Deepening your connection – Part 4

Given that horses are such sensitive animals it is also very important for us to take good care of ourselves.  This is true physically, emotionally and mentally as any imbalances could affect the horse and his behaviour in negative ways:

  • If we are physically out of balance then this will affect how we sit on the horse, and our aids will be different on one side compared to the other.

    As soon as a rider gets on a horse it changes the horse’s shape and balance considerably. Horses move differently at liberty compared to having just a saddle on, and very differently again with a rider on board.

  • If we are out of balance emotionally or mentally, even just ‘having a bad day’, the horse will pick up on this and it will affect his mood too.

As humans, we often live in a busy, fast-paced world, and have learnt to turn down our sensitivity.  We must often come across as uncomfortably loud and pushy to our equine friends!

Their way of being is much softer and more subtle, meaning that we might miss their signals because we drown them out with our own noise and busy-ness.

Using our breath and getting present can help to:

  • bring our energies down
  • calm our rushing, busy minds
  • bring ourselves more into focus and alignment
  • open ourselves to the world and communication of the horse.

breath

If we are not used to doing this, it can take a little time to tune in at first – to calm our busy minds and find that inner stillness – but the effort will be worth it!  I recommend taking a look at the work of Jenny Rolfe and James French to help with this.

When we are relaxed and grounded our horses will pick up on this energy and respond to it.  They in turn will feel calmer and happier and consequently will be more able to respond to what we ask for – and our asking will be clearer!

We also benefit in that we become more receptive to them, being quicker to pick up on anything that feels a little ‘off’ and therefore being able to respond in a timely and appropriate way.

This kind of interaction will quickly build a deep rapport and trust between you and your horse and he will really open up to you.  Your relationship will reach a whole new level.

When we begin to listen in this way, our horses will teach us so much!  On one level they mirror what is going on inside us, bringing us face-to-face with our own energy, which we, so often, are not fully conscious of.  (If you would like to explore this further and how it can benefit you and your horse you might like to take a look at Rosie Withey’s work through Horses as Teachers: http://www.horsesasteachers.co.uk/)

The information in this article was taken from my workshops and video series on giving horses a more natural lifestyle and the benefits that this brings, not only to them but to their owners / carers.  To see more, please follow this link:

www.equenergy.com/horse-care-video-series

If you have comments or questions about anything in this article, or if you would like to book a session with me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: 

            email:              robyn@equenergy.com

mobile:           07980 669303

You can also read more about me and my work on my website: www.equenergy.com

 

(Read the full article here)

Deepening your connection – Part 3

If you find that things are not going well in a session with your horse, consider the factors that could be influencing his behaviour, for example:

  • is he in pain? (eg injury or uncomfortable tack)
  • is he bored? (eg has he been doing the same thing for several days in a row / is he a young horse with a short attention span)
  • is he distracted?
  • is he picking up something from you or other people / horses in the yard?

In regards to tack, many people are now beginning to exploring alternatives to the traditional options in order for their horses to be more comfortable, and therefore calmer and less stressed.

For example:

There are a variety of saddles available, for example:

There are different views regarding which is best and much will depend on your horse’s shape and the type of activity he will be doing.  The important thing is to make sure that the saddle fits well and doesn’t restrict movement, pinch or put pressure on the spine or kidneys.

This short video is a good illustration of how to make sure that your horse’s saddle is a good fit: Proper saddle fit

Bits: Veterinarian Robert Cook believes that the bit breaks the horse’s lip seal and destroys what should be a vacuum in its mouth.  He feels that as horses are obligate nasal breathers (they cannot breathe through their mouths) exercise triggers a cascade of soft palate instability, suffocation, exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs), and even unexplained sudden death in some racehorses.

riding-on-the-power-of-othersSome are even exploring ways to be with horses that don’t involve riding.  For example Ren Hurst of the New World Sanctuary Foundation in Ashland, Oregon who has written a book, Riding on the Power of Others, talking about her journey from horse trainer to barefoot trimmer and then to setting up a sanctuary.

(If you’d like to know more about her work she has a Facebook page: Riding on the Power of Others and a website: New World Sanctuary Foundation)

Horses are very sensitive to the energies of those around them.  It is part of being a prey animal who lives in a herd.  They tune in to the others on a physical and an energetic level.  It is part of their survival strategy.  They also use this ability to maintain peace and harmony within the herd, and with us, if we too tune in and learn how to listen and respond.

Sometimes, however, horses come from an environment where they have not been given any choices.  They might have been kept stabled for much of the time or punished when they got things ‘wrong’.  This can lead to the horse ‘shutting down’ or developing a condition known as ‘learned helplessness’.

As we start to remove these limitations and fears, the horse can start to push boundaries realising that they are now allowed to say No.  This can be challenging for us, particularly if we want to use only positive reinforcement methods and other people are telling us that we are just allowing the horse to see himself as the ‘boss’ and that this will make the situation worse.  In fact it is good to encourage your horse to think for himself as it enables him to engage his brain before he responds to situations rather than just being reactive.

However, if you are struggling with a horse who is showing very dominant behaviour I recommend finding a good equine behaviourist to support you.

Also the book A Tale of Two Horses by Kathie Gregory is a great tale-of-2-horsesread if you are feeling alone on your journey to try to understand your horse and to work with him to give him a happier life.

 

The information in this article was taken from my workshops and video series on giving horses a more natural lifestyle and the benefits that this brings, not only to them but to their owners / carers.  To see more, please follow this link:

www.equenergy.com/horse-care-video-series

If you have comments or questions about anything in this article, or if you would like to book a session with me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: 

            email:              robyn@equenergy.com

mobile:           07980 669303

You can also read more about me and my work on my website: www.equenergy.com

 

(Read the full article here)

Deepening your connection – Part 2

The tension that we sometimes see in our domestic herds is due to the unnatural conditions in which we keep our horses.  There could be perceived competition for precious resources – eg food, water or space – or frequent changes in their surroundings or herd members resulting in them exhibiting stressed behaviours. 

In addition, when we see the strength and power of these large animals we often feel that we need to keep control by dominating them, and this causes them to fear us and the punishments that we give.  These punishments make no sense to horses.  To them, their behaviours are seeking to avoid a fight.  They prefer a quiet life because, as a prey animal, fighting within the herd wastes energy and distracts you from looking out for prey.

scaredIf we focus on dominating horses, this will come across as aggressive and the horse could feel threatened.  This could push him into one of the stages of the fight / flight response:

 

  1. fidget
  2. freeze
  3. flight
  4. fight

In any of these stages, we have lost his attention because he is focused solely on diffusing or avoiding the tension that he feels.  If we don’t understand his signals, and think that he is deliberately misbehaving, we might resort to punishment which only adds to his fear and distress.

Also if he is tied or being ridden, any attempts to get away will probably be futile adding to his stress and possibly causing him to shut down. 

Another problem with using punishment is that the horse will probably not make the connection between what he has done, and the punishment he is given.

For example:

A horse refuses a jump and the rider comes off.

If the rider then picks himself up and goes to shout at the horse, who is now calmly grazing nearby, the horse will not understand.  To his mind he has moved on and is just looking after himself.

Even if the horse does make the connection, he is learning what is not wanted, not what is wanted.

Fear based relationships are unstable and unpredictable.  The horse might comply as long as he is more scared of the human than the environmental trigger.  But what happens when something comes along that is more scary than the human?

Viewing things from the perspective of dominance versus yawnsubmission also means that we are less likely to spot the subtle signs that horses use to maintain herd cohesion and harmony. eg

  • looking away
  • yawning
  • stretching
  • licking lips
  • relaxed ears

When working with a horse (or any animal) it is very important to be consistent and clear, with the signals we use, our boundaries and even our behaviour / mood.  Doing this helps the horse to feel safe around us because he comes to see us as predictable and learns that he can trust the relationship.  This particularly applies if you are not the only person working with the horse.  If he gets different signals from different people, it could be confusing for him.

Our signals also need to be clear, that is, not contradictory.  Sometimes horses struggle because we think we’re saying one thing, but our body language / energy is actually saying something very different.  For example if we’re trying to teach boundaries to a horse when we’re not clear about holding these for ourselves.

The information in this article was taken from my workshops and video series on giving horses a more natural lifestyle and the benefits that this brings, not only to them but to their owners / carers.  To see more, please follow this link:

www.equenergy.com/horse-care-video-series

If you have comments or questions about anything in this article, or if you would like to book a session with me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: 

            email:              robyn@equenergy.com

mobile:           07980 669303

You can also read more about me and my work on my website: www.equenergy.com

 

(Read the full article here)

Deepening your connection – Part 1

looking-with-heart

In this series of 5 blogs I will look at the interaction between our horses and ourselves:

  • how we can develop a deeper understanding and connection with our equines

  • how having us in their lives affects them

  • how we can do our best for the horses in our care

bossThe traditional approach to working with horses has been to assume that we need to establish who is the ‘boss’.  Horses are generally bigger and stronger than us and so people have tended to believe that we need to hold a dominant position in relation to them.  Many of us have also been taught that this model is taken from how horses organise themselves in the wild.  We hear stories of the lead stallion, or the alpha mare, and while there is some truth in this, the reality is more complex. 

In fact, horse herds often act as a single entity.  They will spread leadershipthemselves out to graze, each animal facing in a different direction, effectively giving them an all round view to watch out for predators.  A horse’s usual way of interacting is therefore one of cooperation, synchronisation and leading / following, rather than dominance.  Any member of the herd who sees a threat can lead the others, by starting to run.  The rest sense the movement and follow.  This cooperation encourages cohesion within the herd, allowing them to live together peacefully, so maximising their chances of surviving.  The horses will also follow leads in terms of moving off to look for new grazing or water.

In the day-to-day life of the herd, horses tend to defer to those who are older or more experienced.  These horses are the ones who appear calm and assured, rather than those who are nervous, or even bossy.  Horses like to feel safe, and they are attracted to those who make them feel this way.  They are also very sensitive to the energy of others and they can quickly assess who makes them feel relaxed and who doesn’t.

In the next post I’ll look at why domesticated horses sometimes appear to be less co-operative.

 

The information in this article was taken from my workshops and video series on giving horses a more natural lifestyle and the benefits that this brings, not only to them but to their owners / carers.  To see more, please follow this link:

www.equenergy.com/horse-care-video-series

If you have comments or questions about anything in this article, or if you would like to book a session with me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: 

            email:              robyn@equenergy.com

mobile:           07980 669303

You can also read more about me and my work on my website: www.equenergy.com

 

(Read the full article here)

 

Facial Expression and Body Language – part 5

When talking about body language, another point I’d like to mention is that, just like us, the horse’s body language obviously shows how he’s feeling.  But the reverse is also true – ie the shape we encourage him to hold will affect how he feels.  Just as the act of smiling and standing up straight helps us to feel better, so the way we influence the position of a horse’s head will affect how tense / relaxed he feels.

The picture on the left  shows a tense horse.  His head is pulled in, his neck muscles are tight, his nostrils are flaring and his jaw is tense.  In this position his airway and throat could be restricted.  This is not a natural position for the horse to hold.

The horse on the right, in contrast, is relaxed.  His neck and head are more extended allowing his airway and breathing to be free-er.  You can also see that his eyes, nose, and muzzle are relaxed

 

In order to help the horse to stay calm, and to be able to engage with an activity, it is therefore important to be aware of how he is holding his head and his body,  and how we are influencing that shape.  When he is in a position similar to that on the left it will contribute to raising his adrenaline levels, whereas encouraging him to hold a position closer to the picture on the right will allow him to relax.

(If you’d like to know more about how our stance influences how we feel, you can look into Professor Amy Cuddy’s research on the Harvard Power Pose: http://www.businessinsider.com/harvard-amy-cuddy-power-pose-research-2012-10?IR=T)

In the picture below you can see how the horse’s back is quite ‘concave’, or ‘hollow’, when his head and tail are raised and his adrenaline levels are high.  Off The Track Thoroughbreds can sometimes show behaviours like this, learnt from their days on the track .  They can tend to get kind of ‘stuck’ in ‘flight’ mode, particularly when they see a line of white fence, like that in the picture, as it reminds them of their racing days.

 

In contrast, this relaxed horse carries his head much lower and his back is more ‘convex’.  Encouraging the horse to keep a more relaxed body shape like this will help him to stay calm and to feel happier.

In fact if a horse keeps his head up for long periods of time it results in stress on the muscles of the back and tension in the nuchal ligament that runs along the spine.  You can also see below how it brings the spinous processes of the vertebrae much closer together, possibly even rubbing against each other, causing injury and pain (as seen in kissing spine, which is where the spinous processes start to rub causing arthritic changes to the bone).  The vulnerable area at the base of the neck can also suffer.

spine-head-up

If a rider is tense this, too, will also affect the horse, meaning that he will be more likely to adopt this position, possibly leading to damage in his back.

When the spine is in a more relaxed position, with the head and tail down, it encourages the spinal ligament to extend, meaning that the forces exerted on the vertebrae now keep them apart, significantly reducing the risk of injury.

spine-head-down

If you would like to know more about anything mentioned here, or about care for your horse in general, I have created a series of videos which are available through my website: www.equenergy.com or by following this link: If Horses Could Talk video series

Please also feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or to book a session with me for you and your horse:

email:              robyn@equenergy.com

mobile:           07980 669303

 

You can read the full article here