As a trainer, I am constantly aware of my body, body language on and off the horse, and the horses’ body and language. You might think that horses are always aware of their own bodies but they are quite frequently “out of their bodies”. This can be for a lot of reasons. It can be conformation, injury, traumatic training, competition and handling, or certain conditions.
A horse can literally lose sense of where their 4 limbs are on the ground. Often, when there is long term asymmetry from lack of balanced symmetrical exercises, horses will lose sense of the one limb or another.
How can we help horses find a mind-body connection again? I do a lot of slow, careful, thoughtful ground exercises that help horses connect to each part of their bodies mentally and physically. A lot of ground work tends to focus on the horse executing a movement but not so much the quality and mindfulness of the movement on both the person and the horse. When we work slowly and thoughtfully on careful quality movements, the horses are naturally slow and thoughtful in their bodies. This is especially helpful for horses that are nervous or high strung. This type tend to not be in their bodies in a calm relaxed way due to their re-activeness. But even calmer horses can be disconnected. Another common area of lack of connection is horses’ hind quarters. This can also be for many reasons. But despite our best efforts sometimes it takes very specific exercises to connect horses to their hind end. Also, because many riders ride disconnected from their seat, we are mirroring that to the horse.
Simply stroking your horse along his quarters or legs is a good way to bring their mind to that area you are touching. You can also use a dressage whip to stroke and slowly, gently go over areas like legs and hind quarters and chests. If your horse is nervous of tools, this is a good way to make it a pleasant and relaxing experience. Take your time to make it relaxing.
Bandage wraps are another way to help with equine body awareness. You need to be very careful with some horses when wrapping their hind quarters because they can react badly until they are comfortable with them. You can put one bandage loosely around your horses neck and tie it. Then take the second long bandage (you may need to tie two together) and tie it to the neck bandage on either side of your horse and let it just rest on their back. Slowly, gently, reading your horses reactions (and stopping if they seem worried) bring the wrap around your horses quarters not very tight (you can always tighten a bit more as they are comfortable. Once the wrap is on, just let your horse stand and relax with it. After a few minutes, you may notice your horse relaxing and even yawning. If you want to walk them around a bit, you can. Just let them get the feel of the sensations. You should not keep the wraps on for more than 5-10 minutes as it can be enough muscle stimulation just for a short time. We don’t want them to get sore or over taxed moving in them too long.
See if you can notice your horses moving differently with your touches and wrap sessions. Watch very carefully and train your eyes to see. Share your experiences in the comments section. I’ll be in the UK next week doing my demo and clinic plus privates the 19-24 so if your in the UK come and see me! There are a limited amount of spots with horses in the clinic left. To Register click here