The Most Important Question I Ask, And So Should You

When I first bought my horse, I was the proverbial “I know enough to get myself into trouble” owner. I knew how to clean a hoof, but nothing about hoof balance or health. I knew how to put a saddle on, but nothing about saddle fit or where the saddle should really sit on the horse’s back. Or how about bits? Geez, if anyone had told me about the many types of bits out there, I may have curled up in a corner right then and there. Let’s not even talk about knowing what excellent barn management entailed. Or how to establish good manners for my horse!

I remember when my horse Chase got his first scratch above his eye. Looking back, boy did I over-react. I raised my voice to the barn management for not letting me know (and yes, they most assuredly rolled their eyes). I had nothing to clean it with (luckily another boarder did) and I was worried.

But here is the thing – I wasn’t scared about the scratch. It clearly wasn’t deep, or bad, or had injured the eye. Chase was fine and not concerned at all. I was upset because deep down I realized I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t even know what questions to ask and who TO ask!

"You should have seen the lesson plan I wrote up for her!" - Chase, Master Teacher

"You should have seen the lesson plan I wrote up for her!" - Chase, Master Teacher

The realization that I had taken on this monumental task of taking care of and responsibility for this horse, this being, this life. His health, his happiness, his comfort, his safety. I was responsible for it even if I was not the one who was always in charge. And since I am no slouch when it comes to solving problems, I of course dedicated myself to learn as much as possible as fast as possible.

I know you totally resonate with this because you would not still be reading this if you didn’t care about your horse that way. It seems that by owning, or even share-boarding a horse, you unwittingly signed up for a marathon crash course in every topic under the sun.

From barn management to the quality of hay, the pros and cons of the myriad kinds of wood shavings. How about feed! If you listen to the sales pitches, you would buy one of each! Pasture, no pasture, spring grass causing laminitis and what to look out for. How about vitamins and minerals? How about shoes or no shoes? Or the riding arena footing. Adding dust control additives or not, heated barns or unheated. What about protective gear like boots, which kind to buy? Do I also need bell boots? What about a riser pad? Do I need to get my saddle looked at? My horse starting acting out when I girth him up. My mare has issues with her cycles. I can’t get him on the bit. Should I ride more often for shorter periods? What about lunging? Is it beneficial? Or side-reins, should I use them. How often should I lesson or do I even need to? What kind of blanket will he need in the winter or does he even need one? Heated water buckets, warm mash, apple cider vinegar or fly sprays – it seems we are being asked to make a choice, a decision, choose a direction every second of every day.

And let’s not even talk about choosing a vet, a farrier or other therapist to help you keep your horse safe and sound.

You are probably reaching for the antacid pills by now.

A pillow would have been nice, you know! 

A pillow would have been nice, you know! 

I will never be able to learn enough to know it all. That’s why I surround myself with people who are experts, who are life-long learners, who are always looking at the whole picture AND are willing to consider the feedback of other professionals to gain a different perspective.

I surround myself with people who are willing to hear my questions (and actually welcome them), and are also willing to hear me mull over their answer, even out loud. I now have a team that allows me to ask anything without questioning my sanity. They don’t object to me getting a second opinion and will even suggest it.

They are open to thinking outside the box and will consider my feedback on their suggestions.

My horse has a TEAM.

BUT, I hear you ask, what is the most important questions you ask?

Does this make sense and what does my gut tell me?

Can I take different pieces of the puzzle, presented to me by my trusted care team and my horse, and come up with a strategy and a game plan to address whatever is going on?

Nobody knows your horse better than you do. Nobody. I can promise you that. Your connection with your horse is THE foundation for your success. If someone advises you but the explanation doesn’t make sense, keep digging. See how this fits into the whole picture. Let’s face it, all of us professionals - vets, bodyworkers, farriers – we are all in this business to help horses. But we don’t have the same connection with your horse. And we don't have all the answers either. We are human and come to the table with our own stories, our own perspective, our own experiences. Seemingly small details can make a big difference.

I can tell you from personal experience with my own horses that it’s not always easy to say: I don’t think that’s what’s going on. It doesn’t make sense. We need to keep digging. I had to do it with both my horses. It really does require big girl pants sometimes. But in the end, you are the one who bears the responsibility for the well-being of your horse, not just financially, but also emotionally and mentally.

If it doesn’t feel right, if you still have questions, keep asking!

Ask as many questions as you need until you feel confident you have the right game plan. Do not be afraid – you are your horse’s advocate. 

As for my own journey, I have always loved learning and ended up in a field where this love is actually a requirement! But no matter how much technical knowledge I put into my head, my gut feeling always gets a seat at the table when I make my final decision. And this is why assembling the right team is absolutely vital.

Give me a call so we can discuss how Equine Bodywork can help you keep your horse healthy and happy! Let’s see if what I have to offer is a good fit for you and horse. Schedule a consultation today.

Everything is a choice even when we do nothing

I don't know about you, but for me, this year is just flying by! Maybe it's because there are so many exciting new things happening, or maybe the things my Mom warned me about are finally coming true - YIKES! "Just wait till you get older, you will see how fast time goes by!"

Or my other favorite as a kid when we had to take naps after lunch and didn't want to - "There will be a day when you WISH you could take a nap!". Yes, I admit, my Mom was right. What we all would give for THAT to be a possibility now!

And since I mentioned changes - I might as well tell you right now - because I am so darn excited about it! I made the decision to leave my corporate job at the end of March and dedicate myself full-time to the business of helping horses feel better, perform better and be happier. No, I didn't just wake up one morning and say: ENOUGH! I thought about it and planned it for quite a long time.

You see, I am extremely passionate about my work with horses. It makes me get up in the morning - even though I am a morning grouch. I think about it 24/7 - everything I read or watch or listen to somehow always circles back to how I can help horses be more at peace with the life we ask them to life and the job we ask them to perform. I get excited reading about and studying topics such as bio-mechanics, training, the impact of tack, anatomy and physiology, how even our own emotional lives influence our horses. And now, there are so many more things to consider! So many new scientific discoveries like Epi-Genetics and Quantum Physics/Quantum Entanglement - giving us more in depth, amazing, scientifically proven feedback on all the intuitive and mysterious things we as horse lovers and owners knew but could not prove. 

However, my every day life - 50+ hours a week - was filled with things other than what made me giddy with excitement. Don't get me wrong - I had a really great job and worked with great people. I loved my clients and forged some amazing relationships and even friendships. And I learned a great amount about myself and great customer service. But after 18 years, it no longer was the right fit, the right challenge. So I gave notice a year ago - I announced I would be leaving at the end of March 2017. I made a choice - the choice to follow my heart and really go after my soul work. Fully and consciously.

Horses speak to our soul - if you are around them for any length of time, if you look into their eyes, feel their breath on your cheek. you can't possibly deny their immense power to look at you and SEE you. To see past all your walls, all your excuses, your fears. They see your dreams, your wishes - the stardust we are all made of. They require us to make choices we never even dreamed we would make. And no, I am not talking about what color saddle pad we will buy for this show season (although this can be quite a dilemma considering all the super cool ones we can now pick from!).

I am talking about making choices that ask us to grow on a much deeper level. To become more aware, to become kinder, to become softer, to become more forgiving - and giving. To become more assertive without being aggressive, to become more giving without becoming a doormat, to become greater communicators, to become better listeners. To change our story!

To BECOME CONNECTED. 

To our horses, to ourselves, to our families, to our passions. To what is important and to learn to recognize it. To make better choices and gain clarity about what this life is all about.

I recently spoke with a friend about a situation - she didn't know if she should or should not do something. And I said - you have to make a choice. Because even NOT doing something is a choice, but be clear about making it. Be clear WHY you don't want to do it. And then choose, and own that choice. You see, sometimes we wait, we wait to gain clarity on what we should do or not do. But waiting is a choice too. You can wait around for divine inspiration or you can CHOOSE to ask for it. Because it will come. But if we learn how to ask clearly, with purpose and intent, the answer can come much quicker!

You see, I could have stayed in my corporate job, I could have built it into something bigger, better, more impactful. I could have made a difference even there - influencing people in many ways, creating change, challenging the status quo (my favorite!). I could have made a choice to become the very best even in that situation.

But I knew without a doubt it would have been a choice out of fear. Fear of "what if's" - a list impressively long. Fear of having to become a brand-new me so I could really step into this new life fully and with presence so I can SERVE my clients.

I had to ask myself: What do I really want? Who do I really want to be? What do I really want to bring to the table? Who do I really want to serve?

So I decided to take a leap of faith. To trust myself, to trust what my heart was telling me, to take a risk. To just go for it and jump.

It's a choice I made, it's a choice I make every morning and many times during the day. Re-deciding what I want my life to look like, what I want to accomplish. And more importantly, how to best serve you and your horse. 

You see, that's really what this choice is all about. I wanted, more than anything, to be able to help more horses and their owners. 

Everything we do is a choice. But more importantly, everything we choose NOT do to is also a choice. So many times we default to not doing, to put it off, to just let things happen. But how many opportunities do we miss to really live the life we want and dream of? How many times do we put our life and our goals on hold because we are afraid of making that choice? 

So I invite you to choose - choose to go after your dreams, choose to listen to your gut (and your heart!). Go after that job, that promotion, that goal. Go take that dance or yoga class, go join that book club, go sign up for those show classes you always wanted to participate in but didn't think you were good enough. And then DO it. Make the choice and recommit every day. 

And if you choose to reach the next level of performance and connection with your horse, choose to have the right people on your team. People who care about your dreams, your joy, who will be as committed to you and your equine partner as nobody else. 

Don't let the music die inside of you.

The Value Of Subtle Communication

Who at this point hasn't heard the term horse whisperer? I smile when people ask if I am a horse whisperer. I actually tell them it's the horses that whisper in MY ear! My job is to listen closely.

Horses only shout at us when we don't recognize those subtle communication efforts.

I should know, listening to horses is a major part of my work. A flick of an ear, the glance of an eye, a difference in muscle tone, a shift of the body, the stomach starting to gurgle, the lip finally relaxing, a content sigh. 

On the other hand - the eye widening ever so slightly, holding the breath, the subtle start of a brace, the leaning away from me or towards me, a worried look, the nostrils suddenly flaring, the switch of the tail, a tightness in the rib cage - all meant to communicate.

As a prey species, horses typically do not want to show us when they are hurt or not feeling well. They are not hiding it for any other reason than showing signs of weakness in a predator-filled world is against their survival instinct. It's how nature designed them. 

So when they DO show us signs - a lack of performance or changes in behavior - we need to take it seriously. It is their ONLY way of communicating to us that all is not well in their world.

Riser - one of my "clients" - is a great example. He is one of the most generous horses you will ever meet. You ask and he delivers. But his body does not always cooperate. He has had some serious medical issues - from injuries to Lyme Disease. So when you have a horse like him, you have to pay attention. Luckily, his owner is very attuned to him. 

For instance, the first outward sign that all is not well is typically a slight change in behavior. He just doesn't seem as "sparkly". His eyes have a little less life. He doesn't have his usual sense of humor (which is actually a big red flag because he has a big sense of humor). His coat may look a bit more dull. He still gives you 100% percent, but his owner just knows he is not right. 

Paying attention to all the little things has enabled them to address things sooner. They now can employ different strategies to support him in a much more proactive manner and it has helped Riser to stay healthy and vibrant. You know the saying: one stitch in time saves nine. 

Today, Riser is in excellent shape, has been more sound than ever and he is back to being ridden. Which is such a huge relief to his owner. He is back to his antics, including being his funny and opinionated self and happy with life. You really can't put a price on that after so many years of trials and tribulations.

Not every horse is generous like Riser. Some horses let it all hang out and you know immediately when things are awry. Others are very stoic and just do their job until one day everything comes to a screeching halt. So I don't want you to think the worst every time your horse acts differently. But I do want you to pay attention when you see subtle changes. Too many times we think a horse is acting out when in reality they are trying to tell us that they are in pain, or not feeling well.

So what are the benefits of seeing those subtle signs? 

  • You can address things earlier before they become major. 
  • You can take a proactive approach vs being reactive.
  • You can prevent injuries or even lessen the severity of them.
  • You will increase his performance.
  • You will improve his overall well-being.
  • Your horse will develop a deep trust in you because he will know you hear him.
  • Your connection will deepen.
  • You will increase your own awareness and knowledge.
  • You become a more intuitive rider/trainer.
  • Your training and riding program can be tailored to your horse's individual needs.

It's really amazing how such a seemingly simple skill can have a profound effect on your relationship with your horse. 

If you are interested in finding out how bodywork can benefit your horse, give me a call. I'd love to hear from you.

Relaxation and why it's so important

If you have read any of my blogs or newsletters, you will know that I talk about relaxation a lot. 

So I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on why it is especially important with our horses.

Bandito enjoying the benefits of bodywork during a demo at a local barn

Bandito enjoying the benefits of bodywork during a demo at a local barn

Horses, as prey animals, have an especially developed sense of survival. Nature provided them with speed and agility to counter danger. Their ability to sense danger before it is upon them and to use flight as their first defense has enabled them to survive. If flight is not available, the second option is fight. And this can take on many forms, from subtle bracing to an all-out "I will not die" aggression. And it is this subtle bracing that can prevent horses from letting go of tension and restriction.

You can imagine that being on alert is really a way of life for horses. How many times have you rolled your eyes when your horse spooks at the muck bucket? The same one he has seen for several years and yet, today, it was going to eat him alive! They are primed for survival all the time. It's not something they have to think about like we do. It's an instinctual response developed over thousands of years living in the wild. Looking weak and injured is not an option. Because then the muck bucket will really eat him! So with horses, it is extremely important to prevent a flight or fight response - to get a true read on what is going on in their bodies, he has to be relaxed and calm. Only then can you get a true read on the situation.

My own horse, Chase, is very sensitive. When I met him, he would get scared just walking by any type of whip or crop. If someone carrying one rode by us, we simply just took a very fast sideways detour across the arena. It would take him a long time to "come down" from that adrenaline-filled half a second. His whole body was tense, he was ready to take off at any time, primed for flight or fight. And that tension stayed with him until he relaxed. If he had anything going on, like a sore hock or any tenderness, you would not have seen it when he was in this state. Adrenaline and survival took over in a split second.

Relaxation is not just a mental and emotional state. It has a profound effect on the entire body.

Muscles easily contract and relax. Joints move through the full range of motion. It allows the horse to listen, really LISTEN, to your aids. When there is tension, the horse is not able to learn and respond as easily.

No matter if horses flee or fight, tension of any kind creates an internal brace and can stay stuck in the body. So for our horses to let go of it, we have to stay under the "brace response". In my line of work, a horse bracing is counter-productive. Brace prevents the letting go of tension and restriction. 

Chase - very relaxed - allowing me to release tension in his poll

Chase - very relaxed - allowing me to release tension in his poll

I cannot stress it enough to you. If you hire anyone to perform bodywork on your horse and your horse is tense during the session, it will be counter-productive. Bodywork may sound like you are working on your horse's physical being. But you also address - in EQUAL if not greater measure -  his mental and emotional state as well. And it takes balancing all three of those components to be of benefit to your horse. The body is never separated from the mind or the emotions. It works as a whole. And with a sensitive prey animal, you must consider and work with all three components. To get the biggest bang for your buck, your bodywork practitioner must understand not only massage techniques but also the horse as a being, both as a species, and as an individual.

Relaxation is one of the most vital ingredients when working with horses. The next time you get on, see how relaxed your horse is. See how well he listens. And if he is not relaxed, feel the difference as well. 

If you are interested in discussing your own unique situation, give me a call or drop me a note. 

So what IS bodywork?

I recently got a call from someone inquiring about my services. And one of the questions she had was:

WHAT EXACTLY IS BODYWORK? IS IT MASSAGE THERAPY?

So I thought it best to answer it since I imagine there are a few who would like to know.

Let me start out by saying what bodywork is NOT:

It is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your horse has an injury, lameness or other health issue, please consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. 

Bodywork and/or Massage Therapy can even be contra-indicated for some cases. An example would be a fracture. While we want to loosen tension and restriction most of the time, in case of a fracture the body's ability to stabilize the injured area is vital to proper healing and treatment. Bodywork should only be added upon your veterinarian's approval and once the fracture has healed.

I should know - my own wrist fracture taught me more than I can even tell you! If you would like to see what I got out of this particular experience, drop me a note via email and I will send you the link to that newsletter.

Another example would be pregnancy - especially during the first and third trimester. 

Bodywork can offer amazing benefits though when your horse has accumulated tension and restriction in his body.

It offers a way to re-educate the body, integrate new and more effective movement patterns and enhances general health and well-being. And let's not forget the tremendous benefits for performance!

So what IS "bodywork"? 

Most people are familiar with the term "Massage". You may even received one at one time or another. Massage is described as manipulating the soft tissue - through a variety of techniques - to release tension in the muscle fibers or even the fascia. It typically involves different types of stroke such as compression, effleurage, petrissage or tapotement. It can be deeply relaxing, and some horses really love it. Achieving a greater state of relaxation in our horses is always beneficial (unless you are at the show and need your horse to be peppy, not ready to take a nap!).

You may also have heard of Therapeutic Massage therapy - which typically involves getting to deeper tissues and can be quite intense. Some myofascial release techniques, such as Rolfing, fall into this category. They are designed to get to the root of pain or compensatory patterns in the body. 

Since horses are prey animals, you can imagine that while we may want to "dig deep", "get that knot out of those gluteals", the horse's innate make-up as a species presents some challenges. It takes a tremendous amount of trust for them to allow us to access those painful areas and deep patterns without bracing against our efforts. 

This now calls for us to learn and develop techniques and approaches that address the entire body, those deeper patterns of tension and restriction without losing the horse's trust and relaxation. By emphasizing the EFFECT on the horse and working with the body, not on the body, we can assist the horse to return to a state of balance as it relates to overall health. We are looking for improved function and well-being IN ADDITION to relaxation. 

Bodywork can include traditional massage, joint mobilization, energy work such as Reiki, kinesiology, accupressure, Traditional Chinese Medicine (such as meridian work) and myofascial work. Some practitioners also utilize essential oils.

I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial a light, almost imperceptible touch is when working with horses. Having different tools in your bag of tricks allows us to switch gears when a horse simply can't tolerate a certain technique.

One of my favorite picture of my mare Sassy - taken by my brother. I lost her in April of 2016 - her spirit still strong but her body finally needed to move on. She was one of my greatest teachers because she was always clear about what worked or didn't. 

One of my favorite picture of my mare Sassy - taken by my brother. I lost her in April of 2016 - her spirit still strong but her body finally needed to move on. She was one of my greatest teachers because she was always clear about what worked or didn't. 

Watching, being aware and in constant communication with the horse is absolutely vital. Every change in expression is communication. 

Allowing them the ability to move and integrate the changes we ask for during the session - that in itself is part of the bodywork. 

If you would like to see if bodywork can assist you and your horse through a specific situation or are interested in incorporating it into your horse's performance and maintenance program, please send me an email or give me a call. 

 

Establishing Trust

I realized it's been a while since I put the proverbial pen to paper! And even though I needed a break, I missed it. I missed getting all quiet inside and allowing inspiration to flow. That's what writing this blog has become for me. A flow of things that don't seem to be really mine but rather larger topics concerning our horse community. It allows me to the opportunity to articulate things that are much bigger.

Like the word Trust. And why it matters - especially with horses.

Chase and my late mare Sassy enjoying time outdoors - trusting in each other's peaceful presence

Chase and my late mare Sassy enjoying time outdoors - trusting in each other's peaceful presence

 

We use this word so often when we speak of our horses - training, our every-day interactions, our expectations. We speak about it in terms of how we NEED our horses to trust us, how to establish it, what techniques to use (gosh, have you ever noticed how MANY techniques we have at our disposal or are being told to use!). And yet, most of the time it speaks of "DOING" - do this, do that, don't do this or that. It really makes my head spin. But it doesn't really address our "being".

Trust is not an action - it is a state of mind.

Trust is one of the most vital "ingredients" in my line of work. A horse bracing against me in any way cannot and will not let go of tension and restriction. As a prey animal, their survival instinct is high. A horse's first defense against perceived danger is flight, and when that doesn't work - fight. Neither one is very helpful when you are working on softness, giving and letting go.

When I am asking them to tune into their body and the subtle changes I am initiating in the body - and trust even though it may feel uncomfortable or unsure - it's like a delicate dance. A give - but never a take. Yes, of course I could take - stretch that leg further, use more pressure. And yet, even the horse's body knows on the most basic level to protect itself against it. You can literally feel it harden and resist when I ask for too much or ask too soon. 

Trust is the basis for all my interactions with horses. It allows me to gain a much deeper understanding of how to communicate with horses effectively.

So how DO I establish trust - especially when I work with a brand-new client? It starts before I even enter the horse's stall. It starts with me.

I learned some big lessons here over time. I couldn't bring all my own "stuff" with me. I had to leave it at the door so to speak. My frustration with traffic or GPS sending me down the wrong street. My headache, or the argument I had with my husband or family member. Horses know immediately when you are not centered, calm and balanced. The brace internally against the chaotic vibration you bring to the table.

And I always say hello. It's amazing how they really appreciate you taking the time to do this. It only takes two seconds but it makes such a difference. Even with horses that I work with frequently, I make a point to say hello each and every time. Most of the time, they are already waiting for me impatiently, head hanging over the stall door or even calling. They absolutely KNOW it's their day! But it's this seemingly insignificant ritual that lets them realize their voice matters.  A LOT. 

The next one is putting on the halter - not just throwing it on but waiting for the horse to drop their head into it. Surrendering to my presence and request.

Trusting me to put them into a piece of equipment that can be used to control their movement, restrict and hold - yes, that takes trust on their part.

All of this iS - the start of letting go - to surrender and give. Not just on the horse's part, but also mine.

Trust is not just an outward expression towards us. It is always a two-way street and most importantly, also works inwards - having a profound effect on every part of the horse's body and mind. It effects the entire Being. It is calming to their nervous system, relaxing to the soft tissues like muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia and even the digestive system, enabling deep breathing. 

The horse trusting me translates into him telling me where he actually holds his tension and restriction. Without holding back or feeling he needs to protect himself.

During sessions you will often see the breath getting deeper, moving through the body in waves, taking the tension with it and out of the body. You will hear the stomach gurgling, the horse passing gas.  They sometimes even stretch in the most amazing poses. It is really quite amazing where a horse can hold tension if you think about it. 

And what's even better - most horses I work on regularly start releasing tension as soon as I enter the barn. Just my showing up - because they trust me - gets the process started. It's really incredible how establishing trust can help us with those elusive goals of softness, responsiveness - connection.

And it's the basis for performance - no matter what discipline you are riding in.

So if you are interested in learning more about what I can offer you and your horse, give me a call. 

Finding Your Stillness Within The Chaos

For me, inspiration can come from really anywhere - be it a conversation with a friend, watching an interview, reading a book, or just becoming still and quiet. Heck, I had the opportunity to watch a Red-tailed Hawk take a bath in my birdbath a couple weeks ago - what a magnificent sight. Totally in the moment, enjoying getting his feathers all clean, and yet always being aware of his surroundings. What an awesome sight.

I stood at the window, barely breathing because I did not want to startle him in any way - it was just too amazing to watch. Of course, I could only hold my breath for so long. I exhaled, staying very quiet, relaxing my muscles one by one as I let out my breath slowly.

As he preened and cleaned, thoroughly enjoying himself, I started noticing how my body started to let go of the tension I originally felt. My breath became more even, my feet solidly connected to the floor, my eyes became soft, my body in a relaxed stance. Most of us no longer know how to do this - to just "BE".

We try to relax by watching TV, going shopping or to the movies, doing something. We rarely fill our cup by just being present in the moment, watching - in the situation and, at the same time, detached from it. 

And yet, it is one of the most vital skills we can acquire to move through life with ease, joy, grace and appreciation. It certainly is indispensable to me while working with horses. 

Stillness allows me to have a conversation on a much deeper level.

A couple months ago, my sister-in-law Marcia came out to visit us. She herself does amazing work with animals and their owners by helping bridge the communication gap and therefore allowing a deep healing on so many levels. As my husband and his brother (her husband) tooled around the area to reconnect and do all the manly things, us two girls of course headed to the barn. It happened to be a rather busy day. Lessons, people getting ready for their rides, chatting and having a good time. And here the two of us were, trying to find THE STILLNESS WITHIN THE CHAOS so we could connect with my horse. Marcia doesn't always have a chance to work with horses, so it is always such a treat when she comes and we talk "shop" and learn from each other. 

She said "you go ahead and start, I need to settle myself first" - they had just arrived that day and the chaos of travel needed to be taken care of. So I tuned into my horse and we quickly connected. And when I say "connected" - I mean on an energetic level. We are all a field of vibration - electrical frequency so to speak. 

I am sure you have met people who immediately turned you off, some who seem nice but there is just something that has you feeling uneasy, and some you immediately jive with. That's your energy field giving you feedback on how you resonate (or not) with that particular person! 

Horses are no different - each one has his or her own vibrational frequency and as a practitioner, it is vital I learn to tune into it with accuracy. Since Chase is my personal horse, it is rather easy for me to get there with him. But when I meet a new horse/client, it's a bit like finding a radio station - you know when it comes in clear and you know when it isn't. Another example would be a satellite dish - we all know what happens when there is an obstruction - no favorite TV show for you! Or it keeps dropping the signal right as you are about to get to the best part. 

And so it is when we tune into our horses. As I started quieting my mind (like tuning the dial), I also grounded myself - really connecting my feet to the earth. It allows me to become a stable source of influence - like growing deep roots. Marcia did something similar by leaning against the wall of a stall - becoming steady. 

Both of us tuning out all the other things going on around us, not by closing our ears but rather by drawing our focus internally. And that's when your "dial" hits the right spot. Your hands become much more sensitive to the feel of the horse's skin, its tone, temperature, texture. A change in his breath, feeling the weight shift before it happens, feeling where things are stuck and can't flow and move. 

But in order to do so, I have to be still inside. In order to be able to change things for the horse, so his body can let go of tension and restriction, I have to be able to tune into what is happening right now.

There is such a great saying: you can't change what you can't acknowledge.

When you are able to connect with the horse's body on such a deep level, you are able to create change in the most profound way with seemingly very little effort. 

Once Marcia felt ready, she tuned in as well. She did some amazing work. It's always great having someone else attend to your horse. We get too close, it becomes too personal, we don't stay objective. And the bonus is that I had someone else watch ME. To get feedback from another person, if their approach is different, is really priceless in this kind of work. 

She was able to give me some pointers on how to effect the energy field in different ways. And her observation about my ability to get quiet was great. Her comment was: it was amazing to watch you tune into your work so quickly without allowing any of the other "stuff" to distract you! I have to say, I was quite proud of that because I have chiseled away at that goal for quite some time now. Having an active and curious mind can really get in the way when you are searching for that stillness!

So why am I writing all of this? Because our horses need us to become more quiet. We are so distracted by so many things - demands from family, work, kids, distractions from our phones and conversations. We can barely get through dinner with someone nowadays without checking our phones. 

 

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
— Albert Einstein

I want to invite you to play with the idea of "becoming silent" - so you can connect with your horse on the deepest level. To allow the possibility of a conversation s/he can participate in. To be able to truly connect on ALL levels - that's when you will achieve your goals. To spend time in cooperation, not competition. 

Performance Through Connection - Have the conversation that matters.

Seeing opportunities instead of roadblocks

No matter what we set out to do in life, it is inevitable that we hit roadblocks, setbacks or even just seem to not be able to move forward in any direction. 

Recently, a horse one of my clients owns got seriously injured when he fell badly while cantering in the arena. 

He had swelling in one of his front legs, was obviously very sore and stiff and had cut himself on his right stifle. But fast forward a day, and he was also walking very crooked, with his hindlegs no longer tracking straight but at an angle to his front end. And the stifle ended up with a big, I mean BIG, hematoma! 

The vet was called out right away, a second opinion was obtained, and even a third. Pain Relief, antibiotics, chiropractic, acupuncture treatment, and bodywork were utilized in his recovery plan. His vet was in frequent contact with the owner and regular adjustments to the plan were made to accommodate his changing needs. 

Through it all, Dude (yes, that's actually his name!), was a model patient. He was so incredibly cooperative - well, with most things - bute in paste form is still not something he likes or wants!

He is well on his way to recovery and has actually been cleared for walking under saddle by two vets. He is now able to go out in a small area and has two buddies next to him, one who even loves to play halter tag! 

Through it all, his owner never stopped wanting the best care for him, the most favorable outcome. And yet, I am sure it sometimes seemed like such a huge set-back. The first time he rolled and felt unsteady when getting back up. The first time she hand-walked him, the first time he got to go outside. Everything was worrying - and for good reason. No doubt about it. And yet, here we are looking at such great progress.

We humans tend to live in the past or the future.

We either end up remembering "that time when he stumbled" or imagine things that may not happen at all. And the only way through it is to continuously take action towards our goals, our dreams based on the "NOW". To never, ever, stop trying to move forward, even if it is baby steps. Walking a little further on the property, increasing his range of motion and eliminating more of his stiffness. Watching when he lays down to roll (which he did an admirable job of, I might say, and all without bobbling one bit!), and celebrating every small improvement.

Life will never just go according to plan, no matter how well we actually plan it. Staying open to learning, to new opportunities, to the possibility of new experiences allows us to step out of what we know.

I should know - I had to make some pretty big adjustments to my work after I fractured my own wrist. It took almost two full years to gain full strength back in my hand. And that's with me being diligent, almost obsessive, about my exercises and working on my wrist's proper function every day. But here is the important part - I would not trade that experience for anything. It makes me so much better in understanding when my client's horses face recovery. How we need to stay flexible, adjust and rethink the original plan. And to never give up - because amazing things are possible.

No experience is wasted.

I look forward to the day when Dude and his owner will be in the ring, riding and both smiling. Having fun. And having grown stronger as a team. And remembering this episode not as a set-back but as a huge and important opportunity to grow as individuals and as partners. And that's why I love my job!

Seeing is Touch at a Distance

I love this quote by Ida Rolf - one of the pioneers in Fascial Release and Structural Integration in humans.

SEEING IS TOUCH AT A DISTANCE

When I recently attended a seminar and workshop on this very same subject. And it brought home how much horses have taught me about the different layers of touch and awareness. 

When we work with horses, we use a very light touch - but a lot of intention. Explaining this to some of the human practitioners at this workshop was an interesting experience. 

It certainly is true:

If you truly want to know something on a deep and intimate level - teach it to someone.

I attended this event with a fellow equine practitioner, Becky Tenges. Everybody else worked exclusively with humans.

You may ask: Why did you just make this distinction?

During the workshop, we not only covered theory, but also got lots of hands-on experience. And with people, we had two options:

  1. on a massage table
  2. work in gravity - standing up

The most interesting aspect of the two different approaches is that the client has to be a participant. Which meant we had to work WITH the person. 

How many times have you received a massage or bodywork where you were asked to participate?

There are no massage tables for horses (believe me, I get this question quite often!). So we ALWAYS work   "IN GRAVITY".

So what does this mean? How does this effect our approach? Does it effect it?

You become aware - you "touch" through your sight and senses:

  • How does the horse stand?
  • How does he shift weight?
  • How does he move?
  • How does he respond - globally and locally?

Subtle things like a relaxed look, moving away from my touch or into it, fidgeting, a change in breathing, a change in ear position, tail movement or lack thereof, muscle tone ... all of these little, seemingly unimportant and separate things paint a picture un-equaled in its complexity.

IT IS A WHOLE AND COMPREHENSIVE BODY APPROACH.

When Becky & I introduced ourselves at the seminar, we encountered such curiosity, but also some very basic misconceptions.

The most glaring one was that human practitioners thought we had to use a lot of pressure and muscle because horses were so big. The exact opposite is true.

It hadn't crossed their mind that horses are so incredibly sensitive, no matter their size. It also gave us an opportunity to bring greater awareness to the power of light but INTENTIONAL touch.

SEEING IS TOUCH AT A DISTANCE

Observing is like putting a puzzle together at a distance. 

Stepping back , seeing the whole, not just the parts - integrating it all.

And the realization that our intention is the most valuable tool we have.

Are you willing to change your story?

Whenever I sign up a new client, I have them complete a pretty extensive questionnaire. The questions are aimed not just at what is going on with the horse, but also at the owner/rider/trainer. It allows me a glimpse into the connection between two individuals who may not be talking about the same thing at all and also gives me two different view points.

The beauty of this process is that the person gets to tell me her or his side of the story, and so does the horse. Interestingly enough, they are not always the same. BUT, having both, I get the incredible chance of bridging that gap. 

We so often tell ourselves stories to make sense of things happening in our lives. It allows us to put it into context. It allows us to connect the dots so to speak. But it can also get us stuck in that story. You know when you read a book, and you get really attached to the characters, their stories and how they intertwine. And then you reach the last page. And you almost feel a bit lost because you entered that story, not as a main character of course, but as a by-stander. Watching through the windows, becoming connected to the story itself, making it your own. 

Sometimes, that's how it happens with our life as well. We put our horse's behavior into a story, filling in the blanks with things we have learned through our life, without sometimes questioning the truthfulness of it. 

Are the assumptions we make really what is happening? 

Is our horse really resistant and acting up?

Is he really not interested in working today?

Is he really just looking for things to spook at?

If the story you tell yourself is keeping you from connecting with your horse, CHUCK IT!

I happened to work on a client's horse and they were heading to a show a couple days later, excited about it, prepared for it. And then it started raining. And the story started:

"She so hates to run in the mud! We will have problems with this."

A story. Built on a few bits of data - holes filled in to put the feelings of anxiety and fear into context, blame assigned prior to anything happened.

Here is what I said: Tell your horse she is a Rockstar (capital R!) and believe it. Tell her you are a team, you got her back and she has yours. Picture the easy sailing over the jumps. Change your story!

If you want to tell a story, change it to one that allows you to succeed. One that helps you to connect with your horse, your team mate. Build a story that allows your horse to demonstrate his or her best. 

The door to connection lays in your ability to see your horse with understanding and compassion. And that means we have to lay aside our OWN story. Our story of past failures, of past hurts, of fear and disillusion. To be a partner to your horse, we have to stop being the victim. 

By holding on to our story - our horse acting out, being resistant, lazy etc, we put all the responsibility on him. But it lies within us. Within our own stories of not being heard, not being seen, not being acknowledged. Of perceived failures and short-comings. 

When we come from a place of acceptance and compassion, it is a position of strength. It allows us to see possibilities and solutions where others only see problems. It allows us to stay open to connection on a whole different level. 

Your conversation turns from antagonism to support. You changing your story makes all the difference. 

A really simple formula for our life with our horses is this:

E + R = O       Event + Response = Outcome

It is our response to an event that determines the outcome. It isn't the actual event. Our horses will spook, get scared, not feel good, dislike running in the mud. It is OUR response that determines the outcome. And not just for that moment. 

So change your story, change it to a story that comes from YOUR best self so you can help your horse achieve his.

And to circle back to my client: they had an awesome show, did well and big smiles all around.

Have the conversation that matters.

 

Fascia - Connecting It All

Fascia - connective tissue - most of us have heard of it or about it, may even know a little. But when we look at anatomy books, this vital body tissue is missing in most of them.

Texts, diagrams, drawings and even photos focus mostly on either the bony structures and the muscular system. But did you ever wonder:

WHAT CONNECTS IT ALL?

An incredible amount of research has been conducted over the last couple decades on this "Cinderella of body tissue" (Schleipp).

Fascia is the Body System of Stability and

Mechano-Regulation (Varela & Frenk 1987)

During dissections, it has been routinely ignored and even been thrown away. It was, and still is, considered by some nothing more than the "plastic wrap around the muscles" (Myers).

So what does a fresh look and an improved understanding of fascia reveal today?

Fascia not only contains the individual muscles & organs (kind of like holding those tissues in a bag), it also connects the ENTIRE body. From nose to tail, head to toe.

Every cell in the body is hooked into - and responds to - the tensional environment of the fascia (Ingber 1998).

So when your horse trips while landing after a jump; the transmission of those mechanical forces across the ENTIRE fascial net allows your horse's body to respond quickly and to still function.

It is a network of interacting, inter-related, inter-dependent tissue forming a complex whole, all collaborating to perform an integrated movement.

This new view now gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate how we approach training, fitness and enhancing our horse's movement and athletic ability by harnessing this incredible system of connection.

So how does Bodywork and Massage benefit Fascia and its role?

Since it is a total body system, anything happening to one body part, for instance sore hocks, has an effect on the WHOLE system.

Bodywork balances out those forces and the resulting force distribution. It can restore proper function to this incredible system to allow maximum efficiency.

For your horse to move efficiently, to minimize unnecessary muscle output (yes, you heard me right!) and injury, the fascial network must have the ability to adapt to the constantly changing forces and influences our horse faces. 

I hope you enjoyed this foray into a topic that is near and dear to my heart and so vital to your horse's health. If you enjoyed reading about it, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Look for the next blog to hear more about how to we can help our horses stay fit.

Taking a step back - appreciating the whole

If you are like me, you get really involved in the day-to-day details we face. That's just how life happens. This point was really driven home to me just last week. I decided to take a look at where my life has taken me through Jack Canfield's 10-day transformation program I signed up for. I specifically was charged with writing down 100 things I had been successful at in my life.

So at first I thought, WOW, 100 things? Really? But then I took a step back, like a visitor. I chose to view my life without the emotional attachment we so often have - to things or even life events. And I realized: I can't believe how far I've come. It's really quite mind-boggling!

We tend to lose sight of the whole because we are busy living. And to appreciate our own journey, it does require us to take a step back, or even more than one. I can tell you, it's been a very useful exercise for me. I am up to 125 and counting!

So why am I writing to you about this?

Why should we regularly take a look at the the big picture?

Because the global view allows us to see not only where we have come from, but also where we want to go. It allows us to see the road ahead, make some decisions on a different direction. Resources we may have to utilize,  help we may need. Mindset we may have to shift.

It brings awareness on a global level while we still operate in the here and now.

This can apply to almost anything we put our mind to, but it is especially true for our goals with horses. We get so busy with training rides, preparing for a show or an event, looking at tack, equipment, feed - we forget the big picture.

Or do we? Have we actually taken the time to figure out why we do what we do?

How can we possibly formulate a plan if we don't know where we are going?

When I work on a horse, I typically start out with the big picture:

  • What is the overall look?
  • Any areas that jump out at me?
  • What is the horse's attitude?
  • How responsive is s/he to my presence?
  • What is the general environment? Is it busy, quiet, distracting or calming?
  • How is the general muscle tone?
  • How is the horse standing? Square, or not?

After the general impression, I decide on a starting point.

  • Where can I "enter" the horse's system/body the easiest?
  • Where and HOW can I achieve trust and relaxation?
  • Where does this starting point lead me to?
  • What will the overall strategy be?

When you start out with a global view, you can then have a different appreciation, perspective and take on the individual parts of it. It allows a more informed decision on how to proceed. It allows us to come up with the strategy for the ultimate goal and end game. 

And more importantly, it allows me to have the RIGHT conversation with your horse.

So have the conversation that matters. And if you have thoughts on this, let me know! And please share this if it caused you to pause and ponder - looking at the whole.

So why did this happen?

It's a question I get many times when I give feedback to my clients.

To be honest, I really can't answer that question. I may have some thoughts ,e.g. about saddle fit, hoof care, the training program - but in reality, our horses were not designed to live their lives they way we ask them to do so now.

I worked on a mare recently who has been progressing fabulously. But the week before my last session she became very spooky. When I put my hands on her, it felt like touching a live wire. But not just in one part, it was like a whole being was "wired".

So I asked them to allow her to move in the arena - I wanted to evaluate her overall being - the way she moved, the way she responded to stimuli, the way she processed things.

The most interesting thing was how heavy her footfalls were - it was like thunder. And while she trotted and cantered for a bit, it didn't help settle her. It only lessened the "charge" I felt.

She didn't feel connected to the ground - especially in her front legs. Somewhat similar to when your leg falls asleep and you try to walk, but without the tingling I if you can think of it that way. And since she is a very sensitive mare, I can only imagine how disconcerting this must have felt to her.

I felt a distinct "disconnect" right below and behind her elbow. I am sure you are asking:

What IS a DISCONNECT?

It's when the energy, so to speak, doesn't seem to flow - like a kink in a garden hose. The potential for energy to flow is certainly there, but there is an interference preventing or limiting this flow.

Once I was able to reduce, and later eliminate, this interference, this disconnect, she started really snorting - blowing out air like there was no tomorrow.

And when I was done and we put her back in the arena - her footfalls were mere whispers, her body moving with elegance and harmony. Lightness and connection.

So how did she disconnect? Did something happen? I really don't know. But I do know that I was able to help her, to have her "feel her feet". And in turn, her behavior changed.

We as humans usually want to know the "WHY" - but sometimes there are no right answers and the only way to move forward is to re-establish connection in the body and proceed from there. Because horses don't care about the "WHY" - they are only concerned about the "NOW".

If you would like to learn more about this, contact me. And when your horse acts differently, consider it's his only way of telling you something is happening with him.

Have the conversation that matters.

Erin and Tank's story

One of my greatest joys in my work is to hear the updates.

  • My horse is doing so much better!
  • Our transitions are much smoother
  • He is back to his usual antics!
  • She is sound again!
  • We are finally working on the root cause, not just the symptoms!

These are just a few of the comments I get. So I thought I'd share the story of Erin and Tank. It's a really great example of why I firmly believe that teaching owners some simple bodywork techniques is so important. Being able to work with your horse in between sessions can make such a dramatic difference.

Tank is currently an 11-year-old Paint Horse, and I am a junior at the University of Illinois. I got Tank as a yearling while I was an overjoyed 11-year-old, and we grew up together, becoming quite the pair. I had always had the aspirations to become a competitive rider, and so Tank allowed me to turn him into my all-around show horse. We began at a local level, participating in a few open shows, and worked our way up to the state level through the Illinois Paint Horse Association. When I was in high school, my goals never ceased, and we began showing on a national level, competing at the American Paint Horse Association, and Pinto Horse Association World Shows. Upon completion of my youth career Tank and I had competed in a broad range of events, including halter, showmanship, hunter under saddle, equitation, western pleasure, horsemanship, trail, reining, barrel racing, pole bending, and stake race. We had also earned multiple state championships, world show top 10 placings and completed our APHA Youth Championship.

With part-time retirement imminent for Tank as I began college, our show schedule was narrowed down to what time would allow over my summer breaks. It was not until this past fall when Tank and I discovered the power of equine bodywork. Two days after our last show in September, Tank came up acutely lame on his left hind leg after turn out. After a couple of days of stall rest and being on anti-inflammatories, the lameness persisted without any external indicators. Upon veterinary examination, we decided to have radiographs done to get to the bottom of the lameness. It turned out that Tank had managed to create a 3 cm long fracture on the plantar side of his long pastern, meeting up with the fetlock joint on the proximal end of the bone. With this diagnosis, Tank’s leg was set in a temporary cast and sent home for three months of stall rest. Even if injured, a horse like Tank who is used to daily turnout was not going to be too thrilled with this schedule. While Tank began his stall rest, I started brainstorming. I wanted to look into ways I could help ease his discomfort, and save his sanity for the next few months. I had been looking around for different equine massage therapists when I happened to come across Daniela’s name as a friend of mine on social media. I recalled meeting her at a horse barn where Tank and I took lessons at and remembered her work with horses. So I further investigated into her Healing Hands Equine Body Work website and decided to reach out.

And boy am I glad I did, and I think Tank is too. I began by giving Daniela an extensive history of Tank and me, as well as all of the details of his current injury. The bodywork program she has developed was custom-tailored to our needs and any of Tank’s limitations. Our first session began much as I expected, with Tank still adjusting to his stall rest routine, stress and tension ever present in his body language. I came to see how the effects of body/energy work overcame physical stress and tension by relaxing the muscles and balancing the mind. Within a few short minutes, Tank’s concern transitioned from the anxiety of being left in his stall to actively processing the gentle touches and movement Daniela asked for, and most importantly, never transitioned back. While Tank was learning how to respond to the sensations and release any built up energy and tension “pockets,” I was learning the methods and processes that she was using. Whenever I was home, I could now go back and try some of the methods that she showed me to help create more comfort for Tank in- between sessions. By our third session, Tank practically knew when it was time for his body work. Aside from getting excited for dinner time, Tank had become much more comfortable in his stall without as much pacing and anxiety. When it came to his injury, he had gone from always protecting and favoring the leg, to more evenly distributing his weight throughout his body, encouraging natural healing.

Now that it is almost spring, we are still working on healing that bone. Upon follow-up radiographs we had taken in early February, we could finally see the bone is slowly but surely starting to ossify. To help the process along we decided to admit Tank to the University of Illinois Veterinary Hospital so that he can receive direct shockwave therapy to his leg. This works out well for myself, putting Tank just 5 minutes from where I live. Because I can now visit him almost every day, and perform my small bodywork sessions more frequently. While I am no expert in the field, I still have found great success in incorporating bodywork into my routine. I have found myself to be more actively in tune with Tank’s moods and languages, and see his energy releases! It's great therapy for the both of us when I am finished, and he is practically asleep."

If you are interested in learning how you can help YOUR horse, contact me!

Give what you didn't get

For me, inspiration can come from really anywhere - be it a conversation with a friend, watching an interview, reading a book, or just becoming still and quiet. Heck, I had the opportunity to watch a Red-tailed Hawk take a bath in my birdbath the other day - what a magnificent sight. Totally in the moment, enjoying getting his feathers all clean, and yet always being aware of his surroundings. What an awesome sight.

I now have notebooks and pens all over my house, in my car, in my purse. Once I started listening, and I mean, REALLY listening, things I may have missed before started resonating in a whole new way.

A while ago I saw an interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes and the following quote just struck me as so important to our every interaction with our horses and people:

GIVE WHAT YOU DIDN'T GET

And it reminded me of a principal drummed into me during my extensive training.

When the horse resists, soften. You have to stay under his bracing response. Give, give some more, and then give again.

So often, when our horse resists, we tend to match his resistance by offering our own. And yet, do we end up with the outcome we seek? Do we end up creating a true partnership? Do we bring forth OUR best? Are we creating trust and relaxation? Are we able to release or overcome his resistance?

Can we really expect our horses to bring their best self if we are resistant to bring ours?

During bodywork sessions, it is inevitable that a horse will encounter difficulties with what I am requesting. It typically means I asked for too much too soon:

  • asking for too much range of motion
  • asking him to allow me into an area he feels discomfort in
  • asking him to trust me on a deeper level than he feels capable of
  • asking him to let go of tension in an area he is protecting
  • asking him without being aware of my own tension
  • not being clear in my request

The principle of staying under the bracing response, of softening whenever I encounter resistance, of meeting the horse where he is at, staying there and SUPPORTING him until HE can let go - it means I have to give what I didn't get:

  • softness
  • fluidity
  • clarity
  • understanding
  • compassion
  • kindness

This now in turn allows the horse to develop trust - trust on a very deep level. And this trust allows YOU to guide your horse to where you want him to go.

When I encounter a horse who is frightened, defensive, resistant, angry, frustrated, annoyed - I MUST offer what I didn't get. I MUST offer patience, kindness, compassion, understanding. I MUST be willing to listen. I must be willing to let go of my own expectation and the pictures running in my head.

I must become someone the horse can now RESPOND to instead of REACT to.

In order to obtain willingness, cooperation, responsiveness from our horses, WE must be willing to change our approach. 

Now does this mean that horses should be able to run you over, kick, bite, charge at you? Of course not. Common sense about safety is always a must. Setting boundaries is one of the most important things to create trust. But once established, we must build on it and offering your horse a voice in what is happening goes a long way.

Horses really are amazing creatures. They engage us on very subtle levels if we are willing to listen. So have the conversation that matters.

The Magic of Ordinary Moments

It's Thursday night, after a long day, my body tired, my mind tired, my jammies looking really good. And then I get to the barn to take care of "my guys". And I take a deep breath, I feel my heartbeat slow, my body relax.

When I get out of the car, I smell them first - that unmistakable smell of horses. If I could bottle it, I would. It'd be an instant antidote to so many things. I walk in and there they are - Chase waiting at the door of his stall, just WAITING - his whole BEING saying

YOU ARE HERE

Yes, YES, I AM HERE. Nothing else matters but this look, the need to stroke his soft nose, to wrap my arms around his neck and breathe deeply. To let go of the day.

To be here - now

And then I look over - my mare Sassy looking at me. I AM HERE TOO - she says. I go into her stall and she asks for a kiss on her nose - a miracle, really, because she would not seek or even tolerate this kind of affection when we first started our journey together.

Contentment - Peace - Affection - Trust

Ordinary Moments - felt deeply, honestly, without shame or regret, without holding back, without expecting anything. Given freely. Experienced with appreciation and gratitude.

I sat down to write this blog and didn't know the topic. And then I remembered this moment.

The MAGIC of this so NOT ORDINARY moment.

And the words came - to be shared. The feeling to be felt again and again and again.

Give yourself permission to experience the magic of these moments.

Have the conversation that matters.

Creating good habits

I recently came across this sentence - YOU ARE YOUR HABITS

And there is a lot of truth in those 4 simple words. But what really is the definition of "HABIT"?

I went to Merriam Webster, and here is their take: 

Full Definition of habit

  1. archaic :  clothing

  2. a :  a costume characteristic of a calling, rank, or function                                                      b :  a costume worn for horseback riding

  3. :  manner of conducting oneself  -   bearing ourselves in a certain way

  4. :  bodily appearance or makeup, e.g. a man of fleshy habit

  5. :  the prevailing disposition or character of a person's thoughts and feelings -  mental makeup

  6. :  a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior <her habit of taking a morning walk>

  7. a :  a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance                                                  b :  an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary

  8. :  characteristic mode of growth or occurrence

And the recorded first use of this term is 1594  - I know I know,  I am getting a bit carried away now!

But here is the really important part - AN ACQUIRED MODE OF BEHAVIOR THAT HAS BECOME NEARLY OR COMPLETELY INVOLUNTARY.

So if a habit is something that is nearly involuntary - how do you create good ones? And how do you become aware of the ones you already have?

If we truly want to be successful in creating a good habit, it must be doable. And more importantly, we need to understand the underlying cause of why we currently don't have it and WHY WE WANT TO CREATE IT!

Habits have a very important function - they allow us to move through life without having to decide on every single action we take. They are based on three things:

  1. Reminder - the trigger for the behavior
  2. Routine - the action you take
  3. Reward - the benefit you gain

Most of us focus on the reward. Be it being more fit, riding better, having a well-behaved horse, getting better scores. But are we really conscious of the reminder? The trigger of our OWN behavior? Or our horse's behavior? And are we aware of the seemingly unconscious actions we take?

A good habit develops when we become aware of the trigger and the action and have tuned in to the reward we really want. A bad habit develops when we focus only on the short-term  reward - the instant reward. 

You create a new habit by attaching it to something you already do. 

This is one of the reasons I teach my clients basic bodywork techniques specific to their situation. I very often link them to the grooming routine. You already pick your horse's feet and brush him regularly. So adding one or two things that don't take long builds on your already established routine. Those little things allow you to tune into your horse on a very subtle level - creating a habit of increased awareness to what's going on in your horse's body. 

Wouldn't it be helpful if your horse was more relaxed right from the get-go? Wouldn't it be great if you knew he was bothered in his girth area and you'd be able to do something about it before cinching up? Wouldn't it be awesome if you could loosen up his pelvis or relax his poll area before getting on?

Wouldn't you gain a much better performance and better connection, a more trusting relationship? 

We typically want to make huge changes, experience massive transformation - for ourselves and our horses. I have found though it's the little things, done every day, consistently, that allow us to see those benefits over time. It allows us to have a conversation, not a shouting match, it allows us to grow into it, instead of feeling like we are failing again when we can't keep up with well-intentioned  herculean efforts. It allows us to establish a new behavior without having to think about it every time. It doesn't ask us to  re-decide every day.

IT ALLOWS US TO SUCCEED!

I would love to hear what new habits you are willing to incorporate!

 

 

Know your tools

Every discipline has their rules - rules about age, where the horse should be training-wise, what tack is to be used, what attire the rider is expected to wear. It really can be quite mind-boggling!

One thing I see over and over again - people use certain tools, such as bits, because it is expected at a certain time in the horse's training, not because it is the best tool to use to accomplish a specific goal.

My main point about this subject is that your tools have a direct effect on your horse's body.

Here are some important questions we should all ask ourselves:

  • Does this tool help my horse understand my request?
  • Does it help me keep my horse relaxed and connected?
  • Do I know how to use it appropriately?
  • Am I using it to gloss over a hole in my training program?
  • How does it effect my horse's body in general?
  • Does it create tension or strain somewhere?
  • Do I have to adjust my own riding by using it?

Let's take bits with shanks - they certainly have their place in a horse's education. But a shank will not only amplify the signal, it also delivers the signal much faster. So would you want to place this "fast and loud" message bearer in the hands of someone who has not developed an independent seat and balances on the reins because you are showing a horse at a certain age in a certain discipline?

Should it be used "to slow the horse" because we have not taken the time to develop the basics?

Should we use this bit on a horse who has trouble bending the joints in the hindlegs since it has such a strong effect on those joints? What if we have not developed the tilt of the pelvis, evenly on both sides and a certain degree of collection? What if we have not understood that collection is not about head position but involves the entire body? And if we do, how does it impact not just those joints, but in turn the rest of the horse's body?

Not only does the horse's body tell the story, but so does your horse's behavior.

  • Open mouths
  • Clamped mouths
  • Swishing tails
  • Tense muscles
  • Short steps
  • a worried eye
  • Tight lips
  • Won't move off the leg
  • over-reacts to aids
  • won't respond to aids
  • runs through the bridle
  • won't slow down
  • won't go forward
  • turns like a steel pipe

It is the rare case where a stronger message becomes a clearer message to your horse. And I have never seen a positive outcome from restricting a horse. Restricting him opening his mouth by using tight nose bands, lifting his head (as in the case of draw reins), restricting forward with the use of strong bits and long shanks. It only serves us, serves us to present a picture that is actually not really there. A horse truly connected to you doesn't need to have his mouth tied shut, or have a certain bit to get him to slow down.

Every time you ignore or prevent your horse from being able to "have his say", you only create the illusion of success.

Those holes will show up time after time - either by damaging your horse's body or by creating mental and emotional resistance.

  • Stiff joints
  • Tight muscles such as the back or hamstrings
  • restricted mobility such as in the shoulders
  • resistance to the bit
  • "dead mouth"
  • lack of responsiveness to your aids

If any of this sounds familiar, you can change it.

You can change it by getting to know your horse's body, by evaluating WHY you are using certain tack, by valuing your horse's feedback and by engaging professionals who put your horse's well-being at the top of their list.

I absolutely know that you will have your decisions questioned, you will encounter people telling you that if you only used THIS THING you would reach your goal quicker, have your horse listen better. And by all means, listen to them. But please evaluate their motives.

If this approach is about MAKING the horse do it versus preparing your horse and CAUSING him to do what you asked, it's not progress in your training.

One of my instructors hammered this into my head over and over again:

Prepare the horse, prepare yourself, then and ONLY then ask

This means we sometimes have to take a step back. Really drill down into the problem we are currently experiencing, listen to our horse. And most of all realize that his feedback and valuing it is the best tool we have. 

Riding is a conversation, if you consistently tell your partner to shut up, it becomes a lecture.

Tools are there to facilitate communication - so have the conversation with your horse that matters.

Peeling the "onion"

Since I love cooking, I have peeled my share of onions. It's how most dishes start out. Onions really are a vital part of a complex flavor profile. And if you peeled enough of them, you know how different they can all be. Some of them are sharper, some of them sweeter, some of them will make you cry. Some can have thick juicy layers, others will have delicate thin ones.

But all have a very sweet lovely center. And yet, that center is sweet and lovely because the outer, tougher parts protect it from the ever fluctuating changes in its environment.

Our horses are very similar. Sassy, my lovely girl, is very sweet, but I had to get past a lot of layers that had a particular sharpness to them. I had to spend the time, effort and most of all patience to peel slowly. To appreciate each layer for its own kind of richness and experience. Each layer was there to protect her. Her physical body as well as her mental and emotional state.

Every experience in life represents a layer in your horse's body and psyche. You either add to your horse's layers, or you peel them away.

One of the things that my instructor, Jim Masterson, used to say frequently is: working on a horse is like peeling an onion one layer at a time. And I found this to be very true.

We sometimes get so wrapped up in getting to the center - reaching our ultimate goal, we forget the importance of those layers - they are important to the horse. He may be protecting a recently injured area, or they may have accumulated over time, they may be in response to a demanding living or training situation, ill-fitting tack. So many reasons can contribute to a horse creating brace and tension in his body.

As a caregiver and bodyworker, it is vital that I work with the horse, not on him. To not just rip those layers away. And the reason?

It is the HORSE who let's go of tension, restriction, brace - my job is to initiate and support this process. Nothing more, nothing less.

Every horse is different, just like the onions. Some of them are sweeter, some of them sharper. Some of them require you to go slow, some of them show you their sweet center right away. Some of the horses I work with let me in right away, some of them require a few sessions where trust and confidence is built. And some start out easy and suddenly have a tough session because we are addressing some deep-seated layers and patterns that require extra careful attention and patience.

But in each case, I have to work WITH the horse, direct, shape and guide - never force. Because my work is peeling the onion, not adding more layers. 

So when I find myself in the situation where the horse says "NO", finding it difficult to let go, or to let me in, I always get quiet, still. It is in the stillness that we find the answer - the way forward, the answer to our question.

As Reverend Ed Bacon said so eloquently (although I am somewhat paraphrasing):

"Find the stillness within. Like a bowl full of silty water - allow yourself to stillness for the silt to settle and to experience clarity."

The next time you feel frustrated, stuck, unsure - be still. Eliminate the chaos in your head. Your horse will thank you.

 

 

Making changes - why are we sometimes so reluctant?

Changes and resolutions - it's that time of year when we make them, are excited about them, start on them, talk about them. And by February, most of us have abandoned them, ignored them, pretended we never made them...

And yet, they popped up in our lives because we feel a need. A need for something different. Maybe it's a void we feel, a yearning we have had for a while, a goal we set.

And yet, why do we have the need to change and yet are sometimes so reluctant TO CHANGE?

Since my husband and I are pretty health-conscious, we already have quite a few good habits. And they, of course, help us feel a bit less guilty about the ones that aren't so great! So I got him a really nice juicer for Christmas. I wasn't sure how he would feel about it - juicing sounds time-consuming and well, spinach juice doesn't sound appetizing either!

So before I made the purchase, I spent HOURS doing research.

I mean R E S E A R C H !!!!

The ease of use, the counter space, the CLEAN-UP, how much prep time it takes for the produce, where the juicer is made, noise level, RPMs, durability. I talked to people, watched YouTube videos, read reviews. You name it, I looked at it.

I knew that if the product would not work in our already busy lives, if it took too much time and would be cumbersome, all of our good intentions would not be enough to make it a regular part of our lives. And that's really what it is all about, isn't it?

When we contemplate change, it is typically because we are experiencing discomfort or pain, or even guilt. And we want THAT to change more than anything. It isn't really about the actual thing we are changing, it's the feeling of

  • not being good enough
  • not being thin enough for those pants/breeches
  • not having enough energy
  • not having enough money
  • not having the right image
  • not having the right tack/equipment/horse
  • not being or having ENOUGH in some capacity

And that's what we really want to change. So why are we reluctant about it? Because it requires effort. And not just for a day, a week, a month, a year.  We really, in essence, don't have a problem with change.

We struggle with the EFFORT it takes to make permanent adjustments in our lives. Because it takes sustained and on-going effort to see the benefits.

So how do we bridge that great divide between our dream and the effort it requires? How can we overcome this reluctance to PUT IN that effort time after time after time?

By having a plan, by breaking down the original goal of "X" into smaller, doable pieces. By not just understanding ourselves, but also the pieces it requires to make that dream come true.

Small, seemingly insignificant changes over time end up totally transforming your life.

Every DREAM requires transformation on a meaningful level. And this means effort. Yes, there is no way around it. But you don't need to climb Mt.Everest in a day either!

It's not about being perfect, it's about being CONSISTENT ENOUGH to have an impact.

When I designed my program "Performance Through Connection", I thought long and hard what would have the most impact on your relationship with your horse and his/her performance and health.

Your horse's willingness to give you 110% each and every time. And the secret to your success?

Consistent, small changes and LISTENING to what the horse has to say about what is going on with them. Learning how to alleviate stiffness, restriction, muscle soreness, interference with movement.

That's why I include teaching simple, situation-specific bodywork techniques to my clients.

I am good at what I do, VERY GOOD. All you have to do is read the testimonials on my page or speak to my clients (both four- and two-legged!). But your participation can move mountains.

YOUR Dream and it's realization requires YOUR participation!

Short consistent sessions are so beneficial between my visits. They not only allow you to address issues sooner, maintain what I accomplished in my session and also build on it. They also allow you to get to know your horse in a way that is intimate, deep, emotional. It allows you to connect to your horse in a whole new way. It will open up new possibilities you have not even considered. And more importantly, little changes over time will have a huge impact on your horse's performance and connection with you.

PERFORMANCE THROUGH CONNECTION

THE REALIZATION OF YOUR DREAM:

  • IMPROVED PERFORMANCE AND HEALTH
  • A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT YOUR HORSE HAS BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU
  • HAVING THAT CONNECTION WITH YOUR HORSE
     

So I am going to invite you to make those small changes. Contact me if you are interested in learning more!

And the juicing part? Well, I have to say, my husband is now very excited and makes me a fresh juice every morning! And the benefits are definetely noticeable even after only a week. So yes, a little bit of effort in the morning - big benefits for the rest of the day. Absolutely worth it!