Successful Woman Rider

Heels Down

Is there more to ‘Heels Down’ than ‘ Heels Down?’


Maybe this is you?

In your mind’s eye, the rider you imagine yourself to be is clear ?

You’ve carried this picture with you for a long time…

It brings you joy & inspiration…

You’re willing to do the work to be that rider…

And you happily do it with devotion & heart ?

But it’s not happening.

The lovely rider in you isn’t emerging ???

How can this be?  


? You know to put your ‘Heels Down.’ How could you not, you’ve heard the instruction over and over again since your first lesson?

? You know a ‘good’ seat is the ear to heel plumb line, but your heel won’t cooperate

? Every book talks about the importance of relaxation in riding…and hey, you’re on board with it, in fact, you’d love to relax, but the moment you ‘try’ you tighten up B.A.D.

? Discouragement seeps in, you’ve run short of ideas…core strength and many metaphors later you still hear ‘HEELS DOWN”???

If this is you, know that ‘you’ve gotta friend,’  

Because that’s where I was.

Miserable basically.

Then one day I did a deep dive into my ‘discouragement’ situation.

It went like this…

?? I’m not deaf…I heard you say ‘heels down’ 

?? I’m not stupid…I know what ‘heels down’ means

?? I’m not ignoring you…I understand the role of ‘heels down’ to my seat

?? I’m not lazy…I’m trying really hard

And that’s when the light went on 

? What I am is confused 

And this single shift of thinking opened a whole new way of seeing my riding problems and their solutions ?

It came down to this…

My troubles stem from an ‘unclarity of language.’

I know this seems strange, but stay with me…

We’re going to do a brief experience to illustrate what I mean…

Which is …

For that rider within you to come out, you must gain clarity around…

? the WHAT 

? the WHY, and

? the HOW 

Let’s begin…


‘Stand up, notice what this is for you, your balance, your breathing? What’s going on with that?

Walk for a moment, again notice what this is for you, your balance, your breathing? Is it the same or is it different from before?’

? This is the WHAT we are doing.
    We are walking and noticing.


‘I bring your attention to these elements because balance and breathing are symbiotic in nature, they need each other to function optimally so you can move in a relaxed, effective manner.’

?  This is the WHY we are doing this. 
      We are learning that balance, breathing and relaxation are connected.


‘Now continue walking but with ‘HEELS DOWN!’

Do here what you do on your horse.’

?  This is the HOW do you do this?

What is your way?

Do you cram, lock your joints, jam your shoulders back or forward?

Are you more or less balanced, more or less tense, what happens to your breathing?

Now try harder.  What happens?

Thank you, you can sit down now.


This is what I realized that day…

Everyone taught me the WHAT and WHY of Heels Down…


No one ever taught me the HOW of ‘Heels Down,’ 

So I did what I thought to do which was jam my heels down…

Taking everything I wanted in my riding into a downward spiral… unbalanced, tense and no breathing.

And that’s when the confusion stopped.

That’s when the HOW of riding entered foremost in my mind and in my Feldendrais Method®? training, and

Riding was fun again.

But it was only then that I realized the true enormity of the HOW ?

That is…

To have the HOW is to Know What You Are Doing

Video ATM: go through what, why & add how

This means you are never stuck again because you’ve learned HOW to do the thing well.

Making way for that lovely rider within you to emerge, grow and be glorious.???

Is there something about this language clarity you may want to explore in your riding?  Would love to hear.

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Successful Woman Rider

SHOULDERS BACK! Here’s how to never hear that again

This might be something you’ve heard before….as in a million times?


? I put them back, but they never stay put!  

? I hold them in place only to PLUCK in the saddle and jerk my horse in the mouth!

? I do arm rolls on the unge line, trot around with one arm up then the other…yeh this helps, but I always go back to square one…

? Shoulders BACK! Now a million + one times. It’s SO FRUSTRATING… I could just SCREAM!

What’s the deal?

How can something so seemingly simple be so utterly impossible!

The answer is this:  

Your shoulders aren’t the problem, they’re a symptom of a problem.

Here’s what I mean…

Think back to when you were a kid, blazing as fast as you can down a hill. ???

What happened when your shoulders got ahead of you?  

You’d do a face plant.

What happened when your shoulders got behind you?  

You’d fall on your butt.

Now, visualize

How your shoulders are when you’re in the saddle…

Take them to the top of the hill and start running…

What would happen?

Would you wipe out?

If so, here’s how this childhood game translates to your riding.  Either…

??  You grip to stay on…

throwing your horse off balance (an unbalanced horse doesn’t fall down, he falls forward onto the forehand)

causing your horse to stumble, surge forward to ‘catch’ his balance, lose confidence in you and may even stop moving forward for you at all.


?? You fall off.

This is the reason your shoulders don’t stay back…

Your shoulders aren’t the problem, they’re a symptom of a balance problem.

Yup, that’s right!  

Your uncooperative shoulders aren’t about your ability to ride or having a good seat.

They’re about your survival.

Here’s why…

#1 job your balance system has is to keep you from falling…  

Because falling makes you vulnerable to things like life threatening injury, easy prey for a tiger…

So it does whatever it has to do to keep you upright…

And that means it reverts to the balance you have right now – rounded shoulders and all.

Before I share about how to resolve this, let’s take a moment to understand how all this came about.

How did you go from that kid who could tear down a hill to an adult who is locked into a frozen shoulders forward, unproductive position?

Long hours and the computer juts your head forward taking your shoulders with it so you tighten to keep from falling forward…

Or maybe…

It started with a limp from a sprained ankle with your shoulders held tight as part of the reaction to the injury…

Or maybe…

You just got out of alignment.  This can happen as we age.

Either way, what started almost imperceptibly ended in a frustrating, tension filled balance habit.

So what to do about this now so you can leave this ‘shoulders back’ business behind you once and for all?

Offer your survival instinct a new & better balance.

One that allows your shoulders to glide back and stay there happily.

Here’s how to do that…

?  Gratitude – Say a big thank you to your balance.  It may not have been the balance you want, but it has kept you alive & it has worked hard under stressful situations to do so.  Thank you.

? Release – Give your your current balance a kiss and let it know that it can retire now because you’ve found an easier way.

? Embrace the possible…

Stop focusing on just one part of you (your shoulders)

And start focusing on how you work as a whole person


Relearn how your shoulders synchronize with your hips and pelvis???

Because when your lower body supports your upper body you recreate a natural, productive balance system…

Then and only then can your shoulders slide back and stay there…

And you become soft and centered on your horse (and running down a hill).

Problem solved.

Frustration ends.


But there is a deeper level still…  

One that goes beyond your love of riding…

And gets to the heart of your horse love…

When you are soft and centered your balance is improved.

Better balance makes you safer.

When your survival instincts feel safer you feel calmer.

Calm lets you ride and breathe at the same time…

This says to your horse that he is safe…

And then, and only then is, a connection to your horse available ?.

This is the power of shifting from an isolation approach (shoulders back is the problem), to a whole rider approach (distinguishing a symptom of a problem from the real problem).


What do you make of what I’ve shared?  Would love to hear.


Successful Woman Rider Wednesday – 

Shoulders back – 

Revisit blog with skeleton

Visualize kid running down hill.

Experience – have them come toward screen, at what point do they notice effort to keep from falling forward?  Stay there, now shoulders back? Can you do it? Are you breathing?

What would happen on your horse?  

This is why ‘shoulders back’ doesn’t work,  that’s why it will never work – proof is if it did no on would be struggle with it, where basically everyone is…so I’m here to tell you, it’s not you, you are not alone.

So what to do? 

The shift from thinking of yourself in pieces, ie. shoulders back to its a balance problem.

The less you work as a system meaning the greater the disconnect between your shoulders and hips the more unbalanced you are.

This is why ‘shoulders back’ will never work.

The switch is to appreciate how you work as a system.  Kid running down hill in balance.

Shoulders balance over the pelvis and hips, they function together for a synchronized balance.

The more you work as a system meaning the pelvis and hips offer a home for the shoulders to rest in as you ride, run down a hill…the more balanced you are.

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Successful Woman Rider

Trying Hard

Sound familiar?

Have you said this to yourself?

‘The harder I try the worse it gets!’


Every ride you…

Work to comply ‘loose rein, tight rein, more leg, less leg, be strong in the abs, relaxed and soft through my lower back, loose in the shoulders but heavy in the elbows’ 

Work to coordinate all your body parts ‘heels down, shoulders back, eyes up, sit up, sit on your pockets’ 

Work to ‘sit quietly’ 

Work to undo bad habits concave in the back, and tipped forwards the shoulders’ 

Work to ‘RELAXXXXXXX’  ?’I could just scream’?but you don’t?

What the heck? 

Afterall, you know in your head you want your body to melt into that classical line…but, you stiffen up URGHHHH!

Your horse braces up, falls onto the forehand, and rushes forward URGHHHHx3!

Ride and breath at the same time… Laughable (the ‘not funny’ kind ?)

Ride after ride, you’re struggling, some days more than others. 

But you’re determined not to let age or limitations stop you.

Frustration builds, disappointment follows. 

‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? I try SO hard’ ?????

And the decades fly by, riding just isn’t fun anymore, and every lesson is still about your seat. “I’m never going to be able to sit a powerful extended trot.” ?????

But is that really true?

Afterall, how could it not be true?  We’re taught from the beginning that “trying hard’ is noble, that success can’t happen without it, that to not ‘try hard’ is ‘lazy.’

OK except… What’s a woman rider to do?  

She wants, but she’s stuck and she’s not lazy.

The answer is very simple…

Do a deep dive into what you already do well.

Here’s what I mean.

‘What’s working right now?’ 

Your balance.  Really.  It has kept you upright in your daily life, and alive on your 1200 pound flight animal companion.  Thank you, balance.?

Yet, you aren’t draped into the classical line so your balance isn’t optimal because your balance & alignment are the same thing.

So what do you have available to you right now to reprogram your balance so you are evenly weighted side to side and top to bottom on your horse?

What contributed/caused it? What led up to it?

Limps; computer shoulders; aches and pains; bad riding habits; not knowing how to move your body without tension, all happen as we age.  

The sum total of these compensations is you find yourself either pitched forward, slumped back, tilted, slanted, lop-sided or crunched up in the saddle.

But, there’s no reason to be frustrated because just as these difficulties started they can be addressed.?

What have I tried so far?

You may find yourself rounding forward, etc …it is because of a postural imbalance.

So holding your shoulders back will do absolutely no good at all. It wont fix it and they won’t stay there. 

Stretching and strength training when you are out of alignment to begin with is that you only get dysfunctionally stronger. In other words you reinforce the imbalance.

So while I support stretching, yoga and pilates… they do nothing to get you back into alignment. 

You can stretch till the cows come home. You will find temporary relief but it will tighten up again pretty quick.

The moment you stop your workout you lose what you gained and go right back to square 1.

What assumptions can I let go of?

“I waited too long to ride again.”

Not so.?

“I Was So Surprised With How Quickly My Riding Changed!”  ~ Judi Qualls

“My horse jumped up a river bank.  I was able to go with him every step and felt confident doing so!” ~  Lana Tyler

“The Judge’s comments now include FLOWING, FORWARD and ROUND!” ~ Angela Wilson

“I’m Cantering Happily And Making Steady Progress!” ~ Mars Lyons

“I Have Greater Self-Confidence And My Horses Are Happy And Much More Connected With Me.” ~ Ann Evans

What part of the situation have I not yet explored?

Maybe you’ve interpreted being told to sit straight and shoulders back as being rigid and your back would concave. 

Now what?

“You are more than just muscle and determination, you are more than just grit and tenacity, you are your sensitivity and your intelligence, the very ingredients you need to reprogram your balance & alignment.”

This shift happens when you FEEL what it’s like to have the correct seat.?

When you find out where you are out of alignment, it may be way down in your SI joint, hip, knee etc…) once you correct that your shoulders, neck and head will fall back into the correct place.

What other angles can I think of?

Have you ever been frustrated trying to coordinate your body parts since they don’t want to coordinate?

If so, this can get you stuck in ruts where you can’t achieve a ‘movement’ or get your body to respond the way you want it to. 

The new angle is in the learning curve.

Contrary to popular belief:

==>Bones follow muscle, not the other way around, and

==>Muscle memory lives in the movement centers of your brain, not in your muscles.

All movement & riding is a dance between muscle and bone.

So to coordinate your body parts is to refine this dance.

There is a saying in my profession Your brain is smarter that you are.”  

By resolving problems, discovering new & untapped potential while unmounted, your very smart brain will recalibrate your alignment both on and off your horse.?

What is here that I want to explore?

The Classical Line is a position of beauty, but first and foremost, it is a place of function.  

Just as you brought balance & alignment to yourself, you are now prepared to support your horse in finding his balance & alignment so …. The dance continues.???

What do you make of what I’ve shared?  If ‘Deep Dive’ sounded familiar?

Just hit reply to this email and let me know. Would love to hear, I read every comment.

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Successful Woman Rider

Disease Injury & Use

Do you ever feel that you have to work twice as hard as the much younger riding protégés?

Afterall, there’s so much to contend with as you age.

  • Coordinating all your body parts would be frustrating enough since they don’t want to coordinate.  Then add arthritic knees into the mix UGHHHHH!
  • Computer shoulders have you rounding forward…and every time you trot past that mirror you try something else to get those shoulder back, but they don’t stay there ?
  • “Who do you think you are?” is the message and the reaction is to make yourself small.  Years later you try to lengthen head-to-toe for that long, beautiful position, and stretch & lift to find it only to shrink right back again ?????

First a fall that injures your SI joint, then your hip tightens, then your balance goes, then the harder you try to correct your position the worse your ride gets ?UGHHHHH!

Interpreting sit straight, shoulders back as being rigid and your back concave.  Now you’re s.t.u.c.k. that way.  Someday I’ll get it?

The years go by. 

Frustration becomes self-deprecation that becomes a change of plans. “I waited too long to ride again, gorgeous flying changes just aren’t going to happen.” ?????

But does it have to be this way?

Or can you write a different story for yourself? One where the wisdom of years is as potent as the vitality of youth?

One where you aren’t overwhelmed, but a story that makes sense & is doable?

The answer is YES you can. 

And it begins with a thoughtful look at these 3 factors and their effect on your riding success and enjoyment.  

  1. Disease
  2. Injury
  3. Use 

Maybe arthritis ‘disease’ shows up wreaking havoc with your hip or dealing with cancer strains your entire body.

Then you add in a limp from a long ago ankle ‘injury.’ 

Ah! ‘use,’ concave in the back and tipped forwards the shoulders, has you feeling like you’ll be correcting that for the rest of your days.

You try so hard but can’t achieve a ‘movement’ or get your body to respond the way you want it to leaving you to feel silly and ugly at times.

And here you are wanting that classical plumb line from ear, shoulder, hip and ankle, but bones follow muscles putting you into a fork seat or a chair seat.

But the way to the classical line is this…

Be Kind To Yourself because just as you learned bad habits and picked up limps, you can let them go by relearning gorgeous habits.

As one bad habit falls then another, a new postural balance shows up so you can learn how to shape your body for the next movement or transition.

Your Brain Is Smarter Than You Are, it just needs the chance to do it’s thing!  

Put Your Mind At Rest.  If your situation is solely from ‘use’ every bit of the trouble can be resolved.  If ‘injury and/or disease’ is a factor, the very best functioning for your situation can be yours because nature strives for ease (just ask your very smart brain).

It’s All About Feel. The magic ingredient that realigns your body and your horse needs from you to be light and responsive. 

Celebrate.  The younger riders have lots going for them, but they don’t have what you have…. WISDOM Everything Is Connected

Once your ankle and hip work together you have a base of support so your shoulders, neck and head will fall back into the correct place

What serves your body well on your horse also keeps you moving properly as you age

As alignment improves, aches & pains diminish because you now carry yourself well

Your horse sees that you show up better each time, and you see his eye soften. AHHHH! The joys of womanhood.?????

I’d love to hear your thoughts about working with your body (and your brain) instead of feeling you must work twice as hard.  Just hit reply to this email, I read every comment.

To your riding success,


Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionerCM

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Successful Woman Rider

What IS riding exactly?

How much do you invest for every hour of riding?

Sure the cost of your horse’s care??, but also money for lessons and various types of fees??, and your time…driving to and from the barn, cleaning tack, hauling.????

And then, of course, the emotional rewards and expense.??????

Riders get so busy keeping it all together that it can all become a blurrrrrr…

So take a moment, what does it all add up to?

And, how can you get a greater return on your devotion as measured in joy and accomplishment?

What does it really come down to?  At its most fundamental level, what is riding?

Riding is mastering your movements, your emotions & your behavior, not the horse’s.

The key to success being an understanding of the integral connection these three skill sets share, and the role this interplay has with the connection you want with your horse.

It all can seem so big, so overwhelming, and more often than not, it is as “frustration” is the word I hear most often from riders.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

It’s just knowing what to focus on for the most meaningful impact. 

For example, “Shoulders Back.”  

You hear the instruction, you try to comply, but holding your shoulders back does absolutely no good at all, it doesn’t fix the problem and they won’t stay there.

Years go by, frustration builds and with it, negative self-talk grows, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? I try so hard.”  

Then comes the behavior, maybe you settle for where you are, maybe head to the gym, maybe some tack store shopping therapy. 

Round and round and round it goes.

Or, you could…

Value awareness, recognize that if you find yourself rounding forward it is because of a postural imbalance. We get these when we age…things get out of alignment.

Appreciate that what happens in your shoulders has as much to do with your SI joint, hip, knee etc… as it does with your shoulders.

Welcome the relief that once you find out where you are out of alignment your shoulders, neck and head will fall back into the correct place.

Absorb information, bones follow muscles, not the other way around contrary to popular belief.

Recognize that your bones are your alignment, and your alignment is your classical line.

Clarify remedy. While fitness has many benefits it does nothing to get you back into alignment.  Because stretching and strength training make you dysfunctionally stronger, in other words you reinforce the imbalance.  Also, you can stretch till the cows come home, you will find temporary relief, but will tighten up again pretty quick.

Cherish your ability as a human being to smoothly recalibrate your muscle memory to learn/relearn an ease and grace in your riding.

Enjoy the Ah-Ha moment! The classical line isn’t just a place of beauty, but of function.  One being it allows the riders to effortlessly shape her horse for the next movement or transition.

Treasure that what works for the saddle also keeps you moving properly as you age. 

Gratitude that a tack store shopping spree can be a celebration event.

This is why I always say to women riders:

“You are more than just grit and determination, you are more than just muscle and tenacity.  You are your sensitivity and your intelligence, the very ingredients you need to be the lovely rider you know you have it in you to be.”

What would change for you if you could be proud of every ride????

I’d love to hear, just hit reply to the email, I read every comment.???

To your riding success,

Guild Certified Feldenkrais PractitionerCM

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