Wellness with Horses

Wellness with Horses

Horse Journal: Releasing Judgment


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On All Hallow’s Eve, we always put the horses in the barn for precaution, because their pasture fences come close to the road. It makes us feel better.

I took the opportunity to spend some time with them under the lights in the nighttime hours. Everyone was munching. The air was cool. It felt good to be out in the silence.

I decided to just be with Cherish. I turned on mindful quiet music and breathed beside her for a while. The brushes came out and stroked across her teddy bear coat slowly and with care. I felt each area of her body with my hands, tenderly, taking extra time to stroke and feel places where the hair curved a different way, or where the tissue felt different. Sometimes I paused in an area and just held space for it. Other times I would put one hand on one spot, and connect it to another with my other hand. I breathed. I loved. I cradled this healing space for her. She breathed, and sighed, and slowly released gas. We cycled between softening and releasing together and being in our own spaces, but together–her eating her hay, and me breathing and enjoying the sensations of her and the barn at night. (more…)

Wellness with Horses

Horse Journal Update: Hope and Cherish Evening Ride


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I’d like to start a horse journal that I share with others. I’m not sure that it will be an everyday thing, or an every-session thing. My hope is that you’ll get to imagine how I spend time with my horses, and also that it might give you an idea for exploring your movement, mindfulness, your horses’ movement or wellness, or connection with your horses. I hope you enjoy.

It was late, the ponies’ dinner time. I had homework to do, but I was determined to ride.

With Cherish, I slowly put the bitless bridle on. She got a little tense a few times–each time we softened. I girthed the bareback pad up quickly, in a slight rush to get on both horses before dark. I was reminded to slow down; she froze, something she hasn’t done in a while. We spent some time releasing, softening with each other. I breathed in and out with her, doing some touches similar to T-Touches on her neck and moving toward her face. I noticed she didn’t want her face touched–an old tension pattern cropping back up with the feeling of being squeezed or trapped.

I decided to copy something I had seen our equine dentist do, which is essentially just approach and retreat with gentleness and love. I moved my hand toward her face, to the point that she could accept happily, and then took it away. I shifted which space I was going toward around her face, and kept the movement slow and soft, with soft fingers. She started releasing each time I took my hand and paused. Soon she was releasing, licking and chewing and blinking, when my hand was softly cradling her muzzle or her chin. I had talked today with some people about how my mare didn’t like the bit because of bad experiences–I realized that even if I never put a bit in her mouth, it would be lovely to be able to share that space and that gentleness of strokes and cradling around her muzzle, and to be able to check her teeth, gums, and tongue with her feeling safe and happy. This is something we’ll start practicing regularly.

When I went to get on the mounting block, we again had some sticky spots. I encouraged her to step forward and soften, and got on her once she took a big sigh. In hindsight I probably should have waited until she and I had both softened further–her fully licking and chewing and both of us breathing deeply with softness and relaxation throughout all the muscles in our body. Again, I did have a minor agenda that I probably should have been willing to put aside.

I found a place of heartspace, but not total relaxation, and swung my leg over. We walked for a few minutes, playing with my balance, pelvis, and encouraging her to move in different directions by feeling my pelvis and back and shoulders. I breathed with her, and enjoyed the feeling of her walk. We stopped together, and I promptly hopped off. It wasn’t until that moment that she released fully, complete with large yawns and big soft doe eyes. I stroked her for a minute while telling her how special and kind she was. I slowly untacked her with the intention of kindness, and we stood in soft heartspace for a minute before saying goodbye. Next time, I would like to start there, rather than end there.

I walked toward the mounting block with tack bundled in my arms and asked Hope if she wanted to join me. She met me there, eager but also slightly disconnected. We spent a few minutes checking in with each other, touching base. I rubbed the dirt off of her on the couple spots that were dirty before slowly tacking her up. She placed her head kindly in the “bridle”, but was a little tense around the bareback pad. This time, I took my time, waiting for her to be soft and connected with me.

Before I mounted, I took a moment to set the intention for the ride and share it with her. I joined with her in heartspace and let her know how capable and brave I knew she was.

As we rode, it began to get dark. I played with using my body in different rhythms to help her move better. We both played with balance and arcing in our bodies while being soft together. A few times we trotted, all when I asked. Sometimes she offered more or less–it varied greatly depending upon where my pelvis was, how it was moving, and how my hands were. I found a place where I could offer her a gentle but clear connection, like dancing, both in my body and in the reins. It was nice to hold her hand like that; I don’t believe we’ve found that place of soft flowing through the connection with the reins while under saddle, just in-hand or in groundwork. There were other times where I let the reins be loose while I explored my body movement with hers. The darker it got, the more I noticed an unease about my riding–there was an undertone of tension, of worry about her spooking. I tried to breathe deeply, and remind myself of my own and her courage. I took moments to breathe with her, to connect with her, to make sure she was connected to me, and then carried on. I spiraled into grounding with her. The ride ended softly in general, with her arcing her body around curves at a slow trot that felt very different from her norm… just the slightest hint of carry and the feeling of being here. I hopped off somewhat abruptly while telling her how amazing she was. She looked proud, and a bit surprised, almost like she didn’t expect she had done well.

We played in hand for a few moments, trotting together and feeling the gentle connection and rhythm in the outside rein. I clarified for her at a standstill what different feels meant for different arcs or bends in her neck. We connected with T-Touches. She softened more. I slowly took of her tack, gently and with kindness. As I did, I realized that I had still had that level of tension underneath it all… this time, rather than criticize myself, I started breathing and then sent myself self-love. Turning, I began to walk away from Hope–but I had never said goodbye, and so she followed me all the way to the gate. I stopped before the gate, and she stopped with me. I spent several very grateful moments rubbing her and again telling her how amazing she was and how grateful I am for her and all that she’s taught me. After doing this, we stood in heartspace and quiet for a while before we said goodnight.

On my walk back to the barn, I continued breathing, noticing my tension had not been all about her, but mostly about the clock and that homework I had to get to. I found a place of expansive connectedness, feeling the breeze, noticing the grass waving, the stars, the night crickets. Mindfulness is a big practice for me, one that is ever evolving… In this practice, I am not perfect, but it is my intention to continue to explore being able to mindfully go through life despite distractions or stressors.

 

Some things that I’d like to keep working with–

I’d like to set the intention to start in total relaxation and heartspace, and then maintain it, rather than end there. Whatever this means, whether it’s taking time to tack up or meditating with the horses before hand, I’d like to take the time to do it.

I’d like to set the intention that if it’s almost dark I’m going to go out and spend valuable time doing bodywork or going for a no-pressure walk, not riding.

I am going to continue playing with Cherish around finding a soft, loving, cradling feeling around her mouth.

I am going to play with Hope more in-hand.

I am going to do some of the Peggy Cummings riding exercises for Hope–Cherish and I have found our groove, but I haven’t found it with Hope. I need some guidance on what to do with my body and my pelvis while joining in movement with her.

 

 

Wellness with Horses

Move With Your Horse–Pushing Hands for Horseback Riding


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Have you ever practiced “pushing hands”?

The exercise is done by placing your palms against the palm of another person. The two of you then begin to move together. You move where you feel an opening, you give where you feel gentle guidance into an opening. You try to create as little brace as possible… as much fluidity, so it feels like you’re gliding through air. This exercises really doesn’t involve push. It should be called “NOT pushing hands”.

A couple of days ago while riding Hope, I set the intention to move with her–not just in terms of biomechanics and seat, but to really move with her, in the whole ride, in all directions. I wasn’t sure what this meant to me at first, but I knew I wanted to explore it at a deeper level than I had been.

I was really feeling into her body and her movement, trying to feel those openings–the places we could move into easily with no brace.

As we continued to play with this, we both started deepening further into softness, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I started feeling openings not just in directions, but also for a specific bend or movement. As we played, we began to slowly dance across the field… we began to breathe softly and deeply… gliding across the grass. It began to feel like we were home together… neither of us pushed or pressured or told… connected, wild, and free.

Enjoy exploring another layer, another concept with your beautiful friends.

Wellness with Horses

Horses and Connection


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I’ve been doing a bit of an experiment for the past week or so where I do whatever I think I should maybe do… Rather than disregarding the little thought inside of my head, I try my best to do it with the time that I have.

I’ve been sick the past few days, so everything’s been a little harder to manage. The other day, I had the inkling that perhaps I should go walk out to the horses for a minute. It turned out that Cherish needed her hooves to be trimmed. I was able to trim the front two, which needed it the most, and then play with her some at the walk. It was such a beautiful time.

I’ve also had inklings of ideas that I should meditate, or go for a short walk, or breathe deeper, or call someone, or text a friend, or dance with ribbons, or do yoga… or even just be more present in the moment. These little thoughts are usually centered around connection.

Recently, with this listening to the little nudges, I’ve also been getting some bigger nudges… One in particular–a bigger nudge to let my spiritual journey and my horse journey intertwine deeper.

I realized that my body, in being sick and sensitive, has been trying to tell me something for the past few months (I’ve had yucky days or weeks off and on at different periods). Not unlike me, I’ve been cramming in way too many things for the sake of education. I’ve learned so many things that I haven’t had adequate time to truly use any of it. It’s all in the mechanical and technical part of my brain, before it becomes a part of my heart and natural movement. My horses have noticed this, I’ve noticed this, my heart has noticed this… but until I started listening to those nudges I wasn’t really feeling it. I found how much I need to connect more, how much I need to allow these things I’ve learned to deeply become a part of my being.

Hope connection
A moment of beautiful connection the other day with Hope… who happens to be very excellent at letting me know when I am or am not connected.

Naturally, central to our journeys with our horses is connection. We all want to have beautiful, meaningful connection with our beloved friends–but how can we when we can’t even connect to ourselves? How can we have the most beautiful connection to our horses when we ourselves can’t live in a state of connection?

The way you find that state of being connected, present, and full of heart, able to be a guider and a leader and a friend, feeling and giving and receiving… the way you find all of that is up to you. But for me, for now, I believe my next step is to allow my spiritual journey and my journey with my horses to intertwine. I believe that the horses are quite powerful spiritual teachers. Who is more connected to the earth, the heart, and the herd than a horse?

True, horses can also get disconnected… but perhaps if we start to help them find connection, we will find that we also have to find more ability to connect in ourselves to help them. Either way–whether your horse is already connected or whether you are both teaching and giving each other feedback–I encourage you to learn to be connected from one of the most sensitive and connection-driven beings I know… your horse. Your friend.

I may write some of what I learn as I go along… Know that my spiritual journey is a personal one, and that what you find for yourself with your horse, whether you’re highlighting the spiritual and connection side or not, will always be unique and beautiful to you.

To be discovered…

 

With Love,

Kara

Wellness with Horses

Horses and Body Listening


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Intro: Reason for Writing this Post

This post is about a specific area of bodywork that I like to call “Body Listening,” or sometimes just “Listening”. This involves gentle touches and listening to the horse’s body, and also encouraging and guiding the horse to listen to his own body and release tension. I use other methods that involve more movement and are more obvious to the observer, as well… but I have found that these less obvious methods can sometimes be the most perplexing to others who are watching, and also sometimes most beneficial to those who are receiving. Because of this, I wanted to explain it in writing.

 

Beginning of the Session

When I’m approaching a horse, I do so in loving-kindness and relaxation. The horse sees and comes to understand that my intention is to help, there is no need to worry, and that they can relax in my presence.

Before I get started, I often stand near the horse in silence. I am grounding myself, relaxing more deeply, and softly noticing the horse and his reactions. I then encourage the horse to mirror me–to relax with me, to join me in deeper breathing. Sometimes I am touching at this point, and sometimes I am just taking more of a step toward the horse or offering a hand, somehow making it clear that I am trying to communicate and connect with him.

Regardless of what the horse does, I do not get offended or worried. I just stay quiet and loving and patient, an open pool of relaxation. I do not push past his boundaries. If the horse doesn’t want to be touched, I don’t touch him.

I then begin either with touching the horse, or facing my palm toward the horse’s body but some distance from his skin. I am noticing any sensations I have in my body and any reactions that the horse is having. At the very least, I am asking the horse for permission. If he gives it to me, I am then asking him if he can notice anything about this area of his body.

In some instances, I might “scan”, slowly moving my hand over his skin or next to his body some distance away, looking for when he responds. I then wait there, and relax deeply, asking him again if he can relax with me and follow my breath.

I find deeper relaxation in myself, continuing to notice myself and the horse. I encourage and praise as the horse finds deeper relaxation, letting him know that he’s on the right track.

The horse is coming more into the parasympathetic nervous system at this point, finding a state of calm, a state that he can heal in and release in. The further he comes into this state, the more attentive he is to me and my movements, and the more he can think about releasing tension.

 

Continuing the Session in Listening

I can continue in this pattern, scanning or pointing out different areas, and then melting into relaxation with the horse. I encourage the horse to let go. I treat him kindly, like he is the most special individual I have ever met. He becomes more open and willing to try to connect with me.

Through this connection and through gradually showing him that he can release, he begins to learn for himself how to release his tension. The horse learns through feel and through the pattern how to release with me.

 

Sometimes there’s more to it.

This is not always all that I am doing though. Sometimes I am softly feeling the pulsing rhythms in his body, noticing and adjusting for them as they change. I feel the quality of the tissue, and also the movement of it, often following the movement of the tissue and encouraging it to soften as it releases through the motion of my hand. I often slightly pulse into the tissue, or I’ll place two hands on different parts of the body and pulse in toward the other hand, or toward a meeting point. I feel for the tissue as I pulse, and follow its movement here as well. Sometimes I move the tissue into the easiest position or movement for it and wait for it to release itself. Sometimes I softly expand into an easy or difficult direction, and softly expand back toward neutral. Sometimes I shorten muscles and fascia, allowing them space to relax and soften. Sometimes I touch multiple areas in a sequence, and then pick one or two of them to leave my hand on, occasionally highlighting the others, so that the horse pays attention to and releases a pattern together. Sometimes I rock my weight into the horse, causing them to shift their weight and find a different position. Sometimes I ask the horse to move, sometimes showing me the way they want to move, and sometimes me asking them to move in a certain way that encourages a release, while touching an area on their body and feeling for some of these things, or simply asking them to notice and release.

Any more technical maneuvers like this are matched with the continuing connection with the horse, the mirroring of relaxation and deepening into the parasympathetic nervous system state. I encourage, thank, and praise the horse as they release further.

 

It’s Simple, Really…

Through these patterns of touching, feeling, following, connecting, and gradually releasing together, the horse learns to connect and to release, often with some help from me with very subtle movement of the tissue or of a body part. It is really as simple as connecting and learning, as complicated as you want to make it, and maybe sometimes, it can be seen as pretty magical because it’s truly a beautiful thing to watch and experience.

Wellness with Horses

The Intention of Softness


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Last night I went to enjoy time with Hope. I had gone back and read my notes from Aimee Brimhall-McCord clinics, and had a few ideas (which I had mostly forgotten) along for the ride.

Fast forward so I don’t have to bore you with the details of our loving grooming or the time I took while putting the surcingle on for her to feel okay and calm with it…. and to the main point here.

We went out to the pasture side by side. My intention was togetherness, softness, and encouraging healthy body movement through creating an example of softness in balance in my own mind and body. I breathed deeply and mindfully. I smelled the smells and watched the grass. We paused for a moment.

In movement, I fiddled and foddled until I found some good flow in my own body and mind. She patiently went along with me… But regardless of the little details and pieces of what I was doing, the most important thing was the intention of softness.

She melted with it, joining me in that softness, breathing deeply, curving her body around me, listening for what I had to whisper, and checked in regularly. She would come up softly, and out my palm would go, a soft cup, as if I were going to receive a gift of water. And each time, she placed her whole muzzle in my hand, quivering her lips a bit, and then relaxing them… resting her weight in my palm.

Hope has given me both the experience of the softest horse I’ve ever seen and the most fear-driven and explosive horse I’ve ever seen.

It’s like a painting… Sometimes the most important things are not the things in the painting, or the paint you use, or the brushes you use, or even the canvas or lack thereof, but the color and the way you stroke your brush and the feeling you have behind it.

Regardless of all those little details, I believe the intention of softness and loving-kindness is most important. At least, that’s what the horses keep telling me.

Wellness with Horses

Honesty and Softness in Communication


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Today, I was playing with both Cherish and Hope free in the pasture. I had a lightweight bamboo stick with me, about 5 1/2 feet long.

I used the stick very little. I encourage my horses to communicate with me honestly–I don’t pressure them to stay with me during this type of work, or to be right or perform in a certain way. I try not to correct or punish or add negative pressure. I just encourage and allow honest feedback.

In allowing honesty I found that there still needed to be less stick, even though I was using the stick as a very soft guide/aid (helper/explainer). And the more I played, I found that each movement, each specific, tiny movement of the horse–whether that be flexing the poll toward me, and to what degree, or bringing the hind leg under, or bringing the shoulder toward me or away from me–all of these could be guided through the dynamic movement and functioning of my body, my intention, my energy, and my connection to the horse. There really was no need for the stick.

And still, I occasionally used my crutch, mostly not to make things clear to the horse, but to make things clear to myself, because the horses already understand and know how, if only we can figure out how to explain it well.

 

***

In revisiting this blog post, this is really also about understanding and being aware of our bodies and our movement and learning how to express what we want through body language that conveys the intention, energy, the elusive “feel”.

Wellness with Horses

Love, Openness, Seeking, and Enjoying


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Today, I went for a run with Cherish. During the run, I was playing with how I was moving my body, my balance, etc. I found a way of moving that was really balanced and engaged, and really allowed me to “float” across the ground without much effort. I felt like I could stay at that steady pace for forever. When I found that way of moving, Cherish immediately mirrored it, engaging her hind end, lifting her back, and finding a bouncy, springy, floaty trot.

After our run I played with Hope, who found really happy, soft, relaxed, stretchy walk and trot, and was having fun with some “dancing with poles” in which I asked her to have fun being precise.

Cherish was asking to play, so I played with her some more. I took her halter off and we played at liberty, running around and having fun.

At the end, she showed me all her itchy spots. After that I hung my arm over her back, leaned into her, and laid my head on her back. She turned her head around and rested her head on my hip. We stayed like that for a while. She was breathing really deeply, almost as if she was going to fall asleep.

Very cool stuff! I love my horses.

Wellness with Horses

Horse Hiking


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Monday my mom and I took the girls hiking.

We decided ahead of time that we would set it up for calmness and take it slow getting prepared and getting the horses ready. When we brought the horses out of the trailer, we had hang out time.

We brushed them, petted and scratched them, did breathing exercises, some massage/bodywork, let them meet some people who asked if their kids could pet them, and just enjoyed ourselves.

The hike was wonderful. Both Cherish and Hope were super calm. As we went along, my mom and I were letting them sniff things, stop to check things out, and stop to paw things if they wanted to. They were so happy to have that extra room to just be horses and check everything out.

I hopped on both Cherish and Hope with the bareback pad and my helmet a few times, and my mom hopped on Cherish once. Hope was completely sound the whole time, and as I rode Cherish behind her I noticed HOW MUCH Hope’s back and hind end were moving and swinging, and how even the movement was. I was really happy with this. When I rode Hope, she was connected and happy and calm. She felt really in her body and balanced and happy.

It was a wonderful day!

Wellness with Horses

Find Your Body


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A couple of days after the event that inspired the post about “The Most Beautiful and Talented Dressage Pony”, I was out on a trail-walk with Hope a fair ways away from the house. We were enjoying our walk until she heard a sound at one of the nearby construction sites. She began to get panicked–explosive–rather quickly. Rather than get small, and try to hush her, soothe her, and quickly shuffle back towards a comfort zone, I grounded myself, found my center, and viewed in my head the most dignified, calm, loving, full, un-phased version of Hope I could. I asked her to join with me and to join in her body.

I asked her to do some lateral exercises and experimented with asking her to move various parts of her body in different ways, in different amounts, at different angles. These exercises helped her to find awareness of herself and her body. I asked her to find her body–verbally repeating it out loud so that everything I did was from that intention. At one point, I began doing the massage technique called “Tapotement” (softly patting her with the palms of my hand in a soothing but wakeful rhythm) to help her find her body and her center, all over her barrel, her shoulders, and her hind end on both sides. All the while I continued to picture that special mare, ask her to find her body, to stay with me, and to bring her attention back to us.

Hope calmed, found her body, her feet, and found her place. She still needed reminders, but she was able to stay with me. She lowered her head and walked inside of her body, consciously with me. This is a big step for her, and a big step for me. I now understand what she needs as well as how to help her get there.