Easier Movement, Happier Horses

Connection, Not Correction: The Key to Improvement for You and Your Horse

February 23, 2023 Mary Debono Season 1 Episode 51
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
Connection, Not Correction: The Key to Improvement for You and Your Horse
Show Notes Transcript

Let's talk about how you can effortlessly improve your movement. And your horse's performance. 

Many of us force ourselves into a straighter posture and endure uncomfortable stretches in an attempt to improve our position and flexibility. And we use that same mindset with our horses. We use our seat, legs, hands and voice to "get" a horse to bend through a corner, pick up the right lead or round their back and engage their hind legs. We're constantly correcting ourselves and our horses!  

 And while this approach is common, it's not effective. Nor kind.

In this episode, I offer you a kinder, more mindful alternative. This connecting approach not only feels better, it's also effective, it enhances body awareness AND it can elevate your relationship with your horse.  

Here's what you'll learn in this episode: 

  • Connecting with and feeling what is happening can result in improved emotional regulation and a sense of freedom and well-being for both you and your horse. This is huge! 
  • Distinguishing between effort and strain is important so that all parts of the body can work in harmony. 
  • Alternative approaches to correcting problem movements and habits can be more successful than simply trying to resist them.
  • Building a strong connection with your horse is essential to create a comfortable and enjoyable tacking up and riding  experience.
  • Observing your horse's movement habits can lead to profound improvements.

💥Want to get expert coaching on putting this into practice?💥

Go to https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse to join the waitlist for our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse.

Be among the first to know when we open our doors again. And qualify for valuable bonuses!

Easily improve your movement and position in our FREE rider masterclass.
Feldenkrais® for Riders videos: https://www.marydebono.com/rider

Podcast show notes for THIS episode:
All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice. 

Hello. Today I wanna explain why it's really important that you not correct your movement issues that are problematic or your horse's problem movements. Okay? Now let me explain, well, first of all, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier podcast. So thank you for being here. And we often think, like if we're, say,

collapsing a hip, leaning more to one side, keeping one shoulder hiked up, you know those habits that we have, right? We often are told to correct them, like maybe someone will tell us, or trainer might say to sit up straight, you know, or, you know, lengthen your ribs on one side or put your, pull your shoulders back,

or something like that. And we, we do the same thing with our horses. We notice that, oh, my horse doesn't bend as easily this way. So we, we want them to bend more in the harder direction for them. So it's like we want to keep correcting these mistakes or problems, whatever you wanna call them, challenges. But I'm going to tell you today why I don't do that.

And I often say that I connect not correct. So let me give you an example with a, with a writer. So it's very, very common for us as humans to sit crooked. We tend to sit with more weight on one seatbelt, and a lot of times we don't even know it. We might even look like we're pretty straight, but possibly one side of our ribcage is a little,

the ribs are a little closer together. And we have this whole pattern around that. You know, there, it involves up in the neck and the shoulder and you know, in the low back and even into the leg, you might find that the side that's a bit shorter, when the ribs are a little closer together, that leg tends to come up when you're riding.

Or you have some other issues you notice when you're walking, sitting, et cetera. So, if I were to just show you what you're doing wrong and wrong is in quotes, okay? So I'm doing air quotes and tell you to do the opposite. To really stretch that side out, you know, and, you know, just go to the opposite.

Your brain is going to resist that. Your brain is gonna say, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. That's not what feels safe and familiar to me. And remember, our brain, our nervous system is tasked with keeping us safe, keeping us alive, and so familiar things feel safe and comfortable. And when you automatically do something that's not,

that there's often resistance. So you might use willpower to try to keep yourself now in this new way. And then over time it might become more habitual and unconscious. But you're most likely creating Other compensations to deal with this now, this new position, because it doesn't feel easy and safe for your nervous system. Cuz think about this. You develop that habit to solve a problem.

All these habits we have that we think, you know, these movement habits that we think are bad, right? We think they're, they're interfering with how we ride or how we sit, or our health and wellbeing. We have to remember that your nervous system came up with them to solve a problem. So we wanna respect that. We don't wanna just go and try to do the opposite,

because again, the nervous system's gonna say, wait a minute, it solved a problem. I wanna hold onto it. And you'll have to be in this struggle with yourself. Instead, if we can actually be aware of what we're doing and even lean more into it, do it a little bit more so your brain starts to recognize what you're doing, okay?

And brings it up to the level of awareness. And then you can very, very gradually start to explore other ways of being. So in the example of this common thing of people keeping their ribs more together on one side and throwing their weight onto the one seat bone more, maybe hiking up that leg, all those things, right? If you just actually do more of that,

and then feel what it's like to go in and out of that, but in such a way that is very gradual and safe. Now, with the horses, I do this with my hands. I actually support and in a way exaggerate what their habit is. And by doing that, I am taking the work out of the horse's muscles. In other words,

I'm doing the work of the horse's muscles for the horse. Because if you think about it, if they're holding themselves in a certain way, whether in movement or standing still, there is a certain amount of muscular work required to maintain that habit. We might think it's, oh, I wish my horse would bend more the other way. But have to remember,

our horses are using muscular effort to do that easier direction, okay? And so by using your hands, you are actually taking over the work. And then the nervous system starts to wake up a bit and to say, wow, okay, someone's doing the work for me. I can start to let that go. So you do it in this environment of safety and learning.

And what I, what we do is we start to, and this is what I teach in my move with your horse program, both how to improve yourself and how to improve your horses, is that you start to help the horse move where it's safe and easy and in these, you know, nice, familiar directions. And then what happens is you get this,

what we call a global change of state. The nervous system gets quieter, the background noise goes away, there's much less tension and the horse is receptive to learning, to exploring now other directions. But you have to start there. If you just go right in and try to contradict what the nervous system has come up with those habitual patterns we talked about,

right? You are just going to have to constantly be in a fight. Like you have to convince the nervous system to do it instead of working with the nervous system, respecting the wisdom of the body, whether this is about yourself or your horse. You want to respect that. You want to acknowledge, yeah, that was a, and you may never know why the nervous system came up with that habit.

Okay? I'm just putting it it out there. Like in the case of a human, you might say, well, why do I hold my shoulders up around my ears so much? How did that solve a problem? Well, it could have been a way to cope even if there was emotional distress, if you were feeling tense. That was, that was just something you did to sort of just change the environment a little bit.

Okay? So it might just be an emotional reaction to stress, but again, it was, it's something that got kind of hardwired in. And your brain has depended on that, right? It has realized, oh, this is what I do when I get stressed. And then it just becomes this unconscious habit and it, it doesn't go away. Maybe it,

it's less when you're not stressed, but there's like a, an echo of it. And the horses, it's the same thing. Again, sometimes these come from emotional events that happen that the horse gets, the nervous system gets tense from, in other words, the muscles, I should say create, you know, get contracted because the horse dealing with some kind of stress.

And other times it's more, oh, maybe there was an injury at one point or a a an overworked session. You know, the horse got fatigued. And so created these compensatory patterns, right? To solve again, to solve a problem. So this is just really important to remember that we want to connect not correct. And when we connect in this way,

when we acknowledge, oh, this is what you do really easily, right? And we, we can help support that, then that seems almost magically, but it's not, it actually makes a lot of sense from the point of view, the nervous system. Now suddenly other directions become available and this has to be done gradually. This has to be done,

you know, in a way that, again, you're respecting the horse's responses to this, okay? And this is what I teach in my move with your horse program, right? How to feel the, the responses in the horse's body. I mean, there's obvious things too. Is the horse standing quietly? What's the mouth doing? The eyes, the ears,

you know, what, what are the muscles feel like? But there's all these smaller, subtle responses and they're very, very important. Okay? So let me give you another example. This is, this is a subject that's really near and dear to my heart because, and it's about having tacking up saddling be not only tolerable to the horse, but pleasurable and that the process itself can help improve the horse's athletic performance.

You might be thinking, what, but hear me out. I've done this for many, many years. I've been doing this work for more than 30 years, and the helping horses use tacking up in a more healthy way is a big mission of mine because so many horses simply tolerate it and they're often contracting their abdominal muscles. That's why you have to,

you know, do up the girth after a few minutes of walking the horse around, you know, they're doing things to resist the process. Now other horses, it's very obvious they don't like it. They pin their ears, they threaten to kick, they might threaten or actually bite, you know, and what do people do? They correct the horse,

they correct the behavior in, instead of looking at what is causing that behavior, what is causing that reaction in the horse. And even something as what you might think is benign as the horse tensing the abdominals, people often say they're filling up with air, they're actually tensing the abdominals. You wonder why, why do they have to do that? So what I teach people to do is how to do different hands-on moves in the beginning.

It takes a little time to help change the horse's association with being tacked up. That they, that I teach people how to work with the ribcage, you know, the ribs, the sternum, you know, the muscles along the back to do all these things. And then use the process of putting the saddle on and doing up the garth slowly to actually expedite that,

to facilitate freer movement through the ribcage, which by the way will help your horse round the back more easily. Use the hind end in a more efficient way. Relax the neck, the shoulders get freer. I mean there are, there are benefits to this that go far beyond a happier horse. Now, to me that's a number one thing. You want your horse to be happy and to enjoy what you're doing together.

So of course that's important, but even beyond that, it has benefits to your horse's movement and health and just wellbeing. Cuz they can stay sounder when they're moving in this more efficient way, where it's healthier movement. So you can actually use tacking up to do that. Now again, this is not about correcting. So you can see how when you start to,

you know, take a moment, take a step back and say, why is my horse doing what he or she is doing? So whether it's, you know, bending to one direction is more challenging, picking up the right lead is more challenging, whatever it is, doesn't matter. Or even a behavioral thing, like in another context, why are they doing it?

And then how can I support my horse so that that movement or behavior, whatever it is that I don't like, is no longer necessary, that my horse is nervous system voluntarily gives that up. And this is critical, this is key and this is what really differentiates this work. So my work with horses is called, and I also other animals as well.

It's called Debono moves. It's based very strongly on the Feldenkrais method for humans that Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais originated many years ago. And so I work with Feldenkrais with the humans and we do Debono moves with the non-human animals. But this is key to it. This is really key that you notice these biases, these habits that we have, cuz we all have them.

And some of them are not a problem really. They don't interfere with what we wanna do in life, but many of them are a problem or, or can become a problem. They can age us faster, they restrict our movement, they can create a lot of strain on joints and muscles and tendons and ligaments, and same thing with the horse. And they can restrict our free movement.

And the other, the other really cool thing is when you help improve the movement like this, you change the brain in really profound ways. So you often see improvements in behavioral responses. In other words, there's more emotional regulation. And this is true whether we're talking about humans or horses, that there's a change in behavior because now there's like a sense of freedom.

There's less limitations, there's less of this idea of being compulsive. Because the same thing, like, you see people, sometimes they walk around like a military posture and they might think, I have great posture. They're just stuck in this military posture because they've convinced themselves maybe even at a young age that's how they should be. And that's what good posture looks like.

So they're just as stuck as the person who slouches all the time. Okay? So, so they're, they're stuck in that. So again, if you do something different, if you connect rather than correct, you allow your brain to, to, you know, have that genius ability to choose what is healthy for you. And the same is true with the horse that the horse gets to discover what's better for the horse.

So a quick example, some years ago a gentleman came to me for Feldenkrais and he, he was very hunched over, he was in his early forties, his wife was always nagging him to stand up straight, stand up straight. And his trainer was always nagging him and all the things. And he just kept going back into this slouched habit. Or he would get pain over time if he like forced himself to stand up straight.

So in the session I did with him, so it was a hands-on session with him, I just basically, I, he was lying on my fold in Christ's table. And I very gently, in many different ways, helped him be more slouched, really did what he was already doing, brought the ribs in more in, you know, towards the center,

depressed the sternum gently, you know, did all the things, really had him in a very flexed position. But, you know, gradually I did this and was like supporting each piece of that, each piece of that from his head to his toes, basically. And I didn't a I didn't do any kind of straightening, you know, helping him feel straight or long or any of that.

This was our first session together. And I did not at any point want his nervous system to feel contra addicted. I didn't wanna be in opposition to what his brain had been telling him was good for him. But by doing that, by me doing the work of his muscles, right, of, of bringing, you know, doing it for him,

his nervous system got the experience of Oh wow, this is what I'm doing and someone now is doing the work for me. Cuz I was doing it right. I was helping him be more rounded. He stood up and he was so straight and there was no effort. So this is what I mean by this effortless movement, this feeling of that there's no effort in maintaining the,

the carriage that you want, right? The posture, if you will. The, the elegant movement, right? The athletic movement that the, it doesn't feel like an effort. And this is again what we help the horses with this feeling of lightness. And this comes from being clear on that there's a difference between an effort and strain. And when I'm talking about effort,

I'm talking about healthy effort, which means that all the parts are working in harmony and you're not stuck in these compulsive habits, okay? Because you, and, and if you just try to correct, you just trade one habit for another, they're both gonna be compulsive and restrictive. But instead, if you think about, you know, strain is when you are overusing some parts and underusing others.

So not all the team is playing together, let's put it that way. It's not harmonious in your body. And we do it and the horses do it. So instead, when you strive, if your intention is to connect and to feel and to notice what you are doing or what your horse is doing, and you support that, that's how you open the door for improvement to happen.

You open the door for, for now new directions, new options. And this is true again, whether it's movement or behavior, right? Even ways of thinking. So it's really profound. And so I just wanted to share that with you today that to really give that some, maybe some thought to think about when you want to improve something about yourself,

you know, whether it's your, your movement, your athletic ability, your flexibility, your balance, whatever it is to think about what you're doing and get really clear on how you're doing what you're doing. And then of course, starting to very gradually introduce new options. Now with that said, I can't, over a short podcast, you know, episode give you the Feldenkrais work,

the ATMs, we call them awareness through movement lessons that I teach in my program. But I wanted you to have an understanding of why we do the work that we do. And the other thing I wanna point, and this same is true with the horses. So I teach people how to recognize the habits that their horses have. These even subtle movement habits or uneven limb loading,

whatever it happens to be. And then give them the hands-on skills, teach them the hands-on skills that they can affect an improvement, facilitate an improvement for the horse, okay? So, and, and it's so important that you work with yourself as well. So again, if you and I will be doing, just so you know, I will be doing some free Feldenkrais classes for you.

So if you go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse, and that's all one word and all lower case, you'll be on my wait list for my program. There's no obligation, so don't worry about it. I won't ask for a credit card or anything, but you'll be eligible for free classes, okay? So as like introduction. So if you go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse,

all one word all over case, you'll get signed up for that. But the idea is the more you improve yourself, the more feel you'll have and the more you'll be able to notice what your horse is doing, really feel any differences in your horse and be able to help your horse most effectively. So again, just wanted to, to put that little plant,

that little seed that we strive to connect, not correct and that there's a very solid reason why we approach it that way. Okay, thank you so, so much for joining me. I so appreciate your time and attention. I'm on such a mission to share this work. I know it's been life changing for myself for many, many students I've worked with and many,

many animals that I've done this with over the past 30 plus years. So if you wanna know more, go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse and I look forward to talking to you again. Bye for now.