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What Does James See?

This article is a written companion to the video

This is the first morning of a clinic for horse and rider and they are both clearly distracted by the new environment. I see the distraction in the horse not just by the obvious, head up, ears pricked but more importantly I am looking at the irregularity of the footfalls. I am looking at not only where he places his feet but the speed at which each foot is moving on the circle. When all four feet move at different speeds, the rider is not connected through her seat bones.

Remember, the horse’s hind feet step under the dropping weight in each seat bone. To begin with, the rider’s outside seat bone drops more than the inside causing the horse to step under more quickly and with a shorter stride and we see a constant ‘drift’ to the outside hind in order to ‘get under’ the dropping weight. This also causes a ‘twist’ in the horse’s barrel to the inside, seen clearly between 1:06 and 1:16 in the video.

In the middle of the clip at halt (3:01 to 3:06) notice how the horse bends his neck beautifully to the inside when I move the riders weight more correctly to the inside and watch as the weight falls to the outside when I release the saddle, the horse’s spine twists to the outside. The horse then has to adjust in the fore and haunches to catch the weight. This compensation is in every stride if the rider does not change her weight aid, if you look closely you will see it in the swing of the barrel and the tension on the side of the neck.

This is a common problem that most riders address with the inside rein, treating the symptom not the root cause of the problem.  

At 4:20 we see a beautiful change in the speed, bend and connection between the horse and rider as she gets and keep enough weight over the inside side bone not letting her weight drop to the outside, with no use of rein. Well ridden!

Written by James Shaw and Gillian Ruddy

©2015 James Shaw Healing Arts LLC. All rights reserved. No copying or reproduction of content without permission.


Braces (or Blocks) in a Horse are Reversible

In the US they are called 'braces' in the UK they are called 'blocks' but no matter where you are in the world braces in the horse are nearly always caused by the rider and therefore can be solved by the rider. The problem is that most riders are unaware of their part in the brace they are experiencing in their horse, they simply do not know what it is that they do and therefore do not know they have the power to undo.

At a recent clinic while working on the ground, I demonstrated how I could put a brace or block in another person's body simply by how I pushed into them.  When directly pushing using pure strength, all the symptoms of a blocked horse showed up in the person I was pushing into ie. tightening of the muscles, pushing back, holding the breath and disconnected unbalanced movement. The strongest person wins!

When I then pushed differently, aligning my body, opening in my lower back and using a very small rotation in my arm, the block and tension completely disappeared in the person I was pushing. My force flowed through her into the ground through her bones and she relaxed completely and moved away from my push in a balanced and connected way. This is demonstrated perfectly in the video above where I play around with Izzy. In this case the weaker wins, ie me. Creating this path in the rider’s body while in the saddle and using rotation in the joints of the arms and legs while giving aids is how we apply this principle while riding. 

In the saddle the rider's big three areas of blocking are:

·         in the lower lumbar vertebrae (lower back)

·         the thoracic vertebrae (between the shoulder blades)

·         and the cervical vertebrae (base of the skull/back of the neck)

These blocks are mirrored in the horse in the exact same areas. If the rider does not release these blocks in their body, the horse can not release the blocks in its body.

The block in the lower back of the rider is a result of standing on the ground in such a way that they are blocking the flow of gravity at the lower back. Gravity is one of the two primary forces a rider has to negotiate, the second being the power of the horse. In the saddle using the legs against the stirrups or the side of the horse further tightens and blocks in the lower back. Remember we are talking ounces of pressure here not pounds (4 oz is enough to put in a block , that's the weight of half a block of butter!). To start to release the block in the lower back we practice standing meditation on the ground and strive to always stand with the hips back and the weight in the balls of the feet. In the saddle we use the 3rd movement of the pelvis to help release the block at the lower lumbar. This movement also sends the force up the spine in a spiral as opposed to a wave.  

The block at the upper back in the saddle is primarily caused by lifting the chest and over use of the arms and reins, this is true whether there is contact on the reins or not. Breathing into the back of the heart and rounding the upper back as if hugging someone will remove most of the block in the thoracic spine. A rhythmic inward rotation in both humerus bones (upper arm) allows the force to get back to the horse, completing the cycle. This movement in the arms replaces the following of the mouth or head of the horse which nearly always causes the rider’s elbows to pull back behind the rider's seat, effectively blocking upward movement in the horse's spine. These two fixes never feel comfortable or correct to the rider who first tries them, they usually experience a feeling of slouching forward (the opposite to what we are traditionally taught), however the changes in the horse are immediate and indisputable. 

The block at the neck and head is the result of all the tension and hold necessary to keep the head still when the rest of the spine below it is blocking the flow of the horse's force up through the rider's spine. This block is actually the major cause of the common habit of looking down. As the first two blocks are removed, it is possible to ride without looking down all the time. 

Over and over again in every clinic we see these blocks removed and horses instantly change and move freely, even after years of being riding with tension. Horses do not hold on to the tension that is the root cause of braces and blocks, they can and they do just let it go.

Written by James Shaw and Gillian Ruddy

©2015 James Shaw Healing Arts LLC. All rights reserved. No copying or reproduction of content without permission.


The 10 Gates in Rider and Horse


                                             The Ten Gates in Rider and Horse

The gates are physical locations in the body of both rider and horse that regulate the flow of force and energy.  Just like the gate into a pasture, or the valve in a pipe, they can be open or shut or somewhere in between.  They are also intersections for all the systems in the body, so that influencing the gates can affect the bones and ligaments, the muscles and tendons, the organs, the lymph system, the endocrine system, the circulatory system and the nervous system (and incidentally, the emotions).  They control the flow of Chi.  The gates are where both rider and horse receive the force generated through contact with the earth.  This force travels through the horse’s gates, into the rider, where the rider’s gates can receive and redirect it before returning the force to the horse and thence back to the earth.

 For the rider, the breath is the initial means of accessing and controlling the gates.   As you’ve heard me say before, ‘the breath isn’t everything but it’s the beginning of everything.’  Awareness and alignment are also involved.  For example, blockages in our bodies, in the form of muscular contractions, can contribute to the gates being shut.  When our bones are not aligned to deal most efficiently with the force of gravity, we must constantly use our larger muscle groups to ‘keep’ our balance, rather than ‘being in’ balance.  Often, our conscious minds are completely unaware of the holding patterns we have developed.  Focusing on our breath can bring awareness of these blockages and the misalignment that caused them.  Adjusting our alignment enables us to then use our breath to help release the muscle contractions, thereby allowing the gates to open. 

This is the first in a series of articles that will address in detail the functioning of all ten gates in both the rider and the horse.

The 10 Gates in the Rider






  1. Belly or Dain Tien
  2. Lower back or Ming Meng
  3. Front of heart or chest
  4. Back of heart
  5. Chi Who
  6. Liver and spleen
  7. Upper pass or union of skull and spine
  8. Crown
  9. Ball of the foot or Yuen Chuen
  10. Palm of hand or Lao Gong



The 10 Gates in the Horse


  1. Belly and abdomen
  2. Lower lumbar
  3. Under withers
  4. Withers
  5. Front of chest
  6. Left and right side of rib cage
  7. Poll
  8. The mind and movement in the head
  9. Hind feet
  10. Mouth, Tongue 


We will begin the series by focusing on the following three gates:

Belly (Dain Tien)

Lower back (Ming Meng)

Back/front of the heart


We will identify each gate’s location in the rider and the horse, and explain how it opens and what happens physically when it opens.  We will then explore the effects of opening the gate, in terms of the rider’s balance and ability to allow and regulate the flow of power through the gate, and in terms of the effects on the horse.   Remember, the breath, directed by the mind, is the initial means of accessing and controlling the gates. 

The Belly (Dain Tien)

Location:  In the rider, the Dain Tien is located in the lower abdomen, extending down to the sit bones, back to the lumbar spine, and up to just below the sternum.  Basically, it is the area that expands when you breathe into your belly.  While bounded in physical terms by the limits of your body, the Dain Tien and all the other gates can be expanded well beyond.  As we will see, this can mean breathing down into the horse, or out into the arena.   


Similar to the rider, the horse’s Dain Tien is located in the belly, extending from the last rib back to the pelvis. 

How it opens: For both rider and horse, the diaphragm is the main physical mechanism in opening the Dain Tien.  The diaphragm is that parachute-shaped muscle at the base of your rib cage that is responsible for moving air into and out of your lungs.  The horse’s diaphragm is located in a corresponding location, separating the thoracic and the abdominal cavities and performs an identical function.

[ picture of diaphragm]

To open the rider’s Dain Tien, we begin with the mind, which directs our breath both to relax our abdominal muscles and to activate the diaphragm.  The movement of the diaphragm, controlled by the rhythm of the breath on the inhale, pushes down into the visceral gut, allowing the internal organs to move and settle lower in the body.  At the same time, the diaphragm’s movement activates the Vegus nerve, thereby regulating the automatic nervous system, quieting the stress response.  This is why taking a deep breath when you are scared can have a calming effect, on both you and your horse.  On the exhale, the elastic nature of the abdominal muscles, as well as the diaphragm itself, allows everything to return to its starting place, completing the cycle in readiness for the next breath.

The horse will mirror the rider’s breathing and use of the diaphragm.  By focusing on your breath, you can thus influence your horse to open its Dain Tien, with all the same positive results. 

The effects of opening the Dain Tien: Opening the Dain Tien has several beneficial effects on both rider and horse.  First and foremost, breathing into the belly lowers our center of gravity.  For the horse, the effect is to move its center of gravity back toward the haunches.   Opening the Dain Tien also allows more freedom of movement in the rider’s seat, including the lumbar spine, the pelvis and the femur, and in the corresponding structures of the horse.  In addition, opening the Dain Tien creates an internal massage of the visceral organs, which serves to release neurotransmitters in the gut that in turn stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, producing feelings of calm and well-being.  For both rider and horse, belly breathing can promote healthy gut function.  It is also the first step in establishing connection.

The Lower Back (Ming Meng)

Location: In the rider, the center point of the Ming Meng is between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae.  Opening this gate expands it in all directions.  In the horse, the location is exactly the same.    Of all the gates the Ming Meng is the most influential.  When the rider opens the Ming Meng and the horse does as well, positive change instantly occurs.  However, in most riders, the Ming Meng is a major area of blockage; when shut, it cuts the rider in half, severing the flow of energy and inhibiting balance.  The effects are the same in the horse; if its Ming Meng is shut, it cannot lift its lumbar spine and will feel disconnected from back to front.


How it opens: The Ming Meng is opened by breathing into the lower back, allowing the diaphragm to expand and in so doing, enable some of the curve to come out of the lumbar spine.   When open, the lower back feels slightly rounded, as in Wall Sitting {see Ride From Within, p. 59-60)


The effects of opening the Ming Meng:  Too much curve in the lumbar spine (lordosis) blocks the flow of force through the rider’s skeleton, whether the force of gravity or the force generated by the horse pushing off the ground.  When the curve is decreased, the pelvis can move while balanced in a neutral position on the femur joints, rather than being jammed in an anterior tilt and thereby immobilized.  However, creating a posterior tilt is not the solution, as this also decreases the potential for the transfer of force.  Opening of the Ming Meng must come from breathing into the lumbar first, not by tilting the pelvis (or tucking the tail bone under).  With the Ming Meng open, the force of gravity can flow through the rider’s lower back into the sacrum and from there out into the pelvis and down the rider’s legs to the earth.  In reverse, the power of the horse flows upward to the seat bones, which are part of the pelvis, which then directs the horse’s force into the rider’s sacrum, up through the open Ming Meng and on up the spine.   If the Dain Tien is the front of the rider’s center, the Ming Meng is the back; together, they make it possible effortlessly to maintain true balance.  This balance, in turn, allows the pelvis to move in all three planes, thereby transforming the horse’s force from a wave into a spiral, which can then travel up the rider’s spine.   For the horse, the effects of opening the Ming Meng are much the same.   While the range of motion of the equine lumbar spine is limited, opening the Ming Meng allows for maximum longitudinal flexion, which in turn permits the horse’s pelvis to balance at the femur joint, thereby allowing the hind leg to swing under without restriction.   Opening the Ming Meng in the horse creates thoroughness, allowing the uninhibited flow of energy from back to front along the topline.


Back/Front of the Heart


Location: In the rider, the back of the heart comprises the area of the thoracic spine, the back of the ribs and the scapula. In the horse, the location is similar, including the area just in front of the rider’s seat to the withers and the top of the scapula. 


How it opens: Once again, the rider’s breath serves to open this gate by expanding the ribs and thoracic spine backwards.  The scapulae should be allowed to abduct, or spread apart.   This expansion serves to increase the curve of the thoracic spine.   At the same time, the sternum should soften and drop slightly (thus opening the front of the heart).  Note that breathing into the back of the heart, increasing the curve of the thoracic spine and dropping the sternum are not the same thing as slumping forward with rounded shoulders and a collapsed center.  This would defeat the purpose of allowing gravity to flow down the rider’s spine and the horse’s power to flow upwards.   Practice standing and sitting meditation (see Ride From Within, p. 37-42) to gain a better understanding of how to open the back and front of the heart without compromising your alignment. 


The effects of opening the Back/Front of the Heart:  As noted above, when the back of the heart opens successfully, so does the front of the heart.   We have all experienced the feeling of open-heartedness that happens when we hug someone we love; you should experience the same sensation, both physically and emotionally, when you breath into the back of the heart in the saddle.   Just as opening your Dain Tien and Ming Meng lowers your center of gravity, allowing you to feel secure in your seat, so opening your heart creates a sense of buoyancy.  Thus heaviness becomes the root of lightness, one of the core truths of T’ai Chi.  Opening the back of the rider’s heart allows the horse’s power to come up into the space created, without being resisted or blocked.  The rider usually feels the horse lift its entire back, creating more longitudinal flexion along its topline, just as the rider has created more flexion in her own spine by taking some of the curve out of the lumbar spine (breathing into the Ming Meng) and adding curve to the thoracic spine (breathing into the back of the heart).   If done successfully, the horse will seem to slow down.  This is because you’ve invited its energy to spend just a little more time going upwards into you rather than forwards.  This has the effect of improving the horse’s longitudinal balance.    In addition, having discovered that the rider is able to receive force without restriction, the horse will be willing to offer more power or thrust.  The other major benefit of opening the back of the heart and thereby allowing more of the horse’s force to travel unimpeded up your spine is that you can now redirect this force, through the rotation of your thoracic spine, in order to bend your horse’s energy from the withers, rather than pulling on the reins to turn its head and neck.   Instead of having to use the outside rein to keep your horse’s shoulder from falling out as you use the inside rein to direct him through a turn, you can simply rotate your thoracic spine, allowing your scapulae to release down and out as you breathe into your open heart.  The horse’s scapulae can then do the same, so that he is able to travel forward on a circle, rather than disconnecting at the withers like a jackknifed tractor-trailer.  In effect, opening the back of the rider’s heart, along with the Dain Tien and Ming Meng, encourages the horse to open the corresponding gates in its own body, thereby lifting its back and withers and engaging the thoracic sling.

James Shaw and Sarah Barnes. 

(C) 2014 James Shaw Healing Arts, LLC.  All rights reserved. No copying or reproduction of content without permission from James Shaw Healing Arts LLC. 

Ride From Within - The Lost Art of Riding - Part 2

A Master of the Chinese art of Calligraphy makes it look effortless and flowing like a dance of perfection, ease and grace. There are only 5 brush strokes in classical calligraphy and a beginner practises these strokes thousands of times, every brush stroke using a new piece of paper, every piece of paper thrown away until after countless hours of practise, the perfect stroke is achieved.

Now I would want to frame that perfect stroke but that too is thrown away, it is history. The joy and satisfaction does not come with time and experience mastering the perfect stroke, the joy and satisfaction is experienced in no time and is no greater for the Master than it is for the beginner.

The practise of becoming present to our breath in every moment leads to expanding our conscious awareness in every moment which slows down movement because through awareness moments get longer, this is the door way to ‘no time’ and the Art of Riding.

When we develop this level of awareness through daily practise we can become aware of 3elements that are essential for any change in direction, gait or tempo. These are: timing, rider’s weight distribution and rider’s position.

When these three elements change in the same moment, the change is effortless for horse and rider, it becomes the balanced, connected, harmonious dance we all dream of.

For example, coming onto a 20m circle from a straight line on the left rein, the three elements to happen in the same moment would be

1. Timing – horses left hind is in the air stepping forward (3/10th second)

2. Rider’s Weight – 60% into and through the inside seat bone

3. Rider’s Position – belly button to outside, sternum to inside (left)

The Art is in achieving the correct timing, position and weight distribution in the same moment. When this is mastered and all 3 happen at once they all directly and positively influence each other and this is why it feels effortless and magical.

For example, when the timing is right, the turning of the belly button and the sternum is much easier because they happen before the forces they offset (the force of the horse and centrifugal force) become apparent and start acting on the rider’s body.  The shifting of the rider’s weight is helped by gravity when the left sit bone is dropping as the horses’ hind leg swings forward.

This is how it becomes effortless as we work with the forces of nature and the horse. Our conscious response and regulation of timing, weight and position are how we dance with ease and grace with the forces of gravity and the power of the horse. It is how we borrow the power of the horse and the forces of gravity to help us.

If we do not these ever present forces work against us. Meaning, if our timing, weight or position are not correct we are opposing these forces, they are working against us and it is this opposition that is the root cause of almost all rider issues and problems.

This dynamic interaction is the same for the rider in the saddle or on the ground, walking or running in daily life, the same rules apply for balanced and effortless, healthy movement.

In this way the Art of Riding becomes your way of life for it is an inescapable truth that we live with natural forces greater than ourselves that govern our world and our movement, whether we move in harmony and balance and stay healthy or not becomes our conscious choice when we choose to practise our Art in every moment of our lives.

In the teaching and practise of Art you never escape the beginning, the basics and the foundation. We never advance out of the basics whether they are in principle or in application.

In short, just enjoy the journey and find the joy in being present in every moment and wave goodbye to frustration, anger and disappointment and let go of ever arriving!

Enjoy your horses and enjoy life.

Written by James Shaw and Gillian Ruddy

©2014 James Shaw Healing Arts LLC. All rights reserved. No copying or reproduction of content without permission.


Ride From Within - The Lost Art of Riding Part 1

“Art is long, life is short” Loa Tzu

Riding is an art and the greatest enemy of art is hurry, the driving force behind which is to reach a goal, achieve or posses a finished product. In riding this can be a dressage score or ribbon, trophy or some other achievement.

And while there is nothing wrong with valuing such achievements, they are by-products and in and of themselves are not necessarily a measure of success.

The essence of Loa Tzu’s quote is that art can not and will not be hurried. To my way of thinking the training of an art form is the same no matter what form it takes, the steps are the same, they are all made up of fundamental practises. These practices are meant to develop skill through experience and through experience develop a state of ‘no hurry’ or to be absolutely present in every moment.

This is different than the state of ‘no mind” often spoken of in Zen Buddhism. ‘No mind’ refers to knowing something so completely through practice that it becomes ingrained in the practitioners being so that no thought, no effort is necessary. This usually refers to movement whether it is the stroke of a brush or sword or the squeeze of the hand to influence the rein.

It is important to remember that the state of ‘no mind’ can and is found in movement that is not helpful in maintaining our mental and physical connection with the horse. When this is the case we call it unconscious bad habits or reactions to keep our balance.     

To be present in every moment, time slows down and with Mastery time actually disappears into an experience of ‘no time’. It is in this state of awareness that ‘feel’ in riding becomes amplified.

So the practise of an art as taught in steps leads to a state of ‘no hurry’ or no time. It does not create patience as patience is not required when the student understands that there is no ‘arriving’ in art, there is only ‘what is’ in the now and complete acceptance of ‘what is’ allows for change and improvement.

The difference between patience and ‘no hurry’ can be likened to the difference between being balanced and keeping your balance. When I am not balanced, I have to keep my balance, when I am in a hurry, I have to practise patience.

‘Ride from Within’ teaches the art of BEING balanced (NOT keeping balance) from a state of ‘no hurry’ which allows the expanded awareness that teaches ‘feel’.

This state of being balanced is 3 dimensional and is in a state of constant flow or movement in harmony with the forces of the horse and the forces of gravity, so that from the outside the rider appears perfectly still.

In traditional riding methods we are taught to keep our balance in only 2 dimensions, like scales that are counter weighted balancing front to back (one dimension) and side to side (2 dimensions). This is very limited and ‘held’ in place with strength and tension.

Balance and ‘no hurry’ are states that are achieved by being present, in the now moment with no desire other than being where you are at, with no judgement and no goal for the next moment or for any moment in the future.

The practice of techniques in any particular art are merely building blocks or opportunities to develop this state. ‘Ride from Within’ techniques re-train the body and refine the movements required to be balanced and they train the heart to open, the mind to be still, expanding awareness and they train the center to expand and move more not less. And the result is harmonious, effortless riding where horse and rider become one whole on every level in every moment.

Written by James Shaw and Gillian Ruddy

©2014 James Shaw Healing Arts LLC. All rights reserved. No copying or reproduction of content without permission.