I attended the second day of a two day Balimo clinic taught by USDF Silver Medalist Dawn Jensen and hosted by Firstview Farm in Apex, North Carolina. I had a chance to ride in the clinic as well as audit several sessions, which featured students at a variety of levels, from training level all the way up to Prix Saint Georges.
Contrary to how most dressage clinics are conducted, this clinic focused almost exclusively on the riders, with almost no emphasis on the horse’s training or way of going. I found this to be somewhat unfortunate because I have a great curiosity in learning more about how my position affects my horse’s way of going and level of obedience.
However, the clinic did help me experience several different ways of using my body while riding. I stated out with my “normal” seat, which is a relatively tight, grippy one, and be the end of the hour, I had a more relaxed seat with an increased range of motion.
Here’s how it happened. Most of the clinic was spent on the ground (literally rolling around on the ground) or on a prop called the Balimo Chair, which is similar in function to an exercise ball but looks like a run-of-the-mill stool.
The exercises were very similar to those used in other “movement teaching systems”, including yoga and Pilates. The biggest difference that I noticed between Balimo and other systems was that Balimo doesn’t seem to make the student’s breathing an integral part of its exercises.
Balimo’s pelvic tilts, modified plank positions, bridge positions and other spinal twisting strength and flexibility exercises will probably not seem too foreign to anyone who has done other movement work.
I did four different exercises during my one-hour session. Each exercise was followed by me getting back on my horse and doing 3 minutes or so of riding so that I could “check in with my body” and see whether I felt any differences. Unfortunately, Ms. Jensen provided extremely little feedback or guidance during the mounted portions of the clinic, but I’m assuming that this was due to her attempt to follow a Balimo teaching philosophy, although I don’t know whether that is actually the case.
These are the four exercises that I did during my Balimo Clinic:
All of these exercises were performed at varying speeds, but always in as smooth and continuous a motion as possible. Sometimes I found it difficult to concentrate while doing the exercises because I was performing them only several feet from the clinic’s auditors, which was slightly awkward. A very shy or self-conscious person would have probably disliked this clinic format very much.
After doing the slightly goofy-seeming Balimo exercises, my feet were more relaxed and slightly heavier in the stirrups, my pelvis was tilted more forward than usual (with my derriere tucked further under me than it normally is), and my legs were able to stretch down and feel more even than they usually do.
However, since Ms. Jensen has an extensive riding and instructing background, including many certifications and awards from her time in Germany, I would have really appreciated hearing more of her personal opinions and input about my riding. Instead, she stuck to what I assume is the “Balimo Method”: a very non-committal, open-ended, “the student is the teacher” teaching method that caused me to leave the clinic without having truly learned anything about my riding or my biomechanics, having had none of my questions answered.