Easier Movement, Happier Horses

Tiny Steps, Big Results: Mastering Movement Through Small Actions

February 29, 2024 Season 1 Episode 62
Easier Movement, Happier Horses
Tiny Steps, Big Results: Mastering Movement Through Small Actions
Show Notes Transcript

💥Want to learn how to help you and your horse even more? Sign up to be among the first to know when we open the doors to our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse! 🐴 https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse 💥

Would you like to be more supple, balanced and strong? Would you like to improve your horse's movement too? In this episode, we'll discuss why simply repeating movements won't help, and can actually make things worse!

Our bodies were made to move, but so often both we and our horses get stuck in less-than-ideal movement patterns. Mindless repetition of a movement won't fix the problem, it can exacerbate it. To improve a movement, you must focus on the quality of the movement, not the quantity.

To do that, you must pay attention to how you initiate movement. This mindful method can dramatically improve your movement and your horse's movement. It's key to improving balance, flexibility, and power, and can help make you and your horse a more harmonious and elegant team.  

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on the quality of a movement, not how many times you do it.
  • Mindless repetition of a movement can make things worse! 
  • For better movement, pay close attention to how you initiate that movement.
  • Slow down and make your movements smaller to build awareness of movement patterns.
  • Work on non-habitual movements to engage your nervous system.
  • Honor the 4 keys of healthy movement: Relaxed breathing, effortlessness, appropriate posture, and reversibility.
  • Prioritize a sense of ease in your movement.
  • Focus on the easier side first before exploring the more challenging side.
  • Always stop and rest for a moment between movements to let your muscles fully relax.
  • You communicate your underlying sense of ease (or lack thereof) to your horse.
  • Movement should feel good!

💥Want to learn how to help you and your horse even more? Sign up to be among the first to know when we open the doors to our online group coaching program, Move with Your Horse! 🐴 https://www.marydebono.com/joinhorse 💥

Podcast show notes for THIS episode: https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h62

All information is for general educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice. Please consult a qualified healthcare provider if you or your horse are unwell or injured. 

Hello. You know, how important movement is. Healthy, efficient movement is really important for you, and it's really important for your horse as well. Well, today I'd love to talk to you about the fact that simply repeating a movement does not improve the movement. And in fact, the reverse is often true when you simply repeat a movement. So you,

you're doing a movement over and over again. You can actually degrade the movement. The movement can get worse and worse because you're exacerbating some maybe maladaptive habits that you or your horse have around that movement. And I'll explain all of this in a minute. It's actually quite simple. In a case we're meeting for the first time, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement,

happier Horses podcast. And this, everything I'll be talking about in today's episode applies to you and your horse. Okay? So it's basically, and your dogs and everyone else that Moves, okay? So there's some pretty fundamental things I'd love to cover today. So one of them is this idea that we tend to think of doing a certain amount of repetitions of a movement,

and that will get better at it. So whether you're riding your horse or working, you know, doing groundwork with your horse or something like that, and you think, well, if I do it X amount of times, my horse will get better at it. It's not always the case. And as I said earlier, the opposite is often true.

Same thing with yourself. If you're doing something, you know, an exercise or something over and over again, you can actually exacerbate, strengthen, reinforce whatever word you wanna use, the inefficient habits that you have around that. So let me give you an example. So some time ago I was called out to, to this person's barn to work with this,

these horses. And the first client, you know, she was very sweet, very nice, loved her horses, all that good stuff. She had done a lot of clinics with different people. And the first thing she very proudly showed me was, she does something that she referred to as doubling. You may, you may know what this is, it's like when you take the horse's head to the side,

you know, to the right and then to the left. You know, you kind of go back and forth and she said, oh, this is a great way to supple the horse. Okay? And so she just, she, she often did it. She told me from the saddle. So in other words, she'd, after she mounted her horse,

that's the first thing she did before they even took a step, she said, oh, I do my doubling exercises. And she was taught this, she was taught this at a clinic. And so she basically pulled the horse's head around to one side and then to the other side. And when I saw that, it's like, oh, my heart sank because here's this woman who really wants her horse to feel better and move better and all that good stuff.

And she had no idea that the horse was doing it in a way that was not helpful to the horse. Not at all helpful to the horse. And I've actually seen this, so, you know, this, this person was not a competitor, but I've actually seen this at some of the highest levels of competition that people will do this. They,

that they just kind of saw the horse's head back and forth, if you will, you know, pull on this side, pull on that side with this misguided notion that there's somehow ling their horse. But let's think about that for a moment, as well as, to me, it, it looked the way it was done in these instances, it looked extremely rude and crude.

But think about that. So it's like if someone, you know, had you turn your head, you know, one way and then the other, but you did it in a way that you were overusing certain parts, like turning too much, if you will, at certain vertebra and not engaging with your ribs, and like doing it in a way that actually was not healthy.

Yeah, you're gonna do it because the, you know, not doing it is worse. Because in this case, they were pulling on the bit, right? So they, the horse was bridled and you know, they were doing that, but that's not going to teach you a better way to do it. So you might get a temporary, temporary lengthening of some muscles just by like a manual stretch.

But the horse, if anything, is actually going to brace even more because like, that's not comfortable. That doesn't feel good. So, and this is the thing people think like, the more I turn the head to the side, the better it's going to be. I've actually seen, and this is so sad, but I have seen trainers at barns,

at show barns where they tie the horse's head to. You've probably unfortunately seen this as well, maybe hope not, but they tie the horse's head to the side and just insist that the horse keep their head there. They, they often do, I've seen people tie the tail to the saddle. They do different things in this misguided attempt to create a more supple horse.

And what they're doing is they're actually teaching the horse to brace even more. Okay? Now, we do this with ourselves when we are pushing, when we're not paying attention to the quality of our movement, but like just pushing through, working through, we are doing the same things with, with ourselves, okay? Maybe not as severe, no one's tying our head to the side or something like that.

But we're treating ourselves in a way the same way. Okay? So instead, if you think about it, you are to, to change a movement, okay? To improve the quality of a movement. Again, this is true for you and it's true for your horse. Where You can change it is at the initiation of the movement. So if we're going to take the example of turning your head to the side,

so just simply like turning to look over your left shoulder. Just turning your head. So if you do that, but if you know slowly and in a really small amount, you can feel how you do that, you can feel, oh, is there a response in my ribs? How far down my spine do I feel that, where am I getting support to do that movement?

But if you whip your head around, or even if you do it slower, but you go really far or you're going to feel is a restriction, 'cause eventually you're gonna hit a stopping point. So you're basically telling your brain, okay, that's enough, that's enough. So that's not the way to improve the movement. Instead, if you go really small and slow and focus on,

hmm, how do I turn my head? Where do I initiate that from? Can I change how I initiate that? Can I breathe differently? Okay, now you're getting to basically develop more awareness, more body awareness, more awareness of how you are moving, okay? And now you can compare, well, what does it feel like when I turn my head to the right as opposed to the left.

So your nervous system and your horse's nervous system needs time to feel the differences. It needs slower movements, it needs smaller movements. Again, if you just do the movements over and over again, you're actually reinforcing whatever maladaptive habits, you know, neuromuscular habits you or your horse has developed, you know, ha developed over the years, right? Compensations different things that we do.

So it's so, so important. So this is where I really wanna emphasize, we have to think about the quality of the movement, not the quantity, okay? Not the size of the movement. The size will come later. See, this is the thing, it's not like you're only going to have small, slow movements the rest of your life.

Not at all. What we're doing is by laying the foundation of healthy, efficient movement, then organically your nervous system will feel more, you know, will feel safer. Movement will feel much more pleasurable. So your brain will automatically allow you to go faster, do larger movements, and have more power. Okay? We've talked about this actually in the last episode.

This idea that when we're always tensing to a certain degree, certain parts of us, we are weaker, okay? We are weaker. So by taking the time to slow down and learn how to develop this awareness about how you're moving, it pays huge dividends for yourself and your horse. Okay? Super, super Important concept. You have to slow down and do small movements in the beginning.

And again, just to reiterate, then, the speed, right? The power, the size of the movement, all of that will increase, but it'll increase in a healthy way. So you'll keep the high quality of the movement. Now, you might wonder, how do I know if the movement is, you know, high quality movement? This is where,

again, the more you slow down and go slow, the more you'll be able to feel. But I will say this, we get into habits of tensing, we get into habits of straining, we get into habits of, you know, stressing about things. So that feels comfortable, that feels familiar to, I shouldn't say comfortable. It feels familiar to us,

and we think it's comfortable because we, it's like we don't know any different. So again, this is where slowing way down, right? Doing smaller movements will allow you to discern whether a movement is truly easy and comfortable, or you are just used to, you're just used to straining. We've talked in the previous episode too, and, and some other ones also this idea of the difference between strain and healthy effort.

Okay? And again, you can own, and the difference is just the cliff notes version of the difference is strain is when you're using unnecessary effort to do a movement, okay? It's like what we call parasitic contraction. So you're, you're tensing contracting in ways that are not helpful to the movement. And we, so many of, I'm gonna say just about everybody has some degree of that in different ways.

And the idea is we want to minimize that. And healthy effort is when you're using your parts harmoniously, you're coordinating your movement, your, your tensing and using effort that makes sense to your body that supports the movement. So like the large muscles of the body are doing most of the work, the smaller muscles are sensing and directing movement, okay? So big difference between strain and healthy effort.

Okay? So the problem becomes when you're just used to straining all the time. So you don't know any different. You're like, oh yeah, that feels easy. That feels, yeah, I don't, that feels fine. No, it doesn't, it really doesn't feel fine. It just feels familiar. Okay? But if you go really small and you start to notice like,

hmm, okay, when I move, just making up a random example, if I move my right index finger in a really small, small, slow way, right? How does that compare to my left? Hmm, maybe one's a little less free. Or, you know, there's different directions that, or you start comparing. So you can compare one side to the other,

you can compare, you know, one particular movement to a different movement that's, you know, similar. And there's all ways of doing it. But again, the idea is to slow way down. Now, another, another trick if you will, I shouldn't say trick, but another idea is to think about having some non-negotiables because we know that your,

you may have a habit of straining, a habit of stressing, if you will, or tensing different parts. It's like, okay, what if we lay down some non-negotiables? I spoke in an earlier episode about the four keys of healthy movement. And so there are having a relaxed way of breathing, a sense of effortlessness, okay? Having appropriate posture and reversibility,

that means you can, you can change direction without interrupting your breath. Okay? Now, if you take those four keys or those four, you know, what would I call 'em? Keys, I guess four elements of healthy movement, I guess is a better word. You can say, okay, I'm going to move in such a way that I make sure I honor those four elements of healthy movement.

So I'm going to make sure that my breathing is uninterrupted, that I could breathe in a relaxed way. I'm going to make sure that I feel a sense of effortlessness when I do the movement. It doesn't mean there's no effort, but it's that healthy effort that feels effortless. It feels so easy. Okay? So that's gonna be a big one. I'm going to make sure that,

now the, the posture one is tricky because a lot of us have weird, I shouldn't say weird, but we have our own little habits and, and beliefs around posture. And most of us, we think of posture, we start to stiffen ourselves. Okay? So what Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of the Feldenkrais method, meant by that was he actually preferred the term actu than posture because it's a dynamic idea.

So, so this idea of posture is dynamic because your posture prop, your posture for doing one thing is not gonna be the same as the other. Okay? But you just have a general sense of ease, okay? You think of it that way. And then can you reverse the movement? So for example, if you are lying on your back and you start to roll to your side,

okay, how can you do that in a way that feels really easy, that your breathing is uninterrupted and that you can reverse? That means you can start to roll to your left, and then without interrupting your breath, you change direction smoothly. And you start to roll either just onto your back or to the right, you know, you do something,

you can start to play with this. And this is really fun to play with, with your horse as well. So keep those as your non-negotiables. It's like, I'm going to move in such a way, you know, that I can breathe in an easy way, that there's a sense of effortlessness, that I feel like my posture is appropriate and I have reversibility,

or my horse has reversibility. So super, super important. Now let's talk about why pushing to your limit is not healthy. So when you, when you're learning to improve your movement, if you, again, if you go to the end range of the movement, all you're doing is you're reinforcing this idea of a limit to your brain. Okay? So we don't wanna do that.

We want to, if when you're, you're in this idea of improving your movement, I'm going to encourage you not to go to your maximum, not to go to your limit, because we're trying to convince your nervous system, like, oh, it's easy and there's like more available. Like this is, I could keep going here, right? And you do that by staying in the comfort range.

It doesn't mean you never get out of the comfort range. I wanna emphasize that we're talking specifically about when you're impro taking the time. It doesn't mean you're doing this all day, but taking the time to improve your movement, okay? Like we do in the Feldenkrais method. So this is really, really important. So it's very different than again, just simply repeating a movement over and over again.

And the o the other key thing too is I would really encourage you to do what feels easy first. So like, if a particular direction with your horse feels easier than the, than the other direction, which is often the case, work with the easy way first. And this is true for your own movement as well. Like if one arm is easier to raise up to the ceiling,

I would encourage you to work with that side first. And it's like you're training your brain, that movement can feel easy and pleasurable, and then you can gradually bring in the other side or the other direction. But really being cognizant of is my, you know, is there a feeling of ease? And where can I reduce tension? That's a big one.

That's a really important question to keep asking yourself. Where can I reduce unnecessary tension or unnecessary effort? Okay, how can this feel easier? Okay? This will really help you with this idea of having a, a sense of elegance in your movement and your horse's movement. And it's not even just for the aesthetics, okay? That looks nice and all that,

but it's actually much healthier. You're not getting that wear and tear damage, okay? It's much, much reduced when you're moving in a healthy, efficient way. Okay? So, you know, remember that? So remember that the, the idea of the size and the, the power of the movement and the speed of the movement will increase automatically once you take care of the quality of the movement.

Okay? So the other thing I wanna say, and I know I said this in the last episode too, but I wanna say it again. A big part of this, a big part of this is feeling the difference between, between tensing something and not tensing something, okay? Between moving and not moving between, you know, doing and not doing however you wanna phrase it,

but you have that sensory distinction. So in the Feldenkrais method, we really pay a lot of attention to this. It's, you'll do a movement again, gentle, slow, you know, small movement. You'll do that and then you'll come back to neutral and you'll rest. Now, the rest might only be one second or two seconds or whatever, but there's a clear,

you know, distinction between I'm moving now, I'm not moving. And that allows your muscles to kind of like reset, if you will. So you're not holding on, you're not anticipating by already tensing, you know, the muscles for the next movement. So this isn't like reps at a gym, like we are actually stopping, you're stopping in between.

So now you can do it a little differently. Maybe you can initiate it from a different place. You can do it a little easier, you can have some variety, you can improve. The movement is the bottom line. And if you don't take that little pause, it, it's not gonna be as easy. You are going, it's, you are going to struggle because it's like your brain is anticipating the next movement.

Okay? So it's already tensing things. You're already, so again, you're reinforcing those habits. So think about how you can do this with your horses as well. Now, in the work that I teach, you know, I teach actually how you can work hands-on with your horses. That, that you can create these conditions with your hands so the horse can learn how to move better through your hands-on work,

it's very gentle work. But you can also think about how you would do this with groundwork or, you know, under saddle work. How would you get the idea that you're asking and then not asking this is also good for you. So think about it. A lot of times what I see, and I've been working with, you know, horses and riders for more than 30 years,

professionally, is a person thinks that they're taking their aides off, if you will, but they're not. It's like they always got that little nagging this there with their horse because they haven't learned to not tense those muscles. So it's like their body is anticipating the next aid, if you will, right? The next little, little movement of their leg,

the little squeeze of the calf or whatever it happens to be, or, you know, movement of their hands through the, you know, for the reins, whatever it is. Are you doing that or are you really letting go? It doesn't mean you drop the reins and drop your feet out of the stirrups or anything like that, but this is where the work outside,

like off the set off the horse is so valuable because you start to learn like, oh, wow, yeah, I do have that tendency to like keep that going a little bit. Like I'm tensing a little bit when I don't need to, because that not only creates damage in you, but now you're, you're transferring that to annoying your horse and actually confusing your horse.

Okay? And the other thing, I say this all the time, but I'm gonna say it again. Your underlying sense of ease or effort is transmitted to your horse and it shapes your experience with your horse that it's like your horse is feeling that, that there's always that underlying sense of effort. So this is, again, where quality over quantity. So make sure you are taking these little,

many, many, many breaks, if you will, like you are doing and you're not doing. So think about how you can create that sensory distinction. So a great way to get the attention of your nervous system, so you do develop more, feel more awareness of, of your movement and your, and your horse's movement is by bringing in novelty,

bringing in non habitual movements, non habitual sensations. So really be sure you're changing things up, that you're not doing the same thing all the time with your horse or, or even in your, your non horse life. If you know other parts of your life, I should say that you're, you're mixing things up a little bit so your brain is paying more attention because it's not just the same old,

same old. It's like you get out of that rut and now your nervous system is a little more responsive, if you will, because it has to pay more attention because, oh, now you're doing this differently, or you're going down this trail, or you're attacking your horse up from the other side, or walking your horse from the off side or whatever it is,

you're doing something different. So that's really important because that's what we wanna do. We wanna get the attention of the nervous system in a safe way, not in a threatening way, not in alarming way, but in a safe way so that you can then say, your brain can be like, oh, okay, now I, you know, you automatically start to develop more feel because your,

your nervous system is more responsive when it's, you know, it engaged with novelty. Okay? So I hope that gives you some ideas. And again, I wanna emphasize quality over quantity. Okay? This is how you'll improve your own movement. You'll be more flexible, more balanced movement will just feel more pleasurable and easy, have that lovely sense of elegance.

And the same is true for your horses movement. And you have more vitality, more power, you know, just all the good stuff and much less wear and tear, which is important for all of us at any age. Okay? So I'm just gonna look at my notes real quick. To me, I have four pages of notes for you. I wanna make sure I don't forget anything,

but no, I wrote here a number of times about the non-negotiables and about how you initiate the movement. That's your starting place, okay? That means that that is the place where movement can be improved, okay? So you have to go slow and small at first to be able to improve your movement. Your brain, your nervous system needs time to feel differences.

And by the way, when you feel differences, like, oh, one, one arm is easier, one leg does this and this one does that celebrate that, celebrate that you're noticing things because it's by noticing differences, noticing things that you'll improve. There are a lot of people that just have no awareness that they, oh, it feels fine, it feels fine.

I don't feel a difference, I don't feel a difference. Those people have a much harder time to improve, you know, improving than people who do feel the differences. Okay? Because your brain needs to feel the differences so it can know which one to choose, right? You have to remember this, your, your nervous system wants to keep you healthy and whole and wants things to feel safe and good.

So you have to give it that opportunity. And same is true with your horse's nervous system. So you have to give your horse the opportunity to choose. Well, okay? So I hope that makes sense. So, so by slowing down, going smaller, slower, you're giving your nervous system and your horse's nervous system. Time to choose a better option.

We wanna have more options. Another one of my famous sayings is movement benefits from choice. It's when we're stuck in these habits that we have, and we all have them to some degree. I used to have a million of them of maladaptive habits that caused me a lot of pain, a lot of trouble. And once I, you know, came across the Feldenkrais method and started doing it,

oh my goodness, my whole life transformed in so many ways. So many ways. So that's what I want for you, and I want that for your horse as well. So the work I do with the horses, I call the Bon Moves. It's strongly inspired by the Feldenkrais method and we also have some other things in there as well. And,

but it's, it's based on this idea that movement should feel good, it should feel pleasurable, it should feel, there should be a sense of ease. It's just a wonderful gift we have to be able to move to and to any degree. And we want to really, you know, hone our ability to keep improving our movement. Okay? So let me know what you'd like to talk about,

okay? Feel free to email me Mary at mary Debono dot com. I would so, so love to hear from you. And by the way, I really appreciate if you subscribe to this. So wherever you're listening or watching, please subscribe. And if you enjoy the content, please leave a nice review that helps it get in front of more people.

We help more people and their horses and all kinds of good stuff. And you might get a shout out on the podcast. So thank you again so much for being here. And oh, the other thing I wanna say, if you haven't heard, I will be opening the doors to my Move with Your Horse program. So that's, so it's coming soon,

coming in early April of 2024. Be here before you know it. And what we're doing is, it's gonna be awesome. I'm actually revamping the program. We have just tons of great content. There'll also be lots and lots of live classes. So you get one, you know, you get coaching directly from me and it will help you with your own movement and wellbeing and your horses and how you can work together.

You'll learn all kinds of fun stuff. And we have a great community. We have awesome people already in the group. So I do hope to see you there. And if you wanna get on the wait list, 'cause there'll be special things for the people on the wait list, go to mary Debono dot com slash join horse. And that's one word all lowercase.

So mary Debono dot com slash join horse. And it'll be in the notes, so the description of the show notes where wherever you're listening or watching this, there'll be a link there. Okay? So thank you again and I can't wait to talk to you soon. Bye for now.