Category: Energy

Unbendable Arm Energy

Unbendable Arm Energy

On page 25 of her book Centered Riding Sally Swift says,

It is important to realize from the beginning that imagery can influence muscles. Muscles can be brought into action or released by images without discernible motion. In this way the quality of control of the arm, leg, or whatever, can be improved and eventually, through practice, become automatic

The Unbendable Arm exercise Sally Swift discusses in her book Centered Riding 2 Further Exploration is not about the arm not bending, but about the quality of energy in the arm. Here are some of the things Sally Swift says about the Unbendable Arm:

  • “The Unbendable Arm exercise will help you understand the availability of the kind of strength and energy that comes through clear intent.”
  • “It can be used in countless ways, on or with a horse.”
  • “Horses clearly understand this effortless language and instinctively, even profoundly respect it.”
The Unbendable Arm Exercise
Demonstration of the Unbendable Arm exercise.
Demonstration of the Unbendable Arm exercise.
From page 41 of Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding 2 Further Exploration

To experience the feel of the unbendable arm energy, you need to compare two different ways of resisting the efforts of someone trying to bend your arm.

  • First, make a fist, hold your breath, and resist the effort to bend your arm with all your strength.
  • Next, relax your hand. Use your soft eyes and deep breathing. Stack up your building blocks. Center yourself. Draw energy up from the earth and stream it out your arm with the clear intent of not letting your arm bend.
The Four Basics

If you are unfamiliar with the terms: soft eyes, deep breathing, building blocks, and centering, these are the four basics Sally Swift discusses in chapter 3 of her book Centered Riding.

Briefly:

  • Soft eyes are where you focus on an object, but also open up your peripheral vision so you see the sky above you, the ground below you, and everything on both sides of you.
  • Deep breathing is where you breath with your diaphragm, drawing your breath down into your center, and filling your body. You can imagine having one of those chemistry flasks inside you with the long neck and big bulb on the bottom. Breath all the way down the neck of that flask and fill the bulb on the bottom.
  • Building blocks is a balanced stance, where your bones are stacked up so they can support you while your muscles remain relaxed.
  • Centering is just drawing your attention to your center—the area in the bowl of your pelvis.

Doing the unbendable arm exercise allows you to feel the distinct difference in the quality of the energy in your arm, and the amount of effort you expend between using your strength, and using the unbendable arm energy.

Once you have felt the quality of energy with the unbendable arm exercise, you can use that quality of energy when you ride.

Railroad Tracks

Think of taking energy up from the ground, through your center and streaming it out your arms in the direction you want to go with the quality of the unbendable arm. You can think of the streams of energy as railroad tracks, and you are riding your horse along those tracks. When you want to make a gradual turn, bend those railroad tracks in the direction of the turn.

Driving and Drawing

When you want to make tighter turns, you can use the unbendable arm energy differently in each arm. Think in terms of streaming energy out the outside arm, and drawing energy in the inside arm. Outside and inside refer to the bend in the horse. If you are turning to the right, you stream the energy out the left arm and draw it in with the right arm. If you are turning to the left, you steam the energy out the right arm and draw it in the left arm.

Real World Example

I recently shared this concept with a very new rider. Although she had very little riding experience, her horse was very experienced, and responded to images of energy very well. In the time frame of one riding lesson, this student had the driving and drawing working so well, she was riding circles and serpentines without taking the slack totally out of her reins.

How I Started with Images of Energy

How I Started with Images of Energy

When I first started experimenting with images of energy, I went through a progression in my imagery.

  • I started with an image of a broomstick between my belly button and the horse. I would think of pushing on the horse with the broomstick.
  • As I progressed, I replaced the image of the broomstick with an image of streams of energy that I would turn on and off. I would send these streams of energy out in a straight line to push on the horse, and I would turn them off when the horse responded.
  • Later, I thought in terms of using energy in circles. I would imagine attaching an energy string to the horse, draw that energy string in through my center, and send it back out to the horse.

Let me illustrate this progression using the ground work exercise where you send the horse around you and change directions. Chapter one of Marty Martin’s book Problem Solving published by Western Horseman has the best explanation of how to do this exercise I’ve seen in print.

Here is an illustration from page 19 of Marty’s book:

Diagram of leading a horse past you and changing directions.
Broomstick

In my initial experimentation, I would visualize having a broomstick between my belly button and where the girth would be if the horse was wearing a saddle. I would think of pushing the horse around the circle in front of me with this broomstick. When I was ready to start a change of directions, I would visualize having the broomstick between my belly button and the horse’s hip. I would think of pushing the horse’s hip away from me with the broomstick. As the horse started to bring its front end across, I would visualize having the broomstick between my belly button and the horse’s shoulder—the one the horse was moving away from. I would think of pushing the horse’s shoulder away from me with the broomstick.

Energy Stream

As I progressed, instead of visualizing a broomstick, I would visualize turning streams of energy on and off. I would start by sending a stream of energy from my center to where the girth would be if the horse were wearing a saddle. I would think of pushing the horse around the circle in front of me with this stream of energy. When I was ready to start a change of directions, I would turn that stream of energy off and send a new stream of energy from my center to the horse’s hip. I would think of pushing the horse’s hip away from me with this stream of energy. When the horse moved its hip over, I would turn off that stream of energy. As the horse started to bring its front end across, I would send a new stream of energy from my center to the horse’s shoulder. I would think of pushing the horse’s shoulder away from me with that stream of energy. When the horse’s front feet were all the way around to the new circle, I would turn off that stream of energy.

Circle of Energy

When I started thinking in terms of using energy in circles, the change of directions I was getting from the horse improved immensely. I would start the change of directions by attaching an energy string to the horse’s nose, and drawing that energy string into my center. This helped the horse bend correctly for turning on the forehand. I would send that energy string back out to the horse and bounce it off the horse’s hip. This would move the horse’s hip away from me. I would have the energy string continue around the back side of the horse and bounce it off the horse’s shoulder—the one the horse was moving away from. The energy string would get to the shoulder in time to help the horse shift its weight back for a turn on the haunches, and continue aiding the horse in bringing the front end across all the way until the front feet were on the new circle.

With the energy string aiding in getting the proper bend in the horse, and shifting the weight to free up the front feet. I could be very light with the lead rope, and have a better result.

The Energy Bubble

The Energy Bubble

In Sally Swift’s book Centered Riding 2 Further Exploration she presents an exercise she calls the “Capsule.” There is an illustration on page 99 with the caption, “Imagine yourself in a ‘capsule’ with energy from your center radiating against the sides and filling it up.”

Near the end of her discussion of this exercise Sally Swift says,

During this imaginary Capsule exercise, you succeeded in balancing internal and external awareness. This new expanded awareness can give you better control in several ways when you ride.”

I have found the image of an energy bubble to be very effective. If you were taking a riding lesson from me, I would start by telling you to visualize building an energy bubble from your center that encompasses you and your horse. Then I would tell you to fill that energy bubble with waves of energy that go from your center, bounce off the wall of the bubble, and go back to your center.

If you want your horse to go faster, point the nose of your energy bubble out toward where you want to go, and have the energy waves be short and fast. If you want your horse to slow down, pull the nose of the energy bubble in like a wall in front of the horse and have the waves be long and slow.

Once you were comfortable using this image, I would have you change the path of the energy waves inside your energy bubble. Instead of having them go from your center to the wall of the bubble, and bounce back to your center, I would have you send the waves from your center out to the wall, have them bounce back to the horse’s center, then back out to the wall, and back to your center.

I experimented with a student and had her switch back and forth between including the horse’s center and not including the horse’s center in the path of the energy waves in her bubble. I could tell which way she was doing it by observing how connected to her horse she was, and how well she was with the horse’s movement. There was a visible improvement when she included the horse’s center in the energy wave path.

This is actually the first energy image I shared with a student. I had been experimenting with images of energy myself, but was not willing to talk to anyone else about them yet. I had a student who lived in Los Angeles. She would come to Colorado every few months for her business. When she was here, she would arrange to take a few lessons from me. Her horse being in Los Angeles, she would borrow a friends horse for the lessons.

In one of those lessons she said her horse bolted with her almost every time she rode, and it was becoming not fun any more. The problem was, the horse she borrowed for the lessons was so quiet and laid back, she didn’t feel like she could learn what she needed for her horse.

I told her about the energy bubble, and said, “When you are ready, fill that energy bubble with short fast energy waves, sending the nose out to the other end of the arena streaming those short fast waves out there with the nose of the bubble.” I also told her, “When you are ready to slow down, pull the nose of the energy bubble in like a wall in front of your horse, and fill it with long slow waves.”

The horse took off, she shrieked, and at what seemed to me to be the last possible second, the horse stopped, and they calmly walked back to me.

As we left the arena, my student told the horse’s owner,

You need to do what ever you need to do to get Joe to tell you about the energy.

I received an email from that student several weeks later telling me she had ridden her horse in Griffith Park and it was the first time in a very long time she felt like they were partners.

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