Your Equine Solutions is a blog for equestrians, horse owners, trainers, riders and horse enthusiasts alike. We created this educational blog so you can learn tips and tools so you and your equine partner can enhance your performance and overall well being.
Each post will focus on a different aspect of holistic health, performance and well-being for the horse and rider. Some topics we will be addressing include:
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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.
The intercostal muscles are the muscles between the ribs and the most important function they do in aid in breathing.
- Have a horse that holds their breath?
- Do you have a horse that always favors one lead over the other?
- Is your horse harder to bend or turn in a particular direction?
- Is your saddle is always slipping off to one side?
When a horse habitually holds its ribs to one side, it makes certain movements harder for them. Things like lateral flexion on the side the ribs stick out on becomes very difficult. Holding the proper bend on that side is hard, their shoulder falls into the circle because their ribs are in the way. Higher level lateral movements and lead changes become a challenge, not because the horse is being difficult, but because they simply can't move their ribs out of the way to allow for the proper position of their body to accommodate the movement.
Releasing these muscles can help the horse maintain proper muscles function to help them become more balanced and free in their rib cage. Just like people, horses are one-sided or one side dominant just like someone who is right or left handed. Our job as riders, trainers and therapist is to help them be as balanced as possible through proper training and with the help of bodywork. Releasing the intercostal muscles and the rib cage may help your horse overcome that ingrained muscle memory and get them swinging freely through the ribs again.
TMJ is the abbreviation for temporomandibular joint. Anatomically, it refers to an area of the cranium where the jaw, or the mandible, contacts and articulates with the temporal bone. The temporal bone is the area of the skull where the ear resides. When these bones are misaligned and not articulating properly and the surrounding tissue of the TMJ is stressed, the TMJ Mechanism is out of balance and cannot function optimally. This condition is known as Temporomandibular Dysfunction, or TMD.
TMD shows up in many different shapes and sizes and cases differ in levels of severity. Horses with TMD will clearly show low levels of performance, improper gaits, uneven wear of the teeth, possible head shaking, signs of headaches, cribbing and/or various behavior problems. In some cases, even a slight protrusion in the lower jaw can be seen - the lower incisors of the mandible come behind the upper incisors of the maxilla. Any horse that has TMD will have some level of difficulty in performance.
Here are a several things to notice if you think your horse has discomfort in the TMJ joint and surrounded soft tissues
- Does your horse’s tongue rest between his upper teeth and lower teeth?
- Does your horse drop large amounts of food?
- Does he pass whole food in his manure?
- Can you hear a popping and/or clicking while your horse chews?
- Does your horse have difficulty flexing at the poll?
- Does your horse chew more on one side compared to the other?
- How does your horse hold his neck and move in leads?
- How are your horses’ teeth wearing?
You can also gently palpate the muscles on and around the mandible. Notice the quality of the muscles. Do they feel soft or do they feel like a rock? Does the muscle invite you in or push you out?
If you think your horse may be suffering from TMD bodywork can be a great way to treat and use as preventative care. It is beneficial to first address and correct any existing 'mechanical' contributors such as hoof trimming, saddle fit, bit use, feeding practices, and dental issues. Without addressing these issues first, the results of bodywork will be limited. In addition, it is absolutely necessary to address the soft tissue and help bring balance back to the body through massage, acupuncture, myofascial release and craniosacral work, which specifically address the Stomatognathic system.
Remember to always consult with your veterinarian, equine dentist, and other qualified professionals who understand your horse, the TMJ, and TMD conditions.
If you have your first equine bodywork session scheduled for your horse, you may have questions about the process. Here are my tips for making any bodywork session successful, as well as answers to the three questions I’m asked most by clients about equine massage therapy.
How do I create the best environment for my horse’s massage therapy session?
Just like with a human massage at the spa, you want the environment to be as calm and comfortable as possible. Try to find an out-of the-way part of the stable for the session with as few distractions as possible.
If your horse’s stall isn’t in a high-traffic area, that may work best. If your horse can be loose in the stall, that’s even better. However, if your horse is nervous or might get into mischief, having someone hold it on a lead rope is a good alternative. Ideally, you don’t want your horse in cross ties because it limits flexibility of the neck and makes it difficult for the horse to relax.
You can ask your equine massage therapist what they prefer, but typically you do not want your horse getting treats or eating during the bodywork session. This alllows the horse to “connect” with the therapist and focus on the session.
Your horse may need a drink during the massage, so be sure to have fresh water nearby. Also, some horses need to urinate or manure as their circulation is stimulated, so plan for that too.
Be sure your horse is clean and dry before the bodyworker arrives. Removing dirt and water allows the therapist to get down to the skin without interference, and it makes the massage more comfortable for your horse.
Untack the horse, except for a halter, and if flies are a problem, use a fly repellent product or set up a fan to prevent twitching, tail swishing, and stomping. Fly masks and sheets should be removed for the massage session.
Some owners and therapists like to use essential oils to help quiet a horse during massage. Unless your horse is allergic or doesn’t like it, lavender is a calming scent that I use in most of my session. Rubbing a little on the hands and holding them cupped under the horse’s nostrils may be all you need to elicit a deep sigh and dropped head.
What information does my equine massage therapist need to know?
Under normal circumstances, you will have already had a conversation with the equine massage therapist about your horse’s unique needs. If you haven’t had a chance to do this yet, your therapist will ask about why you scheduled the massage, as well as:
Be sure to tell your equine bodyworker about anything that might affect their safety, such as if your horse doesn’t like to have a particular body part touched or if it has a history of kicking or biting.
Your equine massage therapist will do their own assessment on the horse. I like to watch the horse both untacked and under saddle, preferably in person, although sometimes show videos are helpful for issues that come up primarily in competition or when the horse might be anxious.
I also offer ride evaluations, where I work the horse under saddle to see how it feels to me. Sometimes owners get so used to their horse’s anatomy and quirks that they don’t even notice imbalances or gait inconsistencies.
Most equine massage therapists will also do a quick hands-on full-body check of the horse to see how the muscle tone feels, to look for knots or spasms, and to see if the horse flinches or reacts in any way.
How much time should I allow for the massage?
Massage sessions vary in length depending on the horse’s size, needs and attention span. A pony generally doesn’t take as long as a draft horse simply because of the amount of area that must be covered.
If stretching is being added, that will add a few more minutes to the session.
A horse with injuries or very tight muscles usually takes a bit longer to massage. Also, plan on your first session or two taking a little longer, since your therapist needs to get to know the horse and vice versa. Horses that are completely new to massage may need a slower approach until they get used to it.
Your massage therapist will tell you specifically, but budget between 45 to 90 minutes for the session itself. Make sure to allow time on either end for the above mentioned preparation and for unwinding post-massage.
What should I expect afterwards?
Your horse will probably want to drink, urinate, and manure after the massage, sometimes more so than normal because of the stimulatory effects of massage on the horse’s blood flow.
The equine massage therapist may also recommend calmly walking the horse for a few minutes after a session to keep the circulation enhanced a little longer. If it’s cold outside, it’s a good idea to blanket your horse to keep it warm and prolong the effects of the massage.
Your horse will want to relax after the massage, just like you would, so don’t schedule a training session immediately afterwards. It’s best if you can give your horse the rest of the day off after a massage.
Some horses can be a little stiff a day or so after their first few massages. But the more your horse receives equine massage therapy, the more it will get used to it. Be careful, though; your horse may want a spa day every day once it realizes how good it feels from a nice session!