Easier Movement, Happier Horses

4 Elements of Healthy Movement - Do You and Your Horse Have Them?

February 01, 2024 Mary Debono Season 1 Episode 58
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
4 Elements of Healthy Movement - Do You and Your Horse Have Them?
Show Notes Transcript

Want you and your horse to move easier and feel better? In this episode, you'll learn about 4 key characteristics of healthy movement for you and your horse.

You'll hear why one or more of these essentials may disappear when you tack up your horse or step into the saddle. 

Learn how you and your horse can embody these 4 qualities in your everyday life for a healthier and more harmonious way of interacting with each other.

1. Introduction (00:00 - 00:00)
2. Sense of Effortlessness (02:00 - 00:00)
3. Optimal Posture (09:00 - 00:00)
4. Appropriate Breathing (15:00 - 00:00)
5. Reversibility (21:00 - 00:00)
6. Observing Your Horse (28:00 - 00:00)
7. Interacting with Your Horse (33:00 - 00:00)
8. Conclusion (40:00 - 00:00)

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Podcast show notes for THIS episode:
https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h58

All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice. 

Everyone wants to move better, they want to be more comfortable, they wanna feel more athletic, they wanna have more strength, power, agility. So I'm sure you want that for yourself and your horse. Well, today I'd like to share with you four key characteristics of healthy movement for you and your horse, and how to develop them. My name is Mary Debono, and this is the Easier Movement, happier Horses podcast.

 I'm so glad you're here. So let's talk about what those four qualities of healthy efficient movement are. Well, according to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed the Feldenkrais method, which is a form of movement, education, awareness, and I'm a longtime practitioner, he spoke about these four qualities. Number one is a sense of effortlessness,


and we're gonna go over each one, but let me just tell you what they are first. So one is a sense of effortlessness. Another one is optimal posture. The third one is appropriate breathing for what activity you're doing. And the fourth is reversibility, being able to change direction easily. So now let's break down what each one means and how you can develop more of it.


So a sense of effortlessness. So think about those really skilled athletes that you've seen, you know, maybe a figure skater, and they just make everything seem so easy. There's just this wonderful feeling of ease and elegance to their movement. You'll also see that in a really skilled rider or a dancer or any kind of, any kind of athlete, you know that they're,


yes, we know that movement takes some effort, but it's a sense of effortlessness. Okay? So that's the distinction. And what I really find fascinating is this idea that there is a difference between effort, like healthy effort, and strain. So when we talk about a sense of effortlessness, we're talking about that you will be expending healthy effort, and you,


you're, you're using healthy effort when all your parts are working harmoniously, your movement is coordinated. You're not falling into, you know, habitual patterns of overusing some parts and underusing others, but instead, there's a sense of ease. There's a sense of elegance to your movements. Strain on the other hand is when you are not doing that, when you have,


you know, some parts working really hard and other parts really slacking off due to habitual movement patterns you may have developed over time. And we all have them. And that's why the Feldenkrais method is so brilliant at helping you get rid of the ones that aren't working for you anymore. So again, this sense of effortlessness is a key indicator of healthy, efficient movement.


So let's think about how you can develop more of a sense of effortlessness, you know, virtually anyone. And I've worked with people, you know, all across the, the, the board, so to speak, from people that were, you know, really, really good athletes that just wanted that little slight edge, which I've been able to help them with,


to people that were really pretty disabled. And, you know, it was a struggle to do really much of anything. And I've helped all of them. And then of course, many, many people in between that from young people to, you know, people that are more mature and they're getting arthritic and, you know, stiff and all those things.


So all, all different physical levels of physical fitness we'll say. And what I found is no matter whatever your, your age, your physical condition, you know, whatever you're dealing with, you can improve, okay? You can improve. So let's go back to sense of effortlessness. What if you think, gosh, Mary, I, I'm just always stiff.


Everything hurts. You know, it's just, there is no sense of effortlessness when I'm, when I'm walking or riding my horse or running or whatever you want to do. Well, I would say let's break it down. Find some movement. I mean, this is gonna sound silly, but it might be turning over your hand or moving a single finger or,


or something. Could, could be something else too, but do it so small and so slow that there is a sense of ease about it. You can find those degrees of freedom, okay? We have a tendency in our culture to always think that we have to go to the, to our limits. That's really faulty thinking that will be counterproductive. So instead,


if you really slow down and you make really small movements, you can have a sense of ease, elegance, and effortlessness in those movements. And then it's like you're building a bank of evidence, if you will, for your nervous systems to say, oh, yeah, that does feel easy. That does feel pleasurable. And now you're associating movement with ease and pleasure.


Okay? So that's a good thing. Then your brain will want to expand on that. Now, what if you say any movement at all is, you know, does not feel easy, like even the tiniest thing, then I'm going to challenge you and say, do it in your imagination. Now, here's what's funny. A lot of us, when we do something in our imagination,


we bring in those same limitations that, that are present when we're doing it physically. So we might be imagining moving, you know, moving our arm or our leg or side bending or whatever it is walking, and we are imagining it as we do it in real life. Well, I'm going to say it's much better if you imagine it from a sense of pleasure and ease in the movement,


and you can do that. So we, we talk about this a lot in my online group coaching program, move with your horse, how you can use your imagination to jumpstart your physical improvements, because you start activating parts of the brain to say, oh, you know, and start kinda like firing some of the motor cortex as if you were really doing the movement.


So you start to lay down neural connections, even just imagining the movement. So again, you know, think about how would you bring a sense of ease effortlessness to a particular movement. So again, I'm gonna challenge you to slow it down so you can really feel what you're doing and do it much smaller so you can have that sense of ease and elegance,


and then the movement will naturally get bigger, faster, more powerful, et cetera. But you'll have that first quality, that quality of a sense of effortlessness. Okay, so now number two, good posture. Now, I will say this, Dr. Feldenkrais was not a fan of the word posture, because to him it, it, it kind of meant,


you know, a lot of people think of posture as just being very static. So they think of, you know, kind of like military posture, you know, shoulders back, chin tucked, you know, your spine ramrod straight, that kind of thing. And, you know, really posture is dynamic. Posture is, you know, I'm gonna have a different posture if I'm bending over to tie my shoes than I would if I'm,


you know, walking down the street or riding, you know, a horse or, or doing any number of different things. Your posture will be different depending on what you're doing. So he liked to, you know, to use the, the term actu as opposed to posture. But since people know what posture is, we're gonna go with posture. But you can think about it as your position.


So say, say you're riding your horse, there are different postures or different positions that are appropriate for different things you are doing. So, so different disciplines, of course, have have their own, you know, nuances of, of position. But there is a basic position that is, is recognized as being helpful to be able to coordinate your movements on the horse and to communicate well with the horse,


you know, to, to align your, you know, your, your, your shoulder, your hip, your ankle, that type of thing. But of course, things are also going to change when you're jumping a course or, you know, if you're riding dressage or if, if you wanna be in, you know, two point to get weight off your horse's back,


or, you know, any number of different reasons. You know, maybe going down a steep incline on your horse, right? There's going to be different postures or different positions that are the best for what you're doing. But the idea is you want to be mindful, you want to be, be you want to be aware that the posture or position you're in is optimal for what you're doing.


Okay? So that allows the parts to coordinate really easily and harmoniously. And then this builds on our first quality of the sense of effortlessness, because then there's more of a sense of ease and effortlessness when you posture or position is appropriate for what you're doing. Okay? So that's the second one. Third one is this, the idea of optimal breathing. So appropriate breathing for the task at hand.


So some people might think that there's one correct way to breathe. Well, I'm going to push back on that idea, because again, depending on what you're doing, you're going to be breathing differently. If you're running up a mountain, it's going to be different breathing than if you're sitting on the couch watching Netflix. Well, of course, maybe that's wrong because maybe you're watching some,


a movie that gets you, gets you to breathe in a particular way, I don't know. But normally speaking, right, we will breathe differently depending on the activity. Now we, okay, so we can know that intellectually, but the fact is many of us are stuck in maladaptive breathing patterns that we've picked up over time. So we may not be breathing in a way that's optimal for us,


okay? So that is, is going to impede our movement, it's gonna impede the quality of our movement. So just recognizing that now in the Feldenkrais method that I, you know, that I teach, we have a number, quite a number of different strategies, different awareness lessons that address breathing very directly and some more indirectly. But it's really cool because a lot of it is,


again, it's so based in our habit. So trying to force yourself to breathe in a particular way will usually backfire. But instead, if you do the Feldenkrais work, and again, this is a shout out to my move with your horse members, they know all about these different, different strategies. For example, there's one that I really like that you're lying on your back,


you cross your legs, like fully, like the thighs are touching, like the legs are crossed fully, and then you allow the legs to fall to the side. So say you have your right leg on top, then you just let the legs fall to the right and you stay there if that's comfortable and safe for you to do. And what that does is it,


it puts certain forces on your pelvis, your, your spine, your ribs, et cetera. And then what I do is I guide you through breathing in this, for example, like a seesaw way where you're taking a breath, you're holding it, and you're playing with that ball of air, right? And what that does is it interrupts the way you normally breathe and allows your nervous system to basically reorganize the muscles around your ribs and allows you then to have more options in how you breathe.


So it's not about saying this is the way to breathe, but we have all these different strategies in this work that will help you breathe in healthier ways, okay? And, you know, optimize your breathing. Another one I really like is like the four quadrant breathing, where I have people imagine they, they have like a balloon in say, you know,


the upper right quadrant of their, of their chest, the upper left, the, the lower left, and of course the lower, right? So they have these four quadrants and they inflate and deflate the balloons in various combinations that we do. That is really, really powerful. I found it's really good for riders, especially in, believe it or not,


you may not think of this right away, but it actually helps you learn how to use your seat bones more effectively. Your weight aids more effectively by having that control. Okay? So we have a lot of fun, different strategies like that, and you can actually do that, do those strategies in the saddle as well. I always encourage people to do them out of the saddle first though,


because the more you get into getting out of your usual environment, the easier it is for your nervous system to kind of let go of those habitual patterns and give you more choice. And then you can, you know, do it in sitting and then sitting on your horse, et cetera. Anyway, I digress. But optimal breathing for the task at hand is a key indicator of whether the movement is healthy and efficient or not.


Okay? So the last one, number four is reversibility. Now that means are you able to change direction easily, like without interrupting your breathing? And I've kind of expanded on this a little bit. So instead of just simply like changing direction, I even take a little bit of a broader approach and think of it as, yes, definitely changing direction with,


you know, smoothly without interrupting the breath, but also changing stride length, changing your speed, changing your gait. You know, not just changing direction, but changing like the nuances of the movement. Okay? And if you can do that, so if you have all four of these, right? A sense of effortlessness, right? Optimal posture, appropriate breathing,


and reversibility, right? Those are really key indicators of healthy, efficient movement. And this is what we do in the Feldenkrais method. We help you get that. And for the horses, 'cause now we're gonna talk about your horse, okay? We have not forgotten about your horse. I'll, I'll talk to you about how you can see if your horse is embodying these four qualities as well.


But what I, in, in the approach we use with the horses, which we call Debono Moves, it's based very strongly on the Feldenkrais method and has some other things as well. We help the horses in the same way. We help their, their flexibility, their coordination, their even their, their emotional state. 'cause all of that, you know,


factors into how they move and how they feel in the world and how they interact with you. So, okay, so now with your horse, so let's think about this. So what I like to do is to observe the horse in their natural state. So by that I mean like maybe your horse hangs out in the pasture. Just watch your horse without asking your horse to do anything.


Watch your horse and think, hmm, is there a sense of effortlessness with how my horse is moving? Maybe your horse is grazing, maybe your horse is just dozing or maybe your horse is playing with some other horse, right? Is there a sense of ease and effortlessness to the movement, right? Then you think about your horse's posture or position, right?


So think about how your horse is standing and moving and you know, what is their overall posture? And this also includes, you know, how the feet are organized. We know just like humans have a lot of movement habits, so do the horses. So you may find that your horse, like always has one front leg forward when they're grazing. That's very common.


Maybe even when they're just standing around, not grazing, but just in the grooming aisle or whatever. You may notice that one diagonal pair is more forward, or both legs on one side are forward, or one is the hind leg is back and the front is forward or, or some combination. You may notice that your horse has some very strong habits of how they stand and how they move,


right? So, so look at all, like, when we say posture, it's a lot more than just like, you know, what the back looks like, for example, you know, and how, how the head is held, the head and neck and the tail, and, you know, all the different pieces of it is what we're thinking about.


So when we say posture, so it's, it's a pretty broad umbrella as far as that. So look at that when the horse is hanging out, right? And then you wanna look at, you know, how they're breathing, right? How does your horse breathe when, when they're just hanging out, right? Start to pay attention to that, right?


It's important because then you'll be able to notice differences. And we learn by noticing differences, okay? And then reversibility. So when you see your horse, you know, out again, hanging out, doing their own thing, you know, how easy is it for them to reverse course to turn, to change, to change speed, you know, to,


to, to pivot around and, you know, run off in another direction or even saunter off. So look at those four qualities, okay? So that's when your horse is just doing their own thing. Now, maybe you bring your horse into the arena, but you bring your horse just loose and you're not asking your horse to do anything. So you're not putting pressure on your horse to do anything,


but maybe there's something different being in the arena as opposed to being out in their turnout area, right? Maybe that there's something different about, you know, how they present themselves, how they breathe, right? So just notice, just start to really refine your, your eye. So to develop your eye so that you pay attention to these things to really help you really,


really help you. And then maybe start interacting with your horse. So for example, maybe you do some work at Liberty. I call it liberty play, actually. 'cause to me it's not work. It's really super fun. Keep it really light and everything is positive. So maybe you do that. And now, so now you're interacting more with your horse.


How do these four key indicators change? Okay? Is there a sense of effortlessness from your horse? You know, what is your horse's posture? Like, what is their breathing like? What is their ability to, you know, what we're calling reversibility or, but we're not just talking about reversing direction, but, you know, changes within the gate and things like that.


Okay? So now maybe you take this into when you're grooming or tacking up your horse. Now I'll tell you this, based on experience of working with many, many horses and riders for over 30 years, a lot of times horses will change immediately when they realize that they're being the tack is coming out. You don't even have to put the saddle on them and the breathing changes or their posture changes,


right? So start to pay attention to that, you know, really tune into that. And then when you do ride, notice If, again, think about these same indicators, these same qualities. Are they there? Like, ha have they changed in a positive way? Have they changed in a negative way? Right? So think about the idea of a sense of effortlessness.


If you were to ask your horse, okay, how does this feel to you? Is there a sense of ease when we're striking off into a cantor D part? You know? So take a guess. What would your horse think about that? Notice your horse's posture as they're carrying, you notice your horse's breathing. Some horse's breathing changes quite dramatically when the rider gets on.


And it's not from the additional effort of carrying a rider. A lot of times it's from anxiety. And a lot of what I've seen is a lot of times people don't notice it. The rider doesn't notice it, but pay attention. Notice if the breathing is changing. What I found really helpful for that, by the way, is if you do notice that,


or even if you don't notice it, but you think it might be happening, or you see some other indicator that your horse might be a little anxious or maybe you're anxious is to change your breathing. And I found that the horses then tend to get more in sync. In other words, if your breathing is relaxed and your exhales are maybe a little bit longer,


right? Right? That, that starts to kind of like, help quiet the nervous system and then seems to be contagious for the horse as well. And the horse then starts to quiet their nervous system, be less anxious, and to breathe in a more relaxed way, more appropriate for what they're doing. And then reversibility. So play with that, you know,


play with the idea of, you know, you're going straight now, you're gonna go, you know, turn around this corner to the right or to the left, or change gates or change, you know, speed within a gate or change your rhythm, whatever it is. But how easily do you two do that together? Because this is the thing when a horse and a human are interacting,


they're no longer just a human, just a horse, they're a horse human system. That's what you are. I call it H squared, right? Horse human. So you're each influencing the other. So you, you, if you can embody very, you know, consciously these four qualities of healthy movement, you can start transferring those to your horse as well.


Now, in our, again, in our move with your horse program, we go into more detail about this, where I teach you hands-on skills as well, so that you can do, I hesitate to use the word body work to be honest, because it's, it's, it's very different than say, massage or anything like that. But it's, it's a way of teaching the horse new ways to move that are healthier.


The horses feel more flexible and balanced and more confident. And it's, it's a wonderful thing. And you improve as well, because you're doing also the Feldenkrais method lessons that are part of the program. But to get you started, this is a wonderful way to do it. Ask yourself if you're embodying these four characteristics in your everyday life, you know,


as you go about the day, maybe get a little post-it note, put it on your bathroom mirror or in your kitchen or someplace to remind you to kind of check in with yourself. Maybe you're driving your truck. Can you still have these four qualities present, right? You're, you're doing your care, your maybe, I don't know, your shoveling manure.


Can you do it with a sense of effortlessness? Okay? Remember, there's a difference between effort and strain. Like, so it's a sense of effortlessness. We know that there is effort, but you're feeling, say, elegant about it. It, it feels elegant, feels easy, right? How is your posture? How is your breathing? Can you reverse direction?


Another fun thing to do when you're doing something like, you know, you've got the, the, the fork and you're, you're taking care of the manure. Can you reverse even how you're holding that? Can you reverse how you're holding the broom, you know, or the rake or, or what have you? That's a nice thing to do, by the way.


'cause it helps kind wake up your nervous system, get the attention of your nervous system, and give you more options and help you break out of some of these very strong habits that we have that over time can be damaging to us. Okay? So, you know, even small differences, like, you know, if you wanna think about your posture,


even small differences in, in, in the, you know, how you hold your shoulders, for example, or how maybe you're tensing your neck or your jaw can make a huge difference in your sense of ease, right? So all of these qualities, they, they build on each other, they're all related to each other. So just again, slow down play with these things and just ask yourself,


how can this feel easier? And you'll start to find that yes, you know, the, your breathing starts getting easier, right? Maybe your posture becomes more aligned with the task you're doing and you have that sense of reversibility that you can change what you're doing because there's less, there's less tension. So it's really, really a nice way to do it.


So you wanna just slow down and do less and start exploring and explore with a sense of curiosity and playfulness rather than, oh my gosh, you know, I'm doing this wrong. Like, let that go. Let that negative self-talk go and just really play with this idea of being curious about it, how I am, how am I embodying those four qualities of healthy movement and how is my horse and what can I do to help my horse feel better as well?


So feel free, by the way, to reach out to me at Mary at mary Debono dot com if you have questions about this. Or maybe you have some other, other ideas for me to do an episode on. But anyway, I hope that was helpful for you. And again, there's so many different ways that, that, that you can change,


you can improve how you move and how you feel. And this is true at any age. So it's such an optimistic approach. I love it so much. It's helped me personally so much and many, many, many others. So with that, I wanna let, I wanna thank you, first of all for being here. I so appreciate you.


I appreciate you listening. I appreciate you caring enough about yourself and your horse to take the time to improve because you and your horse deserve to feel great together. So thanks again. I look forward to seeing you again real soon. Bye for now.