If something good can come out of something tragic then for Arlyn DeCicco revelation came after her 1997 fall. That was when she was forced to find another way to work with horses. Instead of using force, she needed to use a soft touch. She no longer had the strength or the ability to do anything more aggressive. Fate had solved that problem.
Yet, fate was what opened Arlyn’s eyes to the fact that there is a kinder and easier way to ride our horses. Arlyn calls her method BET-SSS for Balanced Equine Training Stretch Supple Strengthen. BET combines aerobic range of motion exercises with a system that develops all four phases of the horse’s musculature. The end result is the most balanced, relaxed, capable, willing, adjustable and healthy horse possible.
A Little About Arlyn
Arlyn DeCicco was born on May 2nd, 1954 to William D. and Toby B. Lampie. Despite the fact that she lost her dad from complications after surgery in 1984 and her mom to cancer in 1997, her parents left a strong imprint.
Arlyn learned her work ethic, determination and dedication from her parents and often refers to her mother’s favorite quote, "you can do anything you want to do as well as any man if not better."
Horses entered Arlyn’s life when she was nine years old. “Hennie Bordwin, one of my mother's friends, took me to Pepperell, MA where I got to ride a friend’s pony. I was hooked.”
“After I started riding, my brother Mark began to ride. Eventually, he discovered cars and marathon running. I kept riding.”
She grew up riding hunters and equitation in Massachusetts with Brian Flynn. She took clinics with Ronnie Mutch and George Morris. Later she trained with Dottie Morkis, Kathy Connelly, Ernst Bachinger and Belinda Nairn.
During the 1970s Arlyn added Eventing through the Preliminary level to her list of disciplines.
Arlyn’s teaching was transformed after she suffered two traumatic accidents. In 1972 Arlyn was thrown from a horse and suffered a back injury.
“One week after graduating high school I was bucked off in the morning while competing at a horse show. I continued to ride but later that day fell off again from the pain. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and x-rays showed I broke my back (L3 and L4). I spent the summer in bed staring at the ceiling, which is why I can't ever sit still today. Every moment is important,” explained Arlyn.
Through her strong determination she survived that ordeal and in 1979 she and her husband Alfred started their first business called Woodlock Farm based in Massachusetts.
In the early 90s dressage was added to her riding and in 1995 she had success on a horse name Sedona who she rode to third place in the NEDA High Score Award at Fourth Level. In 1996 she competed in Prix St. Georges.
The year 1997 was a turning point in Arlyn’s life. She mysteriously fell off a horse when no one was around and was found lying on the ground with what was later diagnosed as a head trauma.
“She was unconscious and was medi-flighted to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston,” explained her husband. “The left side of her body was compromised as well as her vision - eyes not in sync as I looked at her - double vision. After undergoing a battery of tests the doctors could find no reason for the fall. Arlyn doesn't remember the horse bucking and prints in the arena, which had just been dragged, suggested she must have passed out and fallen off.”
Being a strong and independent woman, Arlyn convinced the doctors to let her come home just three days later. “Unfortunately, I couldn't get her up the next morning and had to take her back in for two more days of observation,” continued Alfred. “They still could not find anything and the doctors said there was nothing they could do.
“She would sleep a lot, but would then wake up in the morning. She lacked taste, except for Starbuck's Java Chip ice cream which was her staple. The head trauma had compromised her left leg and hand. Before she got back on a horse, which was about six weeks from the fall, she regained enough use of her left leg and arm to drive herself to cranial-sacral therapy and physical pool therapy. She wasn't able to keep her left fingers closed to ride so she devised a system where she tied reins to our treadmill and performed her own physical therapy.”
While Alfred worried “my attitude was that she would get better. She had her mother's determination.”
One Determined Lady Figures Out A Way to Go On
“My goal was to continue to ride,” commented Arlyn emphatically. “Thus I began my quest to obtain knowledge about the body starting with my treating physicians.”
Arlyn already had some knowledge because her mom was a registered nurse who was always asking questions of trainers, vets and farriers. As a curious child, Arlyn would always be sure to glean every word that was said. Arlyn continued asking questions and has added horse muscle therapists and horse chiropractors in her quest for knowledge.
She also benefitted from courses she took just a few months prior to her accident in August 1996. Arlyn became certified as a Personal Trainer by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The ACE training manual includes human anatomy and bio-mechanics. Little did she know then how valuable that education would become later when she intuitively transferred that over to horses.
As Arlyn assessed her situation with an attitude of not letting anything stand in her way she also realized that she could no longer ride at her previous level. She further realized that she could not MAKE a horse do what she wanted. “All of my organizational skills and talent were of no use to me. I needed a new approach and I had to figure out how to direct my horse’s movement.”
She looked for a way to naturally guide the horse’s energy. The answer came in bits and pieces until it evolved into the philosophy that Arlyn has coined Balanced Equine Training Stretch Supple Strengthen (BET–SSS). This philosophy likens the rider to a man in a dancing partnership and the horse to a woman. The rider needs to learn how to lead the horse’s movement, rather than force or demand it, creating a willing partnership. After having been stretched and suppled, the horse wants to dance.
The concept of BET is to ride the neck as the counter-balance for the body. The goal is to educate riders to have the tools they need to lead their horses without interfering with their movement. Arlyn’s philosophy is “less is more” and her goal is to have the rider “guide” the horse’s energy so that they are a dancing couple effortlessly maneuvering around the arena.
Alfred has always been impressed with Arlyn’s attitude and teaching. “For Arlyn it is always about the horse first. If the horse is properly developed then it will perform better because it is comfortable with itself. I have heard many students tell Arlyn that she has the ability to explain new exercises clearly.”
Understanding the Anatomy
Understanding the horse’s anatomy is crucial in training. A horse’s body is extremely complex, and a rider must understand the horse’s musculature in order to know how to supple, stretch, and strengthen each muscle group properly. By training a horse incorrectly, one muscle might unknowingly be developed to inhibit the use and movement of another muscle.
There are four phases of the musculature: anterior, posterior, medial, and lateral. In understanding these four different areas, a rider can understand how to develop a horse correctly and how the four phases interact with one another to create the whole horse.
The anterior and posterior phases of the musculature refer respectively to the muscles in front and back. These muscles include those along the top and bottom lines of the horse, muscles in the front and back of the legs, and any muscles that work in a swinging motion.
While many riders may have heard or used the expression “riding from back to front” or allowing the horse to move forward from the hind end, few understand how this relates to the horse’s musculature. If a rider does not encourage a horse to work forward from the hind legs or refuses to stretch the anterior and posterior muscles correctly, the horse’s movement and performance will be inhibited and its performance and ability to flex will be limited. This will result in lack of adjustability and possible injury.
The medial and lateral phases of the musculature refer respectively to the middle and outside muscles of the horse. These muscles are located on the sides of the horse and are used when the horse is asked to bend or move laterally.
In order to optimize the medial and lateral muscles, a rider must supple them. This can be done through lateral and bending exercises where the horse is asked to open up and breathe. Once the horse’s muscles are supple and relaxed, the horse will be able to more easily complete the rider’s requests. If a rider begins strengthening prematurely, the horse’s range of motion will be severely restricted. This will result in stiffness, resistance to the rider’s aids, and inability to perform.
BET-SSS in Layman’s Terms
Arlyn’s Balanced Equine Training Stretch Supple Strengthen or BET-SSS revolves around creating well balanced horses and riders by combining aerobic range of motion exercises with a system that develops all four phases of the musculature.
Stretch is the beginning phase when the horse is asked to lengthen its stride in the walk and stretch its neck as long and low as possible making sure the head is not behind the vertical. Once the horse is comfortably swinging in the walk, they begin to breathe and function aerobically. This aerobic exercise puts less stress on the horse’s muscles, joints, and heart and allows the horse to use itself more completely in a relaxed manner. By allowing the neck and head to stretch down, the horse can lift its back and propel itself forward more correctly from the hind end. Once the horse has experienced the rewards of this phase, they will be asked to repeat these movements in every gait and stage of work. The Stretch phase of SSS helps to relax the horse and prepare for the upcoming phases of Supple and Strengthen.
In the Supple phase the horse is asked to move on a circle. The horse may then be asked to lengthen the outside muscles and shorten the inside muscles or, alternatively, to shorten the outside muscles and lengthen the inside muscles.
Other, more complicated suppling exercises involve leg yields or asking the horse to move away from the inside leg and rein. By shaping the horse’s neck and body through these movements, the horse opens up its rib cage. This will allow the horse to breathe more easily. After using the suppling exercises, the horse will be free to stretch and use itself more properly.
Strengthen is the final phase and should only be attempted after the other two phases have been completed. Here the object is to build muscle and strength in the horse. This phase can involve riding on varied terrain and work with cavalletti and trot poles. For more advanced exercises, horse and rider can work with gymnastic grids and jumps or the collected, medium, and extended gaits. Each horse’s physical development and mental acuity must be taken into account when developing a Strengthen program.
On The Scene
Now that you are armed with the concept the question remains as to how Arlyn would proceed to use all of this knowledge.
When giving a clinic, she begins with a demonstration and follows that with individual sessions. She has found the best timing is to have a minimum of three days in a row.
Arlyn starts by assessing the situation. “She analyzes the horse and rider as a pair and bases each exercise on their physical and mental abilities,” explains Brittany Bazeley. “Her understanding of anatomy and physical fitness is applied to both horse and rider to stretch, supple and strengthen and no matter what happens throughout the day, it ends on a positive note for everyone.
“She looks at everything from the ground up. She looks at the horse in the stall and the placement of the saddle on the horse’s back among other things,” adds show jumper Holly Scapa.
While watching the horse in motion, Arlyn assesses the horse’s range of motion and rideability. She also takes into consideration the rider’s level. Armed with this information she then works with the rider to educate them on what they can do to help improve these aspects. The next step is to watch the combination. The rider’s imbalances are also corrected so that they do not interfere with the horse’s range of motion. Through various aerobic exercises and the philosophy of Stretch Supple Strengthen, the horse’s musculature can be developed to create a more balanced and adjustable horse.
Her Students Speak Her Praises
Few words speak louder than from those who are on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out. The success of Arlyn’s method is repeatedly echoed in the words of her students and clients.
“I observed how Arlyn’s recovery from her injury enhanced her ability to teach and ride horses,” commented Martha Weckel. “After the injury, her ability to ‘feel’ for what the horse needed was that much more amazing. She could no longer ‘make’ the horses do their jobs; rather she had to guide them as their ‘dance partner.’”
Dr. Heather Mack added, “I have learned to be a solid dance partner with my horses whereas before I was mostly just trying to stay out of their way.”
“What I learned is that you have to ride both sides of the horse. What we tend to do is ride whatever direction we are going and you need to ride both sides going both directions,” explained Holly Scapa.
“Arlyn’s extensive knowledge of the anatomy of the horse and rider along with her unique training methods has helped put many struggling horses and riders on the road to successful balanced riding. Aryln doesn’t just teach you how to sit on a horse; she takes the time to teach you how to really ride,” commented Julie Weisz, winner of the 2003 Onondarka Medal Finals.
“Arlyn is deeply committed to improving the physical and mental state of the horse. Her method works,” noted Sally Black, owner of Blackland Farm.
“When horse and rider are both balanced you have a willing partnership. The horse doesn’t need to be forced or manipulated. You have a happy horse,” commented Diana Yeater, owner/trainer.
“Watching Arlyn ride is classical. She doesn’t force; she flows with the horse. She is able to get a horse to soften and collect. She’s like watching poetry. She teaches the horse how to use its body properly,” noted Dino Fretterd, Equine Body Worker.
“You can already walk, trot and canter. You don’t need me to do that. I’m here to help you and your horse do it better,” is how Sally Haddon explained what she heard when Arlyn helped her son, Gatlan.
Miniature Horse owner Susan Hopmans of LaVista Farm added, the fact that this program allows horses to be all they can be and never forces makes my heart soar. It has such a calming and centering effect on the horses. The end result is a relaxed horse that understands and enjoys what is being asked.”
Jumper rider Joie Gatlin’s former stable manager Darren “Dagwood” Roberts is a fan as well. “She has an intuitive knowledge of how their minds and bodies work. She was a huge part of Sun Cal’s King’s many successes.”
Show Jumper Mandy Porter who competed at the 2009 Las Vegas World Cup remarked, “Arlyn considers the wellbeing of the whole horse and the reward is a whole horse.”
Amateur-Owner jumper rider Mia Beckham noted, “Arlyn was the first person that did not try to teach me how to win. She taught me how to ride.”
“She has given me the skills to tap into my horse’s physical and emotional potential. They are so content and confident in their bodies and my riding of them,” concluded Dr. Heather Mack.
And there you have it. Aryln has turned tragedy into triumph and our horses thank her.
Arlyn now resides in Southern California. For more information about Arlyn, visit her website at http://www.arlyndecicco.com
. Arlyn can be contacted at email@example.com
or at (760) 535-3352.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/arlyn-decicco-tragedy-triumph-05-09.html">Arlyn DeCicco Turns Tragedy into Triumph</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com