Over the years I have learned that the more I can help horses follow requests with a sense of comfort and ease the more successful I will be in accomplishing any objective. Discomfort in mind or body can cause the horse to go to great lengths to avoid, and most of what we consider undesirable behavior is a horse’s attempt at avoidance. As a trainer I must set boundaries to prevent avoidance, but I also want to create an experience that the horse does not want to avoid. If I can bring a sense of ease, comfort, and pleasure to the horses they will cooperate willingly and happily. Incorporating practices that help the horses let go of compensatory muscle contractions and return to a greater range of motion can be incredibly beneficial for their physical well-being as well as improving their relationships with people.
From my personal experience with chronic pain I have learned how to help my body release those patterns and restrictions that were nearly crippling and, despite many injuries and years of physical and emotional strain, achieve a virtually pain-free existence without the need for pharmaceuticals or medical intervention. I attribute this accomplishment to the regular practice of yoga, an understanding of fascia and myofascial release, and most recently classes in Awareness Through Movement. ATM is a system developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, whose Feldenkrais Method includes both hands-on bodywork by a practitioner and ATM classes that guide students through a range of non-habitual movements that create new neural pathways and change the organization of the body. My instructor Mary Debono is a Feldenkrais practitioner and horse enthusiast who has adapted these moves to working on horses. Her Debono Moves include a variety of gentle, easy movements that can have a profound transformative effect on the body while also inducing a calmer state and stronger connection with the person doing the work. The Masterson Method of equine myofascial release is another fantastic resource for learning how to help identify and gently release restrictions to restore range of motion. I even think of dressage training as a form of yoga for horses, as we ask for unusual movements that improve balance, alignment, and core strength while carrying a rider.
I include some of these unwinding techniques in each training session. This can be done while grooming and preparing to ride or it may comprise the entire session. Using small movements WITHIN the body in addition to movements OF the body can help the parts move more easily and efficiently, which will have a direct impact on training as well as the overall comfort and well-being of the horses. Just as this work has helped to eliminate my own discomfort, I can see how it helps the horses feel and move better. This in turn leads to more willing and happy partners, which dramatically affects the quality of each interaction.
Sometimes in both horse training and yoga classes a request is met by the response “I can’t possibly do that!” Whether working with an equine or human student, I look for ways to break the request down into smaller and more doable components until it feels easy and comfortable. Trying to force the movement can create more resistance, tension, and possible damage to the body and our relationship. On the other hand, guiding students (equine and human) through a practice that feels good, energizes the body, calms the mind and reduces pain strengthens our relationship and their trust in me so that we can continue to improve and progress together.
Ideally, when I ride, I want my horse to feel as I do when I go see my favorite band. Connecting with the music, my whole body becomes part of the dance, and we share a few moments of pure joy. Pain, discomfort, anxiety or confusion will spoil the experience, making this kind of connection impossible. When we can relieve those conditions then dancing can be pleasurable and therapeutic for body, mind and spirit. I want my horses to enjoy the dance as much as I do, and I love helping horse owners and riding students who feel the same way.
To learn more about how you can help your horse feel better and improve your relationship through touch, groundwork and riding, contact me or sign up for a spring clinic!
To learn more about how you can help your horse feel better and improve your relationship through touch, groundwork and riding…
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