Mental & Physical
Horses are a very sensitive animal with herd instincts that govern the way they react to their environment. They concentrate on one thing at a time and learn through repetition. When something startles them, their fear/flight reflex takes over making it hard to handle them. At times, when the adrenaline is pumping, they are known to run through fences and other obstacles. This is due to their one-tracked mind on getting away, not about where they are going or bodily injury to themselves or others.
The same principle applies when a horse is in pain or uncomfortable. Remember they can only think about one thing at a time so if they have a headache or stomachache and you are trying to get them to perform, you will probably be disappointed in their efforts. When a horse is in pain they will usually baby themselves, only moving when needed and in ways that relieve pressure. Then we come along, saddle up, and try to make them do what we want. Guess who get the blame us! Pain can cause bad attitudes, dangerous & problem horses.
If one learns how to read their horse's body language you can usually see how they are feeling, where the problem is and take measures to help them. Some of the bodywork methods you may be able to apply to your normal routine. Other ailments need the attention of a veterinarian or the aid of a professional chiropractor and/or acupuncturist. Depending on the problem, all three along with physical therapy may be needed. Be aware that nothing by itself is a cure-all.
When a horse's spinal column is out of alignment several things happen. Think of the column like water. If there is a dam (injury) then the water (blood) does not flow. Sometimes there is a little overflow (bad circulation) but it is sporadic. The same thing happens to the body when it is stressed or injured. Depending on where the problem is determines how the horse reacts to it. Our job is to heal the blocked areas so the blood can literally get to the brain.
Each horse is an individual. Their symptoms may very. Some horses have a high tolerance for pain while another may not be able to take as much. Strained muscles & tendons also play a big roll in the alignment of a horse and the type of injury they have. While you need a professional chiropractor, acupuncturist or veterinarian to treat major problems, any horse owner can learn some simple techniques to aid the horse's healing process. In understanding how their physical body works, you can learn certain points to put pressure on that are relaxing, making them healthier & easier to train on a daily basis.
Something to remember: Keep in mind safety when you are working around these animals. They do not intentionally hurt you but in their fear-flight mode, they will not be thinking of you if you are in the way.. Watch their eye for expression and keep one hand on the horse at all times so you can tell when they are going to move. When walking around a horse's rear say something to let it know you are there. Contrary to belief, stay as close to the rear as possible. You will be pushed away instead of getting the full force of the kick.
One more thing, the easiest way to calm a horse, even without touching it, is to BREATHE deep.
The three stages...
I Body Work II Ground Work III Riding
Try something new...
Learn how to tell when your horse is uncomfortable and what is needed when unwanted behavior happens; such as bucking, biting, rearing, head tossing, kicking, pawing, pacing, hard to catch, cross firing, turning one way better than the other, etc. By releasing the tension and addressing the root of the problem the horse can then concentrate, making training easier and more effective.
Stage 1: Evaluation/Body Work
The evaluation of the horse takes into consideration: old injuries, conformation, skeletal balance, movement patterns, condition of the hooves, degree of riding, saddle fit and what the goals are for the future.
During the first evaluation, Dee addresses specifically where and what kind of bodywork will benefit the horse. Then you will be personally instructed through hands on sessions to help answer any questions. In finishing, we reorient the horse to its own body movement with a therapy Dee calls "wrapping".
If neccessary, Dee will advice you to work with an equine veterinarian, professional chiropractor, farrier, etc. It is important to have a team of professionals working together when addressing major issues in a horse.
Stage 2: Preparation/Ground Work
Once we have identified and addressed sore and unbalanced areas of the body we then take it a step further and begin teaching the horse how to move properly to carry weight. It is possible to address a number of issues at this level to prepare for collection, leg yielding and all transitions under saddle.
Each lesson is focused not only on what the horse is doing with their body but how and why. We concentrate on the horses attitude in relationship to where the body is blocked or stiff and release the tension through movement. Breaking old patterns may include the use of a round pen, cavillettis, biting up, hobble breaking, using a lariat and wrapping. Bodywork is integrated to different parts of the body throughout the training session.
Stage 3: Riding/Properly Carrying Weight
We begin with a check list during the grooming process. Then we teach the horse how to properly carry weight while being ridden. This may include working over cavillettis, stretching exercises from the saddle and self-awareness-pointers for the rider.
The beautiful thing is that it doesn't matter what level or type of discipline you ride. The tools of balance, strength and confidence for a rider are learned through exercises. What Dee teaches is how to become more aware of what you are doing and what your horse is doing under you.
Integrating the body work and ground work into your riding will improve your relationship with your horse and your horses performance exponentially. You may find that when the blocks are removed you and your horse are more capable then what you had previousely thought possible.