ON THE ‘MUSCLE LANGUAGE’ DVDS
OUR FIRST REVIEW
‘I am a dressage rider, and have tried to follow Mary Wanless’s methods for years. Recently I have had the opportunity to ride with her several times, and have also attended one of her teacher training courses. I am a huge believer in Mary’s methods and also believe that off-horse physical training is absolutely necessary to enable us to become effective riders, especially when attempting to become biomechanically correct. I am a prior career military officer and have always been exceptionally fit. I incurred a lumbar disc injury a few years ago and after physical therapy started doing Pilates work regularly, which has really helped my core strength, and helped me almost completely recover from the disc injury. However Cheryl’s exercises and instruction on the ‘Muscle Language’ DVDs are much more focussed on building the strength, co-ordination and skills essential to correctly apply Mary’s method. I really appreciate Cheryl’s expertise and ability to communicate the exercises effectively, and the stretch routines have helped enormously, making me appreciate that a significant part of my off-horse fitness was missing. I think her explanation of how to correctly ‘bear down’ (closing the elevator doors and raising the elevator up), also also her breathing instructions are the best explanations I have seen/heard for these difficult but absolutely essential concepts.’ Thanks again for your exceptional instruction! Paul Boland
I, PEGGY BIDGOOD, PRODUCER OF THE NEW ‘MUSCLE LANGUAGE’ DVD SERIES, have an undying passion to ride horses in self-carriage. In the 1990s I owned my own horse, and I knew intuitively that things about our interaction were wrong. If only I had known then what I know now – how much happier we both could have been! And I also now know the gruesome truth that continually riding horses incorrectly may lead to injuries in their bodies that can probably be prevented by skilled riding.
In 2000 I met Mary Wanless and the RYWM way of learning, and in 2007 I met Cheryl Acker, the personal trainer whose work is featured on the DVDs. In the intervening time I took many Pilates classes with a number of teachers who specialised in working with riders, but Cheryl’s approach was the ‘difference that made the difference’. Working with Cheryl made it much more possible for me to access my muscles, and follow Mary’s directions. My body-mind connection became primed, and my body awareness developed along with my strength.
I made the ‘Muscle Language’ series to make Cheryl’s work accessible to riders living beyond my home town of Wellington Florida, which is a Mecca of riding, and winter home to American ‘snowbird’ riders of all disciplines. I wanted riders to share my own experience (and that of my peers) which has demonstrated how much Cheryl’s unique approach to flexibility, symmetry and core strength can help riding skills develop, especially in partnership with the RWYM way of learning.
My undying love for horses began when I was a child. My mother grew up on a farm in Newfoundland, Canada, and as a child, my father had his own horse in a nearby fishing village. Where I grew up, horses were helpers to farmers and fishermen. My fondest childhood memories are of my grandfather taking us for sleigh rides in the winter, and his horse Betty is the first horse I remember.
When I was 12 my father bought a Shetland Pony, Miss Sharon. I always believed that Dad bought her for me, but recently my younger sister told me that Miss Sharon was actually for the whole family. I still want to believe that Miss Sharon was for me! But she had her own ideas, and they did not include me riding her. Every time I got on she would buck me off. Day after day I landed flat on my back! Miss Sharon was not part of my life for long, as my father’s paternal instincts led him to give her away.
This didn’t discourage me. In my 20’s I took every opportunity I could to ride on trail horses, in settings as diverse as the mountains of British Columbia and the sandy beaches of the Caribbean.
It was not until 1983, when I was thirty two, that I really had the opportunity to ride. I began in Tampa, Florida, taking lessons at a Fox Hunting Stable. I rode in a fenced arena where I learned the rising trot and canter. My lessons instructions were ‘heels down, get on the correct diagonal, and this is the pulley rein to STOP’. Fox Hunting was my goal, as I loved being in nature. As a child I spent time with my father in the woods, and this instilled in me his love for the outdoors. So why not ride cross-country?
My first cross-country ride was with a group of 30 horses preparing the hounds for the season. Walking through the wooded trails was beautiful, and I was in heaven. But then we came to an open field that seemed miles long, and suddenly I was in HELL! The horses all took off across the field at a flat out gallop. My horse Chip, who was so well behaved in the fenced arena, took off with me. I was terrified, standing straight up in the stirrups, and pulling back on the reins as hard as I could.
What a picture! My riding instructor came back from the field yelling at me to let him go. ‘Let Chip go, he wants to catch up with the field!’. Later I over heard the senior instructor saying ‘I put little children on Chip’. This meant, of course, that I should have been able to ride him. But I received no help at all to settle my nerves or improve my balance. On my drive home from this adventure, I cried. So this was Fox Hunting!
But this terrifying experience didn’t dampen my undying passion to ride. Now I wanted my own horse. While I was looking for one, I was continually mounted on horses that over-faced me. I was jumping a horse I should never even have been sitting on, when I fell off and sprained my elbow. That was my first cast!
In 1987 when I moved to Wellington, I felt I had died and gone to ‘Horse Heaven’. Wellington was beginning to become, what it is today “The Horse Capital of the World”. Now for the first time in my life I was introduced to the World of Show Horses. It was all new to me. In any given day in the winter season, I was able to go and watch the top riders in the world, either working at home or in competition.
It was in Wellington that I found my first horse, Morey. A handsome grey gelding standing 16.3H., Morey was magnificent, and the love of my life. He was an Appendix Quarterhorse (a Quarterhorse/ Thoroughbred cross), and 9 years old. He had done it all, from Quarter Horse racing to Foxhunting, where he was the Master’s horse. He had jumped on the Hunter Jumper circuit from George Morris’s barn. (These classes are judged on style. George Morris is virtually the founder of the discipline, and is much admired within it.) When Morey came into my life he was learning dressage. HE could do it ALL – I could do NOTHING. I can’t tell you how many times he tried to stay underneath me to save me from falling off! It happened time and time again.
I wanted answers. Here I was in Wellington, ‘The Horse Capital of the World’ and yet I was asking:
Why do I feel I am banging on my horses back?
Why do I constantly fall off?
Why am I pulling on my horse’s mouth?
Why can’t I stop my horse?
Why can’t I ride – I want to ride correctly, not just ride – so why can’t I?
I spent years looking for the answers:
Taking Riding Lessons–Giving up–Beginning Again
Taking Clinics–Giving up–Beginning Again
Taking Lunging Lessons–Giving up–Beginning Again
In the mid 90’s I found the book ‘The Natural Rider’ (published in the UK as ‘Ride With Your Mind’), by Mary Wanless. At last someone was describing what a Natural Rider does in his or her body! I studied the books, especially Mary’s later book ‘Ride With Your Mind Essentials’. Now I knew the theory in my mind, but I was not able to find anyone in Wellington, the ‘Horse Capital of the World’, who could help me understand and apply Mary’s theory.
So in, 2000, I went to the telephone, called Mary in England, and asked if she took working students. To my delight she said ‘YES’! So off I went to Mary’s Overdale Equestrian Centre in the Cotswolds, England, for three glorious months. This was the HIGHLIGHT of my Riding Days!
On my first day at the stables I was introduced to all the horses; I was imagining whom I would like to ride. I was very excited as the day of my first lesson arrived, and to MY HORROR Mary said that I would be riding Miss Ellie, the little Welsh Pony! I could not believe what I was hearing… I had come all the way from the UNITED STATES TO RIDE A PONY!
Time passed, and I knew that out of ALL the Trainers I had worked with, and through all the clinics and lunge lessons I had taken, Mary had given me the greatest gift – Miss Ellie. Finally, under Mary’s watchful eye, and through her excellent teaching skills, I learned to ride. Miss Ellie offered her total but benign, patient and good-natured refusal to do ANYTHING correctly unless I did it correctly first. Before I left Overdale I was riding Bounce, the most difficult horse in the stable. What JOY! At last I was confident, and for some of the time at least, I was able to ride the horses correctly in self-carriage.
Three months soon passed, and it was time to go home to Wellington. Morey had gone to Horse Heaven before I had left for England, so I did not have a horse to ride consistently. As a result I was not able to keep ‘muscle memory’ for the skills that Mary had helped me develop. I had more-than-glimpsed the correct way to ride, but I could not maintain it.
Out of desperation, I tried to teach my body what to do going to Pilates classes, through working out in the gym, and through Yoga—giving up and beginning again, time and time again.
Still my body could not do what it was supposed to do.
I was discouraged and not riding when a hamstring injury led me to attend Cheryl’s ‘Stretch and Core’ classes. My hamstring injury began healing from the Stretch Program, and at the same time I was unknowingly building the Muscle Power I needed to ride. Cheryl’s unique way of teaching includes showing pictures of each muscle as you are either stretching or building core strength, and this enables you to learn to talk to your muscles individually. You learn to use this Muscle Power in your body every day so it becomes WHO YOU ARE. 5% of Riders naturally have this Muscle Power.
Eventually, an opportunity came to ride a friend’s horse. While riding Charlie I was able to get him to use his core, raise his back and reach into the rein – the basics of self-carriage. My mind was finally able to talk to my muscles in the way Mary described in her book, and in the way that she taught me when I was at Overdale. By talking to my muscles in the way horses understand, I connected with my body, and this enabled the horse to connect with his body.
As Mary says “He doesn’t GET IT until you GET IT”
NOW I HAVE IT and SO CAN YOU – Through the ‘Muscle Language’ program. I call this ‘The Language Horses Understand’.
This is a 5DVD Program
DVD 1. Introduction. This includes a lesson with Mary, and footage of Heather Blitz riding Paragon
DVDs 2 and 3: These Stretch Classes will bring your body into Neutral Alignment, so that you can begin the core strengthening work from a more organised and undistorted place.
DVDs 4 and 5: Core Class DVDs. Learn to master the ‘Internal Lift’ and you will have the Muscle Power to support your own body weight. Develop Core Strength, and you will access ‘Bear Down’ in a whole new way!
Do these EXERCISES consistently and use THE 4 BASICS from Mary’s book ‘Ride With Your Mind Essentials’, and you will have the foundation to ride in any discipline you chose. I think of these basics as: 1. Neutral Alignment 2. Internal Lift 3. Core Strength or Bear Down 4. Breathing)
To purchase ‘Muscle Language – The Language Horses Understand’ go to mary-wanless.com
A NOTE FROM MARY:
The changes in Peggy’s body through attending Cheryl’s classes have been phenomenal, and she is in fantastic shape for a woman of her age. Having taught her before and after, I can also say that she has become better able to follow my directions, and do the things she knows she should do. She has a much enhanced neurological mind-body connection, and this makes it possible to think about a change and have it happen – her brain can talk to her muscles, and her muscles have the strength to maintain the changes more easily. This is despite limited time in the saddle.
I have myself been able to attend several of Cheryl’s classes, both group and individual. Anyone who can get me excited about stretching, and make a tangible difference to my body in one session, has to be doing a good job! (Historically I have hated stretching, seen little benefit, and have felt that I am doomed to live with short tight muscles.) Cheryl is a very perceptive and encouraging teacher, who makes sure that the body is correctly positioned for each exercise, be that for stretch or core work. Her focus on stretching before doing core work is unusual, and I am sure that she is right to emphasise the value of evening out the muscle system, since shortened muscles distort the skeleton, and this can only lead to distorted strength.
Cheryl uses small, precise movements that focus attention, and her use of clear illustrations helps you to focus your attention in the right place. Her ‘internal lift’ helps you ‘pull your stomach in to make a wall’ before you then ‘push your guts against that wall’. The increased strength of that wall is needed by riders as they seek to do more advanced work, and it also helps riders support their own body weight. Many of her exercises help the thigh bone to move more freely within the hip socket, and of course this is tremendously helpful for riders. Some of her exercises are unique and very clever, and they have particular value for us in our search for symmetry.
I have become a great fan of her work, and recommend it to everyone!