Riding is unlike most sports because our strength must be within dynamic movement rather than static holding. If one tries to “hold their core” we really are fighting against the movement of the horse. If we try to be “loose” or “relaxed” on the horse, we tend to be too loosey-goosey and easily lose our balance. People often make up for this loose balance by using the horse’s face as leverage to hide the issue. With the “fixed” mindset of holding things together we restrict ourselves emotionally and mentally against the horse as well. This constant fixing and mental restriction creates the never-ending battle of an ugly picture as the tension gets released through odd movement patterns from the rider or odd movement habits within the horse.
Franklin Method and Focus
The best athletes and most successful people have figured out that focus and the power to control focus can be the biggest determinate for success. When interviewed after an event, most athletes will attribute their physical performance on that day to the quality of their mental state. They will talk about how they were feeling on that specific day and their ability to be ‘in the zone’. You can prepare the body to be in peak physical condition; but that’s only half of it. The other half is the mental game and control of the mind and it’s focus. This is often the one thing that will set top athletes apart from everyone else.
In Franklin Method, you are trained to direct and then hold your mental focus by using your body as a tool. In a similar fashion to strengthening muscles, your skill and ability to intensely focus the brain and body, thus enhancing performance, is built over time. Every movement done within FM gives you a specific focus; whether it be on a part of the body or on a mental image. As you focus, you will begin to notice the effect the mind has over the body as well as where your focus tends to go and how to correct it.
Another factor we pay attention to is how you’re using your mind and the thoughts that are going through your head.
The power of the mind and mental focus is one of the most powerful tools we have.
Scientific research is continuing to produce more profound findings on the immense power of the brain. Current neuro-scientific research shows our brain is changeable and trainable, and deeply malleable. This ability to adapt and change is called, Neuroplasticity. Previously, it was thought that the brain developed throughout the critical period of childhood and then remained static or relatively unchangeable. Research shows this is simply not the case! Our brains are always adapting and changing according to many factors in our external environment, internal environment and lives.
In order to make a change in the body that is lasting, you must coordinate and connect the mind and the body to work together.
When you see someone who is a good athlete or a good mover, it is due to the fact that their brain and nervous system are very well connected and able to coordinate movement. The body does not function with a lot of separate parts but rather as a cohesive whole. In order to improve your movement patterns, you must improve the communication within the nervous system.
Once you learn a new movement skill, it must have repetition so that it becomes a new movement pattern within your brain and nervous system. In some cases, if you’ve been trained in a different way for a long period of time, it will take some time to unlearn or dismantle the old movement pattern.
Going to the gym and learning different exercises or getting better at putting your body in certain positions is not going to necessarily transfer into your ability to move better. If however, you focus on the mind-body connection while in movement, the neural connection will improve movement. Once you understand this connection for yourself, imagine what you can do for your horse!
Franklin Method and Proprioception
One of the key ingredients in riding and coordinating movement within your nervous system has to do with proprioception. Proprioception is the communication within your sensory organs for movement. The proprioceptive nerves in your body send messages of information to the brain such as where you are in space, tension levels and what is going on in that area of the body. When the brain has more information being delivered, it improves the communication. When the brain has a clearer picture i.e. communication with the body, it can direct movement, positioning, posture and coordination more clearly with less effort. A nifty side-effect of a clearer connection is a massive increase in your range of movement. If the brain doesn’t have a very good idea of what’s going on in the body, it will dial back and restrict movement. The result will be that you won’t be self aware of what your positioning is and how to self correct your position.
A common mistake that people make when trying to gain physical strength, stability and mobility is they leave out this connection to the mind (the mind meaning the brain in action). They will go to the gym or some type of fitness class and perhaps be creating more tension and stiffness in the body. There is a common misconception that stiffening and holding creates strength. What is actually created is lack of movement and even risk for injury.
The holding and tensing model is one that is applied to static alignment (non-movement). Static alignment doesn’t work for us as living, moving beings sitting on top of living, moving beings! We need dynamics in our stability and strength. When you are in a specific position, certain muscles will need to engage and others will need to lengthen which is unique to that position. But as soon as you change positions those same muscles will need to adapt, engage and lengthen in a completely different way. So instead of training the body through tension and holding, we need to be training adaptivity and motion.
We must, as riders, develop strength training through stability of moving positions in the muscles.
You have a moving horse beneath you so your muscular support moment to moment needs to be ever changing and adaptive. If you are holding or tensing any muscles thinking that this is providing you stability you’ll actually end up looking very stiff on your horse.
This dynamic stability also helps the body to absorb forces. The result will be a body that looks very quiet and balanced rather than jerky and unnatural. The muscles are mainly what is absorbing force coming in to the body. If they are dynamic and adaptable they will easily be able to absorb those forces. If they are holding tension and not being allowed to move the force will be much harder on the body.
Franklin Method and Anatomy
In the Franklin Method work we embody the functional anatomy and biomechanics of the body. We strive to match the mental picture in the mind more accurately to what is actually going on in the body.
If you have an idea in the mind that the body is meant to move in a certain way which is not accurate it will negatively affect your movement experience. You’ll likely move with more tension and stiffness.
On the other hand, if you have a more correct idea in your mind you’ll be able to produce more strength, more flexibility and much easier movement.
Interestingly enough, the latest scientific studies coming out about core strength are showing that the typical ‘core strengthening exercises’ actually don’t do much to support the torso. But what has been shown to work is focusing on and embodying the biomechanics of the spine and pelvis. In other words, looking at the bones that the core muscles are responsible for moving and then moving those bones through all ranges of motion in the way they were designed to move.
By focusing on and then embodying these bio-mechanical movements the body becomes more coordinated and adaptive.
The key however, is this embodiment. It’s not enough just to have knowledge of anatomy. It must be embodied or brought into physical experience. Once it is embodied and then given repetition it becomes a healthy movement pattern within the body.
When a rider combines dynamic movement with intense focus, mind-body connection and intuitive development, the connection and understanding of their horses reaches an entirely different level. Not only are you able to self-correct yourself, but you will become more present in your riding, taking yourself out of your analytical mind and into your feeling, creative mindset. The feel mindset will help you be more presently aware of where your horse is and how to help him as well as overcoming nerves and anxiety so often felt in a show environment.