LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Riding Success Without Stress

Introducing the Alexander Technique. Book 1: Developing self-carriage in the rider
Material type: 
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
224 x 220 mm.
ISBN 0851317014 / 978-0851317014
Mouritz Bibliography
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Short Description: 
A comprehensive step-by-step method of applying the Alexander Technique to riding, but the exercises and the ‘holism’ can take it off-message.
Mouritz description: 
The author introduces the Technique and the primary control and includes a short biography of Alexander. Psychological aspects of riding and learning to ride are discussed, such as attitude, attention and emotions. Being in the present is emphasised with exercises. There is a exercise in 'suppling' [sic] and releasing. The seat is discussed in detail: the sitting bones, pelvis, the legs etc. (including how someone else can work on the legs while the rider is mounted); the dressage seat, the light seat and the jumping seat. There are exercises in walk, halts and half-halts; rising trot, sitting trot and canter are discussed. The chapter 'Building contact' contains exercises for developing a sensitive contact with the horse. The author introduces her own ‘Darth Vader’ breathing technique and covers the semi-supine. There are questionaires to monitor progress, case studies and many illustrations.
Publisher Description: 

Joni Bentley's unique expertise is a direct result of being a qualified practitioner not only of the Alexander Technique but also of Classical dressage, stress management and functional medicine.

It is a rare person who can combine all these areas in order to reveal a new and much needed holistic dimension in the training of horse and rider. In Riding Success Without Stress, the author demonstrates with clarity and perception how incorrect habits and negativity can be eradicated at source and replaced with calmness, straightness and grace by the application of the Alexander Technique and the Classical school.

This book demonstrates how the Alexander Technique training programme ensures that, by optimising the use of your own mind and body, you can optimise the use of your horse and ride to success completely without stress. This ground-breaking and revolutionary book provides invaluable and thought-provoking information for the benefit of all riders and their horses.

About the Author

Joni Bentley's diverse fields of expertise include the Alexander Technique, classical dressage, BHS qualifications, stress management, functional medicine and singing. Her original chosen singing career began with the lead role in the rock musical 'Hair' at the age of 17. West End musicals were followed by the opera, where she excelled as a natural until more serious training began bringing with it more serious problems: dry technical repetition with no room for self expression strangled her natural gift and joy of singing. After four years, undiagnosed throat problems ended her career. Devastated, she turned her love of horses and qualified as a BHSAI. While training for her BHSII, problems cropped up again in a new form, her body refused to do what her instructors expected of it. Alexander lessons revealed the root of her problem. She had intense anxiety linked with learning instilled in her during her opera training at the music academy. The dry repetitive exercises, the constant warnings of the danger to her throat if her practice was not technically perfect had killed her natural confidence. Four years later, fearful of opening her mouth in case she might make a mistake, the joy of singing had been lost and with it her voice. Alexander technique lessons taught her to drop the ideal and enjoy the journey and discovery of learning. After three years full time training at Fellside Alexander school in Cumbria, her confidence and voice restored, she graduated in 1993 and joined the Alexander Technique International governing body. Her own experience of problems, combined with equestrian and Alexander knowledge, has enabled Joni to develop a complete holistic training system for both horse and rider. Dry mechanical training is cast aside for an artistry that embraces the spirit and joy of learning and performance. She teaches at all levels numbering Grand Prix riders, FBHSs and BHSIs among her pupils.


These two publications appear to complete the current library on the Alexander Technique and Horse Riding books produced in England. Both contain numerous illustrations and photographs to complement the text matter.

With the expenditure of mental and/or physical energy of one kind or another it seems that Riding Success Without Stressis somewhat misleading as Joni Bentley's title. With the first sentence of the inside of the paper cover 'blurb' being '...Joni Bentley has identified the synergy that exists between Classical riding and the Alexander Technique in that poor postural habits and mental conditioning acquired by the rider over many years are mirrored by the horse and threaten the wellbeing and performance of both...'.

The above quote poses the question where, when, for how long and with whom did the author study the theory and practice of Classical Horsemanship? It seems that the author's unbridled enthusiasm for her book seems to have taken over and unfortunately shows areas of limitation in outlining and detailing important factors in both the Alexander Technique and Classical Horsemanship. No classical riding teacher would request - or instruct - that a rider, '...follows the movement of the horse's back.' To do so, would place the rider behind the movement of the horse, which the author herself condemns. Surely efficient Alexander Technique is the ideal preparation to get the rider to become an integral part of the horse in movement, the basis of classical riding.

I am afraid, '...Introducing the Alexander Technique...' with such terminology from this part-random-quote - and there are many others - is likely to turn riders away from the Alexander Technique.

'...invite the upward support of the horse/chair to come up into your seat bones - then your pelvis, hips, waist, rib cage, shoulders, neck, head - into the hollow in the roof of your mouth - into the dome at the top of your skull - through the scalp and forward and up out into the world ...' (Reviewer's italics.)

There is to be a 'Book 2', by the same author, with the same main title, hopefully this will enhance rather than negate the simple basic fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique and Classical Horsemanship.

Bodysense by Sally Tottle invites the rider to 'Revolutionize Your Riding with the Alexander Technique'.
This book by Sally Tottle is so different to that by Joni Bentley, that it would be unreasonable to compare one with the other. The simpler and clear explanation of the Alexander Technique terminology and word usage - including the one page Glossary - takes the mystery out of the Alexander Technique for those being introduced to it for the first time, by Sally Tottle.

The 80 or so figures, line illustrations, and photographs clarify the text explicitly analysed for the horse rider. Sally Tottle also avoids using such distracting terminology such as '...Imagine you have blinds on the back of your eyeballs....' and '...According to transactional analysis theory, after birth we unconsciously learn how to cope with living...' as contained in Riding Success Without Stress. When using the term 'pace' does Sally Tottle mean speed (mph/kph), or gaits (walk, trot, canter and gallop), two entirely different aspects of horsemanship. Also, in her question, '...How many joints are involved in holding the reins? Most riders will answer three: wrist, elbow, and shoulder. It is important to recognise that the clavicle brings the total to four...' Do the finger joints, of which there are many, not play an active and important part in the use and handling of the reins?

Such matters as these should be redressed as soon as possible as Bodysense - Revolutionize Your Riding with the Alexander Technique, by Sally A Tottle, is likely to become a standard text book on horse riding combined with the Alexander Technique, and a valuable contribution to riding safety.

Both books provide much for intelligent thought and discussion in the correct application - and blending - of the Alexander Technique to produce more enjoyable and safer horse riding.

Charles Harris

© The Estate of Charles Harris. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 1999-2015. All rights reserved
The book concerns itself mainly with the foundation level of equitation: rider’s seat position and posture at walk, trot, canter and jumping. Relaxation, postural correction and enhanced awareness are the means and the goals of the work. As such it is a useful book and I have no doubt that many riders would benefit from the advice it contains which is based on Bentley’s riding experience, her familiarity with various systems such as Yoga and, of course, on her knowledge of the Alexander Technique.

All would be well if Bentley had been content to leave it at that, but she takes it a step further and presents the book as an introduction to the Alexander Technique. If that is her aim then in my opinion she has not achieved it. Throughout the book there is a lot of praise for the Technique and the reader is often prompted to take it up; there is also a detailed biography of Alexander. What is missing here is a reasonably detailed description of the Technique, its concepts and how it is taught in practice.

Some examples: The author mentions briefly (page 14) the primary control but because she does not relate it to inhibition and direction she finds it hard to explain and is content with a drawing of the head and neck which, in effect, turns it into a question of correcting ones head carriage. At the same time she quotes from Dilys Carrington who seems to have managed it rather well.

Four chapters later (page 43), after many unrelated topics, we come across “Stopping” which is presumably another word for inhibition. I say, “presumably” because I am not sure. All she has to say about it is that it is to do with noticing where one feels tight and with choosing to let go of the tightness. There is no mention of direction let alone an explanation, and as regards breathing, she recommends a Yogic practice which she calls the “Darth Vader breath”. This is possibly very effective (I have not experienced it myself) but I would have thought the whispered ‘ah’ would have been more appropriate.

The book raises a very big question which concerns all Alexander Technique teachers. What does it mean to teach an application with the aid of the Technique? This question applies to any subject, e.g. cycling, running, music, etc. and not only to horse-riding. In my opinion, unless the pupil has had sufficient grounding in the Technique to have acquired an understanding of inhibition and direction then he/she is not equipped to benefit from the Technique as an aid in application. All they can hope to receive is superficial help through manipulation and exercises which may well be derived from the Technique but are, at the end of the day, only a poor substitute for the real thing.

Bentley, is very hot on people who claim to be teaching horse-riding with the Alexander Technique without being qualified to do so. But at the same time she invites others to enrol on her Riding Without Stress practitioners training course, which is a combination of the Alexander Technique and the classical school (i.e. not a straight Alexander teacher training course). How then will her trained practitioners differ from all the others whom she condemns?

© Gloria Pullan. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.