A Perfect Pairing: Tai-Chi and Horseback Riding

By Karena Garrity, Killingworth-Durham-Middlefield Patch June 14th, 2011

Efficient energy flow, low breathing, relaxation, spinal alignment, and balance; broken down in the simplest form, these are the basics behind the concept of “Riding with Chi: Your Pathway to Energy Mastery,” a two hour long, two-disc DVD set produced by Andrea Steele, owner of the award winning Mouse Hole Farm Productions in Durham. Steele, a long time dressage rider, joined renowned horse trainer Mark Russell, Tai-Chi expert and teacher Dave Ritchie and dressage instructor and breathing coach Patricia Norcia to create the DVD set that combines the mind and body awareness essential for horseback riding with Tai- Chi“I truly wish that I had done this years ago,” says Steele who also co-authored, along with Russell, the book “Lessons in Lightness: The Art of Educating the Horse.”

“After the first Tai- Chi class I took I felt my riding improve and I wanted to create these DVDs to share that with others. There were other things on the market that touched on Tai-Chi and riding, but none of them went into the depth I wanted to provide,” explains Steele, who is delighted with the outcome of the  project and encouraged by the outpouring of local talent that came together to help her complete it.

“Riding with Chi” teaches several short, easy-to-follow Tai- Chi style and Qi Gong routines that aim to enhance a riders awareness of being in the moment as well as slowing down, relaxing and breathing to connect and create oneness with their horse. It’s known by riders, psychologists and physical therapists alike that riding, like no other sport or physical activity, has the ability to create a sense of complete well being. It is rhythmic, peaceful (in most cases) and soothing.

Mixing the 4,000 year old healing and martial arts principals of Tai- Chi into the equation teaches riders how to be more subtle, flowing, free, relaxed, connected and effective.By definition Tai-Chi is a Chinese system of physical exercises designed especially for self-defense and meditation. It focuses on being content and in balance, achieving yin and yang. This is accomplished through proper, deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing, which centers the body’s gravity into the pelvic core, releasing tension and aligning the skeleton.

“When an instructor tells a student to breathe while riding, without telling them how to breathe it is not helpful,” Steele explains. “High shallow breathing won’t help, but low breathing like that taught in Tai-Chi, will. Paying attention to your breathing is arguably the most important thing you can do to improve your riding, so it is puzzling why the topic is not more frequently discussed.”

She adds, “The slow deliberative motion of Tai-Chi fosters a meditative oneness between thought and energy flow … not unlike the horse’s mental process. The slowness further serves to align our movement to the natural rhythm of the horse. This builds a communicative bond between horse and rider as the horse perceives the rider as ‘speaking his language.’ Once you learn to feel energy flow within your own body, you will feel it within your horse as well, opening a pathway for extraordinary communication between horse and rider.”

Horses are intuitive animals, “The Art of Riding with Chi,” teaches riders, even before they get into the saddle, to relax and free themselves from all other stresses in life through Tai-Chi. In opening themselves to this concept they are opening themselves to becoming the best riders and partners they can be.

“I hope riders will listen to the discussion on disc one with an open and inquisitive mind and try all the exercises on disc two. Together they form a powerful tool for improving riding. That is why all of us involved with “Riding with Chi,” decided to bring it to the marketplace … to openly discuss energy in terms of Tai-Chi principals and promote all elements necessary to put more riders on a pathway to energy mastery.”