Updated: Mar 27, 2020
It’s almost spring and I’m sure everyone who owns a horse is looking forward to those longer light filled days, to spend with our 4-legged friends. Here in the Midwest, winter coats are beginning to shed and the first daffodils have peaked and shared their beauty. It is a time for planting, not just seeds for harvest, but intentions and seeds for that which we would like to achieve with our horses this year. Some people call them ‘goals’, for me, I like the term intentions, which essentially means the same thing, but evokes in the neural pathways a different response. When we have intention, we pay more attention.
Anyone who is a horse owner or rider looks forward to the beginning of the warm season.
Competition calendars are pulled out, trailers are serviced and your lesson and clinic schedule take on a new level of priority. As you set your intentions for you and your horse for the year, notice what aspects of your riding, training and horsemanship you are looking to enhance. There are so many facets of instruction, and directions to go within your discipline and in the horse industry in general, it is sometimes difficult to choose where to go and with whom to train and ride. The art of discernment, that has been somewhat lost in our culture, is beneficial when deciding where to go and what to do in the learning web of the equine world. To help make choices of the most beneficial educational opportunities you and your horse can take advantage of with clinicians and teachers, it is important to look below the surface of your external goals and intentions. This will assist you in making decisions that support your target
without compromising your horse, overloading your brain and doing everything that every clinician asks of you and potentially ending up somewhat confused.
The recommendation I would give to anyone in this situation, including myself, is to look at the deeper intention you have with your horse/rider partnership this year. It is easy to look superficially at ‘what your goals are’ and indeed that is a brilliant place to start. There is more to that though; I would encourage you to look below the surface. What I mean by that is, what does your horse need at all levels in order to meet the goals you have this year? How is his body coming out of the winter, is he needing to develop some core muscle, did he lose some condition over the winter or did he maintain? Is he showing you a weightbearing posture or are his circle of muscles reversed? If so, his body is needing you to assist in reeducating the nervous system to regain correct postural and locomotion muscle. Is he relaxed through his
body or is he holding tension and bracing patterns that might require some ground work, in-hand work or body work to help release? How is his gait? Can you analyze his footfalls and ensure the muscles and spine are moving his legs and that he is not just swinging his limbs and thereby not activating his self-carriage muscles.
Speaking of which, do you know what self-carriage muscle are and the sequences they maintain for correct movement? We have spoken of the horse’s physical body, yet there is so much more to your horse than his physical. How is he emotionally, is he comfortable leaving his herd to be with you? What work are you doing to enhance your understanding of the equine language and communication? There are so many intricate signals that play into the equine language, if we are not fully present and tuned in, we can miss some very important subtle signs.
Is your horse holding emotional tension in his neck and jaw, or is it physical? Did you know that because of the complex connection between the limbic system (which is the emotional system of the body) and the physical body, if there is physical tension in your horse there will be emotional tension and vice versa? Almost all muscles in the body respond to emotional stress, but most notably the scalene muscles, hyoid apparatus and temporal mandibular junction, which interplays with the psoas muscle of the pelvis. The observation for you as the horseman, is which came first, emotional stress or physical? Either way these are all below the surface observations that can assist you in preparing your horse for the upcoming season, and indeed keep him healthy and maintained through the years to come.
Understanding the emotional signals of your horse and the effect we humans have on our
horses emotionally, is paramount to the success of your partnership with your horse. We must endeavor to do our own emotional clean up, as well as physical fitness and training in order to show up and support our horse. When we take these ‘below the surface’ elements into consideration, it may become easier to decide what course of clinic activity or instruction you are seeking or needing this year.
Perhaps you would benefit from revisiting some emotional patterning techniques with your horse; maybe an in-hand clinic to support correct relaxation and postural alignment is in order before you begin serious riding, or maybe it is time to focus on balance, relaxation and posture
for both you and your horse under saddle.
A few other tips to consider: Check your equipment, muscle mass changes and your saddle may or may not fit correctly coming out of the winter; the same with your bridle. Be sure to remember the balance and proprioception of your horse is dependent upon a balanced dental, functional TMJ (Temporal Mandibular Joint) and a balanced hoof trim. Just because your horse
may have ended the last season in a certain way, it doesn’t mean he will begin this season
where he left off, physically or emotionally. This is a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us. As the light increases and our days get longer, lets take some time to check in with ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, as well as with our beloved horses.
Each month, this blog will address either the emotional aspect of your horse, ground work or in hand work, riding or enhancing your competitive edge. More support for each of these topics will be available in our pathways to learning course and our upcoming university classes. Remember to peruse our calendar of events! Check out the joint clinic (hoof trimmer and specialist) Ida Hammer and I are presenting in May ~ “Unveiling the Hoof and Neck Connection”. You won’t want to miss this one!
Enjoy the longer days and the exciting exploration of checking in with your horse and yourself for the upcoming season.