Over the last ten years I have had the privilege of learning from many great horsemen and women. This includes spending a considerable amount of time with the Parelli’s in Colorado and Florida, assisting with horse development at a Quarter Horse ranch in California and working for a Grand Prix Dressage trainer in New York. However, whilst I found myself starting to understand the process of achieving the things I wanted to with horses, I had lost sight of the magic or heart connection that had originally inspired me to want to pursue life as a professional horsewoman. Yet, as the saying goes, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear’ and this has certainly been the case for me.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Mel Fleming in 2014, and remember immediately connecting with her philosophy and principles. Everything she said resonated with my vision of what the relationship between humans and horses could be. Since then I have started to develop an appreciation of the horse as a spiritual being, as well as to aspire to a greater level of self-awareness and feel through Feldenkrais and body scanning. Whilst I am far from mastering these skills, I am experiencing encouraging results with my horses.
Recently Mel joined us at Woody Pear Park in Busselton WA for 6 days of horsemanship. This was my fourth clinic with Mel and each time her words take on a greater relevance and meaning. Firstly getting students to look inwards and find stillness and openness in themselves, and then taking this to their horses. The horses confirmed the power of this approach, as they also found stillness, which led to willing and effortless communication.
Yet, of equal importance to understanding the spirit of the horse, is being able to help horses physically so they can be ridden with true balance and correct biomechanics. I have experienced the upsetting realisation that the horse I have been riding for the last 14 years is now suffering from soundness issues due to the fact that I did not have the knowledge or awareness to teach him to move in a healthier way. Similarly, I have a young warmblood who for years had an undiagnosed injury which prevented him from engaging his hindquarters and moving freely. Consequently, at seven years of age, he lacks the balance, strength and physical development to be ridden comfortably. By prioritizing good biomechanics and teaching students to assess the quality of their horse’s movement early on, both students and horses are set up for success and longevity. This is achieved particularly through the qualities of relaxation, finding the right tempo and straightness. By making this a priority, and including Mel’s other gymnasticizing exercises both on the ground and riding, I have seen significant improvements in both the horses mentioned earlier. I am excited and hopeful to see the benefits that Mel’s approach will bring these two in the future.
My greatest ‘aha’ moment for this clinic however was in the saddle. Over the last 6 months I have been playing with my new horse, who has a strong Dressage background, and a lot of brace and anxiety towards training. He had a lot of emotion towards being ridden and would quickly take offence to me being in the saddle. Through the principles of ‘Riding with Synchronicity’, I was able to let go of any brace in my body and find harmony with him and I could not believe how quickly he turned loose, happily stretching into the bridle, engaging his hind quarters and lifting through his withers. Not only was it the best ride I had ever had on him, but it was physically effortless and when I got off, rather than feeling like I had had an hour riding lesson, I felt like I had just had a body work session! My legs felt longer and overall I was in better alignment, rather than experiencing any sense of strain or fatigue. Therefore it had not only been biomechanically beneficial for the horse, but also therapeutic for me.
For me the path is clear again, and the journey towards unity with horses continues. Mel’s holistic approach gives both horses and humans the opportunity to reach their highest potential and I encourage everyone who can relate to this ideal to explore her program further. Mel will be back in Western Australia in December with Introductory and Intermediate clinics available.
– Paisley Walker