It is the nature of my blog that I reveal my innermost confessions and feelings relating to the world and riding. In doing so my goal is to show you that you are not alone and that it is okay to be less than perfect. But the result is the same, I feel that I talk about myself too much. While I am trying to relate to you and expose myself, this isn’t really about me. It’s about all of us. So today I want to talk more about the power of connection with the world around us.
Not to sound new age, but we are all made up of energy, humans, and animals both. Horses are extraordinarily sensitive to our inner feelings. Watching films like Silent Comrade where humans and horses connect with veterans suffering from PTSD to give them coping mechanisms and allow them to be present, is a prime example of this connection.
The inability to read energy correctly or not be in control of our own emotions can sometimes result in a “bad ride“. Our tension, lack of focus, or insecurities travel through and connect with our horse, and they receive this information and react accordingly.
I want to focus on the positive connections because I’m annoyingly optimistic. More, this is what feeds my soul and keeps me pushing myself forward. When you connect with your horse, truly connect, and have a perfect ride the feeling is like no other. The surge of confidence, of achievement, is unparalleled. Here the two of you are, in perfect harmony and a perfect partnership.
Since we bought Ferrous and I’ve been riding consistently, incorporating groundwork and bonding time, my rides are better than not. However, I find that when I am not in the saddle that I am able to communicate best. How? Through the power of touch.
My massage practice feeds my soul, and I want to share a few examples of why and what you can do at home.
Case #1- The Stiff Pony
I often recommend that my clients are lightly ridden after their sports massage and acupressure appointments to help continue the stretch and finish what we start in session. And yet, I confess I rarely take the time to do that with my own pony. I know, so bad.
Colder weather results in stiffer joints and longer warm-ups. I took the time to massage Ferrous in his trouble areas from wither to poll and lightly worked on his hindquarters prior to tacking him up. Once mounted I still spent a good 15 minutes on a long rein with impulsion to loosen his muscles and lubricate his joints. Ferrous sucks back in the trot until he’s warmed up so we started with a collected canter both ways before extending it, then ending on a trot. We may not have been the prettiest equitation you’ve ever seen, but he was moving out from underneath him and extending! My goal was to stretch him and I was so happy with the results.
What you can do: I’m not licensed to teach sports massage methods, however, there are some things you can do to prepare your horse before you ride.
- Back on Track Warming Back Pad. Whether or not your horse is cold backed, this pad will help your horse to warm his muscles prior to saddling and exercise. When the muscles are stiff from exercise, weather, or conformation this pad has been a big help even for me in my massage therapy practice.
- Go in the goal for your ride, but be prepared to change. I find that I have a better ride in the ring when I set a few small goals for us. Often, I do adjust because my pony is being spooky and we need to work on desensitizing, or he is stiffer than usual so we decide to do a lot of circles and bending lines. Sometimes I plan on setting up a small course with trot poles and do gridwork, only to find the ring is under water or the footing is bad. Have a plan, but be prepared to change it.
- Listen to your horse. Duh, right? You are thinking this is so obvious. And it is. But I guarantee that your horse is telling you something much earlier than you realize. Be attuned to the tiniest of indicators and listen.
Case #2- The Sensitive Horse
There is a horse that is on trial at my local therapeutic riding center, where I volunteer my time. I was initially asked to massage her because she was indicating pain. When I evaluated her, I was sad to note that she had tension throughout her entire body, especially in the ribcage. I knew I had to help her. She wasn’t easy or very trusting, so I had to move slowly and show her she could trust me when she indicated pain, so I could earn her respect and she could relax. That first session was long, slow, and precarious. The following week I heard that the veterinarian agreed with my assessment and was able to more easily do chiropractic work on her after the massage.
She’d bonded with the Stable Manager and showed a very sweet, trusting side. She is smart and sensitive and called to the introverted side of me. I confess I have a weakness for the animals that are more reactive and anxious because I can understand their perspective. For me, it is that much more of a gift when we have a breakthrough in trust and communication. It is a slow and steady burn, but so much greater to feed the soul.
I have since worked with her twice more, and seen her move both before and after a massage with visible results. The feeling of pride, knowing that I can help her, and knowing that she trusts me now, is priceless. I don’t work with animals to be a millionaire, although that would be nice. Animals are my passion. While I tend to be a little too chatty and talkative at times, this is not what I bring to the barn in this particular case. I have to center myself, be in the moment and connect with them in a confident, and grounded way. I confess this does help me in my riding as well because if I take the time, I can take a breath and connect to this healing side of me.
Here are my suggestions for you when you are working with a hot or anxious horse:
- Slow and steady. Be consistent and confident in your movements. No surprises. A reactive horse will try to anticipate you and if they cannot read your body language they will overreact.
- Breathe. I’m guilty of forgetting to breathe sufficiently when I’m nervous in the saddle. However, I do conscious breathing on the ground, especially with a sensitive horse. These horses are so attuned to others that they will read any and all tension. Often they will even mimic you. There have been many times that I’ve let out a big breathe to encourage my horse to do the same, and release that tension.
- Feel. This is harder to explain, but I guarantee that you’ve done it. Get rid of ego and the “I know best” attitude and just feel the horse in front of you. Be present. This goes back to energy. I love sports massage and acupressure because I use touch to connect with the animal. This creates a true connection. But some of the more sensitive animals can “feel” you before you touch them. I’ve shown owners how when my hand is hovering five or six inches away, the horse is already responding visibly to that area of her body. I am not performing Reiki, nor doing anything other than feeling the horse with my own senses. This is a true connection.
Case #3- Llama Mama
Now, I work with dogs often and they are much less used to sports massage than horses. As a result, it takes a few sessions for them to realize they feel good if you sit still. Sorry to disappoint but a true sports massage is nothing like petting. However, they are very well attuned to energy as well.
But, I want to focus here on llamas. Yes, that’s right. Llamas. I’d had limited experience with llamas and alpacas while volunteering at the Central Park Zoo, so I was very intrigued to visit a llama farm and work with an older gelding that had suffered an injury two months earlier. If you hadn’t guessed that I like to challenge myself and learn new things, then be warned.
Clemente is a special soul. His owner at Second Wind Farm had let me know that he would not look me in the eyes right away and was always watching her. A first-time client is always a learning experience. I have to find where they are most comfortable, introduce myself, and then show them they can trust me. All without words. It’s not easy, but it is incredibly satisfying. The first introduction is never perfect. And that is okay because then I learn what to do differently and better the next time.
For example, the llamas have a grooming chute for veterinary appointments or toenail clipping. We thought he might feel more confident in there, and physically he did very well. However, the other llamas kept coming over to investigate and we had the sense he felt trapped. Obviously, that is the opposite of what we wanted him to feel. I want to boost his confidence with me! So we worked a little on halter and lead, and off as well.
Clemente is slow to trust, however, he did look me in the eye and he did hum for me once or twice. He also told me no several times. So we’re a work in progress. I’m learning about llamas and Clemente in particular, and he is learning about me and how massage can make him feel better.
Here is what I learned:
- Trust from an animal, any animal, is a gift. Some give it freely but others must be earned. When earned that trust is more delicate and much more precious.
- We are not perfect. I am not perfect, you are not perfect. We all have something to learn. Animals make amazing teachers if we are willing to listen to them.
- Sometimes we have to step outside our normal and try something new. I jumped at the opportunity to work with a llama. I so look forward to earning his trust and creating a new bond.
The power of a positive connection. I try to focus on these small moments when I’m feeling down or like I’m not good enough. No matter how successful in life you are, the small moments are the ones that fill your soul. Not the external successes, although these mean an incredible amount as well, but these moments when it is just you and an animal that incredible voiceless link straight down to the bone.
I wish this for you every day.