RIFRWIIn honor of the beginning of the New Year and the familiar quest for fitness and better body awareness that has a habit of starting now (and lasting at least a couple months), tonight TSB Managing Director Martha Cook shares her 2012 breakthrough lesson with James Shaw, creator of Tai Chi for the Equestrian and author of RIDE FROM WITHIN.

James Shaw and TSB Managing Editor Martha Cook's horse "Buster."
James Shaw and TSB Managing Editor Martha Cook’s horse “Buster.”

“It’s not often I get to ride with one of our Trafalgar Square authors, so I recently jumped at the chance for a lesson with James Shaw. James, known for his development of a version of Tai Chi—the ancient Chinese art that unifies body, mind, and spirit in a series of flowing movements—specifically for riders, wrote the book Ride from Within: Use Tai Chi Principles to Awaken Your Natural Balance and Rhythm. He arrived at my barn, and my discovery of new awareness began.

“The lesson started with James explaining that he starts everyone—Grand Prix dressage rider or relative riding newbie (I sit somewhere in between)—at the same place. He asks simple questions: ‘Where’s your breath?’ ‘Are you breathing through your nose or mouth?’ ‘Where are your seat bones?’ ‘If your seat bones were fruit, what fruit would they be and how large?’

“These questions soon completely occupied me as my horse patiently walked around. As time passed, James and I zeroed in on my awareness: I was only breathing into my upper chest; I was often holding my breath after inhaling; I was squashing my seat-bone fruit—a ‘grape’—on the right and barely holding the grape down on the left. Wow, who knew?

Martha connects with Buster on a whole new level.
Martha connects with Buster on a whole new level.

“After an hour, my horse ‘Buster’ was more through and taking longer strides. Even though the lesson took place 90 percent at the walk, he was engaged and listening. I felt both physically and mentally plugged into him. My biggest ‘AHA!’ moment? ‘Breathing into’ my left seat bone magically kept my horse from drifting right and dropping his right shoulder. It almost felt like a party trick to immediately have use of such a simple straightening tool. Of course I knew my horse’s challenges going to the right related to me, but little did I know such a easy visualization and correct breathing could result is such an immediate improvement.

“I’m hooked. I can’t wait until James returns this spring.”

You can find out more about Tai Chi for Equestrians in James Shaw’s book RIDE FROM WITHIN, available from the TSB online bookstore and ON SALE for a limited time!

Watch James demonstrating Tai Chi basics on the ground—FASCINATING!