Regardless of discipline, most riders appreciate a soft, fluid connection with their horse. When we achieve this kind of unity the horse moves as an extension of the body without resisting or bracing. Tension in the mind or body will block this connection. Releasing tension at the source results in a horse that is pleasant to ride and work with, improving the quality and safety of every interaction.
While riding can be a form of tension-release work, bodywork on the ground allows us to access all parts of the horse, not just those that we can influence through riding. Excellent resources for learning simple bodywork techniques are Jim Masterson’s Masterson Method (myofascial release for horses), April Battle’s Holistic Horseworks (horse yoga) and Mary Debono’s Debono Moves (Feldenkrais technique for horses). These three innovative approaches all release restrictions gently through introducing nonhabitual movement and encouraging the release of long held tension in the muscles and nervous system. They restore energy flow, balance, and range of motion by encouraging the horse to let go of blocks and restrictions. Unlike chiropractic techniques, these methods can be learned and used by any horse owner, even if you have limited knowledge of horse anatomy and physiology. Through developing feel and “listening” to subtle cues and body language you can improve your skills as well as your relationship with your horse.
Integrating these techniques into your training program can gently and effectively transform unwanted behavior and habitual responses. By recognizing triggers and interrupting patterned behaviors we can introduce new responses and encourage softness and relaxation. This requires effective boundaries to prevent the unwanted behavior and familiarizing the horse with the release process so he becomes accustomed to yielding to gentle pressure. The horse learns that releasing tension feels good and begins to associate training sessions with enjoyable experiences. This reduces resistance and improves the horse’s attitude and cooperation. This can be extremely effective with horses that are defensive, avoidant or anxious.
Enforcing boundaries, earning respect, and making sure the horse will move away when asked are all important facets of earning respect and practicing safe horsemanship. However, these aspects of training do not always foster connection through positive experiences. Integrating bodywork is a wonderful way to develop trust, facilitate relaxation, and release blocks to a fluid partnership. I have found this approach to training to be extremely effective with young horses, those with abusive histories, and those that have learned to brace and resist to avoid requests. Through this practice I develop trust, leadership, and communication through an experience that is pleasurable to the horse.
In addition to developing a better relationship, integrating tension-release techniques improves balance, suppleness, freedom of movement and relaxation. These qualities are the foundation for dressage training and benefit horses of any discipline. Furthermore, the practice fosters mindfulness, grounded strength and increased awareness in the person performing the techniques. Through these activities riders can develop skills and habits that will benefit every aspect of horsemanship.
Myofascial Release and Horsemanship Clinics with Deb D’Amato are offered at Foxchase Farm in Salisbury (spring dates TBA) and can also be scheduled at your facility. Contact me to learn more or to schedule a session with your horse.