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Something About Mary (Wanless That Is!)

Posted by lwright, 16 April 2012 · 5,748 views

riding' training biomechanics
I have recently discovered Mary Wanless and the biomechanics of riding.  Why, oh why, didn’t  I discover Mary and her coaches a long time ago?  It would have saved me and my horse a great deal of pain and frustration.

I have been riding for over twenty years, spent an absolute fortune on lessons over the years.  I know how I am supposed to look on a horse and I know what it should feel like when horse and rider are truly connected but I failed to observe what I was doing or rather not doing to make that connection with the horse.

Mary Wanless is a physicist who has studied and can article the biomechanics of horse and rider.  Mary has also made it her life’s work to understand what elite, top riders do with their bodies when they ride and to share this with all riders of all abilities.

I was introduced to Mary’s way when I attended a five day course with Intelligent Horsemanship earlier this year.  My riding was assessed by a Mary Wanless accredited coach who re-sculpted me into the correct position.  She took pictures “before” and “after” she re-sculpted me and I couldn’t believe how different I looked.  I looked like I belonged on the horse!   She also explained that I should be “bearing down” in order to match the horse’s force and plugging in.  She explained the feeling I should be aware of in certain muscle groups and that I needed to have a feeling of “crunching” the front of my torso and breathing deeper using my diaphragm.  This was the tip of the iceberg and all things that no one, ever had said to me during a traditional instructor based riding lesson.   My reaction was “why has no one ever explained this to me?” to “is riding really this hard?”

Ever determined to improve my riding so that I can limit the damage I do to my horse’s back and obviously to look good, I went out and bought Mary’s book “Ride with your Mind Essentials”.  It comes highly recommended.  After digesting the main chapters and thinking “surely people don’t really do this, do they?” I now feel convinced that I have finally been let into a great big secret.

I was considering attending one of Mary’s 2 or 4 day clinics but I hear they are pretty heavy going for the recently initiated so I went in search of a local coach who I thought would introduce me gently.   I have discovered muscles that I never knew existed! And my horse?  My horse seems to be “up for” the Mary way too as he is free to work correctly through his back as I work and concentrate very hard not to block him in any way.

The key things I am working on to establish the basics are:

Bearing down to match the horses force in all gaits (walk, trot and canter).

Keeping my thigh snug to the saddle (not gripping).

Having a feeling of kneeling so that the thigh is at the maintained at the correct angle at all times.

Being light in the foot – using the stirrup to support rather than taking all the weight through the heels.

Plugging in – using my seat bones to control and regulate the hind legs.

Feeling that the reins are rods and having the feeling that I’m pushing a trolley so that I can push his energy forward into the rein (not pulling back).

Feeling that I’m crunching the front of my torso so that the length of the front and back of my torso are the same.

Pivoting from my knee and bearing down to match the horses force when returning to the saddle in rising trot.

Whilst bearing down, breathing down into my diaphragm and pelvic area.

Ensuring I keep his attention on me at all times (easier said than done!), and engaging his brain.

Intrigued?   It’s not for the feint hearted but Mary has an ability to be able to explain not “what you should be doing” but rather “how” you should re-arrange your body so that you can connect with your horse.  I can reel off all the aids for various movements but I’m now beginning to understand and have an awareness of what muscles in my body I need to engage and how that should feel.  I feel as though a light bulb has gone on  and whilst I know it isn’t going to be easy (after all  I have years of re-programming certain muscles groups to now do something different), I am looking forward to the journey or discovery and hopefully better, more secure riding!

Mary Wanless is just one trainer who understands and focuses on the biomechanics of horse and rider.  There are other coaches and trainers who approach training and riding from this perspective.

Lisa Wright


Intelligent Horsemanship is a UK based organisation that works with Monty Roberts.

September 2014

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