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Our conversation with horses is through body language and energy, rather than through the words that dominate human interchange. Since body language and energy play a major role in our horse interaction, we must learn the art of a new type of communication. In order for our body to be a relaxed and supple communicator, it must be in balance with our mind. Only then can can it offer us the highly refined interaction necessary for the quick, effective conversation we need and desire with our horses.
Our philosophy sets the tone for all forms of communications. The more we can believe in a positive attitude, unconditional love, and free flowing energy, the more likely it is that out interactions will have a positive outcome. Determining your personal philosophy and purpose in life paves the way for the most effective communication.
Whether communicating with horse or man, all interactions have a three-part cycle. These three steps are clear and concise; question, answer and acknowledgement. For humans; ” How are you?” “I am doing well.” “That’s good to hear.” And that’s the three-part cycle for human interactions. For horses the three-part cycle is a little more subtle; close your legs, then close your hands (question), horse stops (answer), you soften (acknowledgement). Each of these is a complete part of the communication cycle, and an incomplete cycle opens the door for confusion.
I still remember when I was learning to ride my corners with my young, very green thoroughbred, Chance, and the importance of this concept. If I forgot to release my leg after Chance responded, he would speed up or pin his ears back. If I forgot to release my hand, he would get harder and harder against my hand. If I held in my seat, Chance would get more and more resistant. All these evasions were a result of Chance’s effort to do what he thought I was asking of him. It took several months to uncover all the different confusions that I was creating because I did not understand the communication formula.
Every aspect of our life is influenced by communication. Intimate disclosures, ones that require us to express what we really feel, are frightening. They frighten us because we are not certain if what we are feeling is acceptable or correct. Our feelings may not match what we think is expected. Riding requires intimate communication. I think it is easier to learn this type of conversation with a horse because a horse is non-threatening, responds without preconceived notions, and is non-judgmental. Intimate communications do not begin until we have learned the fundamental skills of riding. Position, control, and relaxation must become second nature to us, before we can begin to concentrate on communication. The first part of your riding journey encompasses learning position and basic control. While learning these skills you begin by using your hands, legs, and seat to control your horse safely. Initially, your communication is limited to stop, go, and turn. Ultimately, however, control is through feel, so a rider must be comfortable, confident, and relaxed on the horse. A stiff rider inhibits his horse’s ability to respond, and is deaf to the responses of the horse. As a rider gains experience, these basic fundamental skills will become more refined, creating a solid foundation for more intimate communication.
The relaxation required for basic control of your horse, means that you are comfortable and balanced in your position. Once you decide to specialize in a particular riding discipline, your communication skills will be developed to meet the requirements of the discipline of your choice. Whatever horse sport you choose, relaxation is a perquisite that allows balance, both with yourself and your horse. Becoming more deeply relaxed allows the muscles to supple, the energy to flow, and the body to move more freely. If you do not feel you are getting the results you want with your horses, you might want to look at your ability to relax both mentally and physically.
With each successfully experience our confidence improves, which should further develop our self-acceptance. I find that the most difficult part of this aspect of our journey is knowing when to accept what we cannot change, and how to change what we can. If we try to change something that cannot possibly change, it can lead to defeat and scar our self-confidence. However, we must try to change what we can change or we will not fulfill our capabilities. I believe, as we advance through the stages of our life we seek to balance ourselves through a positive philosophy, knowing when to accept becomes more clearly defined and more easily enforced.
Change is a key element to acceptance. The ability to change is an important part our uniqueness. Each experience, each personal encounter, as well as what we hear and see, changes us. We are not the same person from one day to the next. Each time we come across an obstacle in our life, we need to evaluate the situation, learn from it, and hopefully make a positive change in our life.
If we accept the circumstances of life and learn to evaluate them, we discover that experiences combined with positive attitude and a philosophy of betterment can turn many experiences into positive assets. The acceptance and “letting go” that I learned in my riding and horse relationships continues to be an asset to my personal and professional life. I believe the interchange of experiences through open-minded evaluation followed by acceptance or change has a powerful influence on all areas of our life.
People are often afraid of change because change represents the unknown, and this fear contributes to many people’s unwillingness to make a change. Throughout my life, I have witnessed many people in all areas of my life be driven by fear. They are unable to change the things that they are capable of changing. In order for us to reach our full potential we need to learn to face our fears and take a leap into the unknown so we can grow and learn to accept the things we cannot change.
We can learn some much about acceptance through our equine relationships. Your horse accepts you with your uniqueness. He does not judge that you are too fat, too thin, too tall or too short. If you can accept yourself as your horse does, you will discover a new-found love and acceptance for yourself and your horse. We need to accept our horses as they accept us, with all their strengthens and weaknesses. Without acceptance, it is easy to get caught up in resentments, self-pity and anger. These resentments can begin to govern your life, and the discoloration can prevent you from enjoying the beauty and the awe that are part of every situation.
However, we should not accept a painful or a negative situation without challenging it. Each time an obstacle is presented, you must investigate it thoroughly, understand it, do what you can do to change it, and then accept the things you can not change. I realize that this is much easier said than done, however I believe the result is well worth the tough part of it.
Everyone of us has obstacles to deal with. Often people feel alone or unacceptable because of their problem. Our uniqueness makes us feel alone with our conflict or problem. Unfortunately, our society does not encourage intimate communication. The difficulty of trusting others with our problems or concerns contributes to our loneliness. Loneliness delays our search for acceptance. During my lonely times I always had horses to turn to. Horses continue to be my counselor, best friend and support, however as I grow older I have developed other ways to resolve internal conflict, obstacles and issues in my life. I love to write and journal writing became a huge part of my life and a safe outlet to express myself freely. This in turn helps me release my anxiety, fears and weaknesses without judgment-just like my horses do! I find that sharing and expressing my ideas and feelings, whether with my horse, a person or a pen and paper, helps me relieve the pressure and loneliness of a problem. It can also help me find a solution to the problem that I am facing.
We are unique human beings and our horses our unique creatures. Each individual horse and each individual human has some weakness to deal with. Understanding this helps us accept ourselves and our horses, the more thoroughly we can look at our environment. The more realistic our goals, the more we can accept the joy and beauty that surrounds us.
Trust is build on reliable, consistent, decisive, and loving actions over time. For a lasting relationship, trust must be present between horse and man, between man and horse professionals, and between professionals and horses. True trust allows us to relax in the partnership. Relaxation in relationships and help set the stage for closer, more efficient and effective interaction, and thus for better results as well.
Horses will do almost anything for humans they trust. Their trust is conditioned by the love and compassion they feel from us, as well as the regular care given to them. We have a responsibility to uphold the human-horse relationship by always maintaining a horses trust by doing what is in the best interest of our horse.
With each horse relationship I enter I know that I need to earn that animals’ trust by my actions and reactions to every situation that we come across. As a horse person your awareness of yourself, your horse and surrounding have a great effect on your horses’ trust in you as the leader in the relationship. Your horse is looking to you to guide him in a direction that is safe and secure. Once that trust is established your relationship with your horse with become one of true trust.
Trust is a product of love and consistency that is clear and reliable. There is no miracle way to develop trust during your life journey, but I feel that the first place to look for a trusting experience is with your horse. If you can learn to accept the fundamental elements of a trusting relationship with your horse, it may help you with the people in your life.
Love is a feeling that motivates us to appreciate life with joy, enchantment, awe and wonder. It is an emotion that allows us to be aware, appreciative, open-minded and accepting unconditionally what is less than perfect, and willing to change what can be changed.
Each one of us is born with the capacity to love ourselves, others and life and it is inherent to our being. I believe that learning to love ourselves, others and life is a function of our soul. Often times we think we love but, most importantly, we need to be able to feel love and act in a loving way. Understanding what love is will help us understand our self, others, our horse and our life.
Simple delight in life’s experiences is a characteristic of love that is shared in both horses and humans. Horses express this daily and show their love through gratitude and appreciation. One example is the food and care that we give them. Almost all horses enthusiastically accept their food. They hear the feed door open, perk up their ears, whinny and sometimes bang on their stall door. Once a horse is fed, his eagerness is replaced by the joyful sound of munching on his grain or hay. The horse’s ears are relaxed, eyes soften, and he is solely focused on the joy of eating.
How often do we appreciate our food? The provider of the food? Or even the purchaser of the food? Even if you play all those roles, do you take the time to appreciate yourself? How often do we take the time to really enjoy, be present and thankful for the meal we are eating? Maybe, we should take a tip from our horse by being thankful of each one of our meals and appreciate how and where it came from.
I love when I clean my horse’s stall and put new bedding down only to have him lie down and roll, oblivious to my presence, completely absorbed in the scratching of his body in the fresh, clean bedding. He is immersed in the absolute enjoyment of scratching his back. I can hear him saying to himself, “Ahhh, right there. That’s the spot”. It always makes me laugh to myself and at that moment I know that he is taking full advantage and is thankful for his clean, fresh stall. It is his way of thanking me for taking care of him. How often do we show thankfulness to the people who take care of us?
These are the little ways that a horse reminds us to be aware, thankful and present in each moment, no matter how little or insignificant they might seem. Now, every time I clean my bed sheets and climb into bed I enjoy the smell of the fresh dried sheets and take a moment to feel the cleanliness and softness of my bed. I try to really enjoy the sensation of how my body feels and enjoy the slowing down and relaxation I feel as each one of my muscles relaxes into the mattress. I owe all this to the horses in my life.
I believe that taking several minutes a day to enjoy the total sensation of your bedroom, your living room, your yard and yourself could be a great learning tool for appreciating more aspects of your being. I feel this concept directly relates to you, your horse and your riding. Successful riding requires awareness, and awareness is enhanced when we learn to be aware, know and love ourselves and our surroundings. Love of life experienced through all of our senses adds to the fullness of life.
Unconditional acceptance of yourself and others is another manifestation of love. Our horse accepts us as we are. He tries his best to do what we ask. His nature allows him to love and accept himself and you, free of judgment. This is just another way we can learn to love ourselves and others, void of judgment through the way of our horse. By emulating our horses’ ability to accept their conditions without judgment we can learn how to love unconditionally. How has your horse taught you about love?
The definition of relaxation includes “the lengthening of inactive muscles or muscle fibers” and “the return or adjustment of a system of equilibrium following displacement or abrupt change.” Relaxation should exist on three levels: Physical (suppleness), mental (clarity of mind and emotion) and spiritual (freedom from fear, anger, resentment, jealousy and other negative attitudes). The three are related in both humans and horses. Physical relaxation can be destroyed by confusion or fear, thus it is not a simple matter of controlling the length of muscle fibers. In most cases when the mind is the cause of tension, stress, fear or confusion we must try to relax our mind. Even if the cause requires a solution, the starting point is a relaxed mind that can focus. If we hope to achieve physical relaxation, we need to address the methods of promoting mental and spiritual relaxation since they are so closely connected.
Relaxation has many benefits in terms of both performance and soundness. Communication is more straightforward when we are relaxed. Both observer and horse feel the rider is lighter and more graceful. Our body will move in harmony with the horse’s movements. Our legs will breathe with the horse’s sides. Our hands will be quiet receivers and directors of the forward energy we are sharing. Our body as a whole will be prepared to respond to the horse quickly, quietly, and effectively. This harmony will enable both horse and rider to move forward with power and elasticity, creating a picture of total unity and majesty. A relaxed horse is an amazingly elastic creature, and therefore our goal should be to maintain this elasticity. It involves careful management of his physical body, slowly building up muscle tone. Most horses have an advantage over man, in that they begin with a calm mind. If communications are clear and demands are realistic, they should remain mentally calm. This mental calmness, combined with the proper training of horse and rider, should maintain the horse’s elasticity, thus minimizing the wear and tear that cause unsoundness in our equine partners.
No doubt it is easier for a rider to relax on a horse who is relaxed, but the rider must learn to become supple and relaxed himself so that the horse can stay elastic and relaxed. It is the rider’s responsibility to maintain the relaxation of the horse.
It is more difficult for the rider to maintain a relaxed state, because the rider continues to have situations develop that make it difficult to maintain a relaxed, supple body. It is up to the rider to find an effective method to maintain a well functioning body.
Emotional turmoil produces disequilibrium in our bodies, leading to physical stiffness. Returning the body to equilibrium is a matter of relaxation. When we feel upset, or experience an uneasy feeling, an upset stomach, a headache, a backache, or another physical symptom, it may be our mental or spiritual self crying out. Physical exercises are designed to relax and supple the muscles, while meditative therapies provide methods to relax and free the body, mind and spirit.
“Mediation is any activity that keeps attention pleasantly anchored in the present moment”
The more of our self we can access consciously, the more control we have over our lives and our goals. The more unresolved experiences we have, the more we will need to create freedom that brings about the useful inner self. By having control over our thoughts and experience we come more relaxed in who we are, our goals and our dreams. This is key in our relationships, even our relationship with our horse. Relaxation is necessary for the rider to attain inner harmony and for the horse to display his natural beauty.
Humility is an essential ingredient to be in proper balance with our horse and the world. We can recognize humility by its unselfishness, thoughtfulness, gentleness, unpretentious spirit, and desire to help others. A horse outshines humans in unselfishness, has an unpretentious spirit and desire to please. A horse also possesses strength, power, agility, and presence. We can learn the lessons of humility by recognizing the attributes of humility in our horse and strive to be humble everyday.
Humility can affect the way we learn, select professionals, and relate to others. Humility can make the difference between mediocre and a superior performance. We can ride, perform, and even win without humility. However, humility changes the focus of our ride toward the horse’s energy, by allowing us to surrender ourselves to the horse. When we are able to let go we become a partner in the performance with our horse. We share the in the horse’s brilliance, we do not produce his brilliance through control.
By controlling our horse’s energy mentally through quiet humility we can out-think him and direct his power and majesty. We can allow him to perform at his best. I believe really love our horse we need to put his betterment ahead of our needs and be humble to our own.
By understanding our horse, his strengthens and weaknesses, we will be able to create and develop a humble relationship with him. We need to be realistic about our goals and our role in performing with our horse. We assume the role of a leader, guiding the performance or ride of the day to maximize your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. Focus on what you what to accomplish and produce, and be responsible for the harmonic wholeness of the ride.
The best horse people are those who can remain humble by remembering it is the horse that wins and performs. We need to enjoy our role in the relationship and take pride in directing the majesty of our horse. I have learned that if I understand my horse and encourage him, maintain a positive attitude while defining our roles in the relationship I can stay humble. As long as we can think of our horse first and his needs we will have humility in our relationship. The horses in my life teach me about humility on a daily basis and help me develop and maintain humility in other areas of my life.
Remember, whatever your goal, approaching it with humility will enhance its value and magnify the joy it attaining it. You will have a better appreciation for your horse’s role in the accomplishment, but you will also attain a more honest perception of your own contribution.
Our horses are always communicating to us through their behavior and it’s our job to make sure we are paying attention to them. Some behavior are very noticable and we can pick up what they are trying to communication and others are very subtle and we need to pay close attention. During a bodywork session there are many signs and behaviors horse’s display to let me know what it going on with them. It is my job to listen and play attention. Here are 10 signs that horse’s display to let me know they are processing what is going on in their body and being to relaxing and release any tension they may have.
1. His Nostrils - a horse’s nostrils will be relaxed, soft and round with equal breathing on both sides. If he is feeling irritated or unhappy they become tight, thin and drawn.
2. The Tail - the tail is a HUGE part in the way a horse communicates. When he is relaxed the tail is fairly loose and swinging freely and evenly when he moves. In the absence of any injuries that affect where his tail hangs, it should be straight.
3. Ears - Your horse using his ears for many things and in many different ways, not only to communication with human but alway with other horses. They use their ears to listen, concentrate, or to tell to you back off. When you horse is relaxed and happy his ear are typically relaxed down, off to the sides or pointed in the direction you are in.
4. Pooping - yes, pooping is a sign of a release and relaxation. Regular dropping is a sign that your horse is happy and healthy. If they defecate during a bodywork session this is a great sign that he is letting go and relaxing.
5. Lower Jaw - A relaxed lower jaw is a big sign that your horse is relaxed and happy. It will be loose, hanging down and most likely dribbling.
6. The Man Drop - almost always during a bodywork session, when working on geldings or stallions they will relax their penis and drop. This is a sign that your boy is happy and relaxed.
7. The Eye Blink - this can be the most subtle behavior and you need to be paying attention and really entune with the animal. Many times during a session a horse will “process” what is going on in their body. This is happening because in a bodywork session you are not only affecting the muscular system, but also the circulatory system, nervous system. Digestive system, respiratory system, skeletal system as well as the endocrine system. Horse’s begin to blink rapidly when they are process what is happening in their body. Please know this is a different behavior then trying to avoid bugs or and eye irritant.
8. The Fidget - just like the eye blink this is a behavior a lot of horse display right before a big release. This can be anything from dancing around, pawning, shaking their head, or even trying to playfully nip and/or bite. A lot of people get frustrated and annoyed with these behaviors during a session but if we listen to the horse and allow him to express himself (always in a safe way) then he is almost always telling us that some change is happening in his body. I alway think of this behavior as the horse telling me “ something is happening in my body, something is changing and I do not know how I feel about it”. Almost always after a fidget a release happens in the body.
9. Licking and chewing - Licking and chewing behavior is probably one of the most misunderstood horse behaviors. It simply reflects a change in autonomic nervous system tone that results in salivation that stimulates licking, chewing, and sometimes a big swallow. The lick and chew reflex is actually an indicator of a release of stress or tension. During a bodywork session when a horse starts licking and chewing we associate it will a release of tension and restriction.
10. Yawning - the ultimate release! A lot of horses yawn during a bodywork session. It typically happens after coming across an area of tension and/or restriction. It is a way of calming and taking a deep breath. It is a behaviour that in contexts such as this often means more than we normally think it does. In fact, this type of behaviour is frequently referred to as a calming or appeasement signal and a way to redirect emotions and release tension.
To learn more about equine bodywork and how it can help your horse feel and perform his best contact Meghan at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Equine shoulder areas are a main point in motion and alignment. If stiffness occurs there, it can create issues farther down the leg because blood isn’t flowing properly. The cap of the scapula, the rounder area of the shoulder blade below its withers is an important area on the horse. This is where the saddle tree comes in contact with the muscles around the scapula and where there are fascial attachments of muscles that go into the crest, withers, shoulder, etc. An ill-fitting or poorly positioned saddle can create problems not just for the back, but also cause postural compensations affecting the front and back legs.
Horses have a wide range in motion in their shoulder that begins at the cap of the scapula, so if that is blocked the other muscles will not be able to work properly. These muscles need to be balanced well so that the horse can function symmetrically and have nice flow from that functional axis of rotation.
Palpating, or massaging, is an excellent way to release muscle tension and promote better circulation. It’s always best to start with a light touch and feel the muscles to gauge how tight or fluid they are. Using your fingers, press lightly and watch the horse’s body language to see whether the spot is sore, sensitive or painful. Lighter is always better. Once the tissue softens underneath hand you can begin to add more pressure. Watch for your horse’s reactions. If the horse pulls away, paws or displays irritated behavior, remove pressure. If the horse displays signs of licking or chewing, this means it is relaxing into your touch, and the palpation is working.
After loosening the muscles, lift the legs, the feet and the lower joints to get them mobile. Lack of motion can be one reason why these muscles get stiff. Gentle joint mobilization and gentle range of motion of the joints will help relax tight and tense muscles. This is also a great way to evaluate your horse’s range of motion in each of his shoulders. Notice if one shoulder is more reactive to your touch or if one has more range of motion than the other. Typically, one will have less range of motion than the other. When you find this, spend more time working on the shoulder/scapula area to release the fascia and soft tissue around the scapula to help encourage and increase in range of motion.
This horse's sacrum acts as a sturdy platform for its huge pelvis. There is not a lot of room for movement within the sacroiliac (SI) joint itself. In fact, after the age of 10, the SI joints in most horses are fused. So the question is, if the SI joints are fused, how can one expect to restore normal joint function there?
You have to look at this a little differently than you would a person's SI joint. Think "muscle dysfunction" in this area, as opposed to joint dysfunction.
If your horse is showing hind end discomfort and stiffness, is unable to pick up or maintain canter leads, has poor low back muscle development, cannot engage or lacks impulsion, bucks or rears under saddle, the sacroiliac region may be to blame.
Bodywork and massage therapy can help relax and release the muscles around the joint to increase range of motion, relaxation, balance and enhance performance and well being.