I have ridden all my life. I grew up on a farm in England, and from a racing and eventing family, I had no other choice. When my own (very) amateur eventing career came to end, prior to university, I wasn’t sure what my ‘horsey’ future would entail. So ending up running a yard of 30 safari horses at Sosian in Kenya was an unexpected dream come true.
For the last 10 years I have ridden the length and breadth of Laikipia and consequently have become 100% a bush rider…and with that, many bad riding habits!
When Ashleigh Sanderson of Kuda Guru first contacted me about a yoga and riding clinic at Sosian I admit that I was skeptical. And when she went on to talk about martial arts and scuba diving breathing exercises from horseback I thought she was in fact totally barking. However, not wanting to be too judgmental we welcomed her with open arms and several months later Ashleigh arrived with her band of followers from all over the world.
We had yoga mats, chia seeds, green tea and rice cakes at the ready. The horses had been prepped and all the grooms were au fait with the downward dog position and saluting the sun. She’s definitely going to be barking….but I had no idea what was about to happen to me.
Forget every single pre-conceived idea. It quickly became apparent that Ashleigh was in fact quite normal. She had had a successful (professional) eventing career of her own and was a Pony Club examiner no less…OK, good…so she is old school, like me then. But what I did not realize was that Ashleigh is the most incredible teacher. In all my years of ‘classical’ training I have never learnt as much as I did from Ashleigh, in 6 lessons. I rode a different horse each time and the results showed every time….it was instantaneous…as soon as I did what I was told.
Ashleigh can teach any level of rider and we had 2 groups of 4 riders in each, during her week at Sosian. She very much concentrates on the rider. The martial arts, comes in the form of balance. From your seat bones to the angle of your thigh. The imaginary line from shoulder to hip to heel. So much of which we have all been told about time and time again but somehow Ashleigh communicates it in an entirely different way. Her analogies are just brilliant:
- Keep your pelvis level – “imagine your pelvis is a soup bowl…tipping forwards and your soup spills over the front, tipping backwards and your soups goes over the back”
- Soft inside contact – “imagine you are writing your signature with your inside hand”
- Canter rhythm “imagine you are going down a water slide”
- Balance through core and thighs – “imagine you are kneeling on a iron bar”
- Difficult horse – “invite, don’t fight”
After just one session with Ashleigh you no longer feel like you are just sitting on a horse…you are part of the horse…75% with your thighs and seat bones and 25% with your hands, to be precise. Your hands do very little but your core and thighs have the work out of your life. Because this is so rider focused everything I have learnt can be transferred to any horse I sit on. The vision for correctness is so far beyond just getting it right on one horse. These are life long lessons and I just wish I had met Ashleigh 20 years ago.
I now ride out in the bush as if Ashleigh were with me at every turn. Riding naughty horses just got a whole lot easier and the feeling of my horse stretching down through his back and carrying himself, whilst trotting past a herd of zebra is oh so satisfying! I do not plan to have highly schooled dressage horses riding out in the bush; but supple, toned and responsive horses I definitely do!
Come back soon Ashleigh!