HAVE to learn to deal with it!

Anonymous said...

What a great idea. I have had instructors have me close my eyes briefly on the lunge line but never had a whole lesson blindfolded. It sounds very useful.

Unknown said...

Thank you all! Hello Mak! (email on its way soon!.)
I will be updating on our progress.
Sheila was blindfolded for almost 40 minutes, so yes, no 'eyes opening' option!
I will try without reins as well - we did a lot of that in the beginning as I strongly believe in lunge lessons.
However, the problem we have is the contact issue and I want her to 'feel' the lenght of the rein, the mouthing of the bit etc rather than see it.

Dressage Mom said...

I'm tagging you! Show your pony ( tagged me to come up with 8 things that poeple don't know about me, and I tagged you. Sorry if you've already been tagged!

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