How Your Hands Can Improve Your Horse's Mood

Episode #14 of

Easier Movement, Happier Horses


Does your horse interact with you because he HAS to? Wouldn't it be better if your horse CHOOSES to spend time with you?

There's a surprisingly simple hands-on movement that can help your horse feel calmer, more focused and WANT to interact with you.

In this episode, I'll tell you why this simple, gentle way of using your hands works so well to improve your horse's mood - and your own. In addition to the positive mood lift, it promotes a stronger, more heart-centered connection between you and your horse.      

Your horse will feel better. And so will you! 


💥Want to help your horse - and yourself - have more flexible, balanced and confident movement?

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Behavioral Neuroscience, August 20, 2020, “C-low threshold mechanoafferent targeted dynamic touch modulates stress resilience in rats exposed to chronic mild stress” by Dr. Susannah Walker, et al.

Scientific American Mind, July/August 2015, “The Social Power of Touch,” by Lydia Denworth

The Scientist, September 1, 2012, “Pleasant to the Touch,” by Sabrina Richards

Neuron, Vol. 82, May 21, 2014, “Discriminative and Affective Touch: Sensing and Feeling,” by Francis McGlone, Johan Wessberg and Hakan Olausson


Questions? Email [email protected]

More FREE resources:

xo, Mary

Important safety reminder: Riding and handling horses are potentially dangerous activities. If you feel anxiety or fear, it may be warranted! Please don't do anything that can put you in danger. Educate yourself and seek the guidance of a qualified, positive trainer or medical professional as necessary. The information in this podcast is for general education/entertainment purposes only and is never intended as professional or medical advice.      



Welcome to Easier Movement, Happier Horses. I'm Mary Debono, your movement and mindset coach. If you'd like to have flexible, balanced movement or relaxed, confident mindset, and a joyful connection with your horse, you're in the right place. I can't wait to share what I've learned over the past 30 years of helping improve the performance and partnership of horses and their humans.

Thank you so much for being here now. Let's dive in.

Hello and welcome to Easier Movement, Happier Horses. Today, we're going to talk about how you can use your hands to improve your horse's mood and deepen your connection. And what I love about this is that there's some real science behind this. Okay. So I think it's pretty exciting.

So just say, you're walking, you're walking with your horse and suddenly your horse throws her head up. She's a little bit nervous, right? What do you instinctively do for many of us, what we'll do is we'll gently reach up and we'll softly stroke, our horses shoulder, or the neck, something like that. And oftentimes this really helps, right? Maybe your horse takes a breath,

lowers her head, you take a breath, right? And it, it helps both of you feel better or maybe you've had a stressful day. What do you do? You know, just going out and being with your horse, you know, stroking your horse, gently grooming your horse can help you feel more relaxed, more at ease, more peaceful,

basically, right? We, we instinctively pet, you know, stroke, our dogs, softly or cats, right? If your friend is having a rough day, what do you do? You know, you might very gently like, you know, rub their back a little bit, you know, it's going to be okay. That type of thing,

a mother with a child, usually it's the soft caressing strokes. And there's a real reason for that. Okay. There is these particular sets of nerve fibers. They call them they're, they're a type of mechanical receptor to be technical about it. And they're found on what they call the hairy parts of the skin. And that includes us too, even though you may not have a lot of hair on your arms,

but that's considered a hairy part of you. Maybe you don't have any hair on your back, but that's considered that is possible to have hair there. So we have them and other mammals have them as well. So including your horse and what they're called is that they're called C low threshold mechano receptors. You don't have to remember the name. Don't worry about it.

We call them CLTMs for short. What's so great about them is that they're really interesting set of nerve fibers. So again, they're found throughout the body on these non hairy parts of the skin, excuse me, on the hairy parts of the skin, excuse me, potentially Harry let's put it that way. So they're, they're found all over basically.

And they're only activated by slow gentle movements done at skin temperature, right? So a caress, right in affectionate kind of soothing way of touching someone that will activate these receptors. Now you might be saying, well, Mary, who cares about these receptors? Why are they so important? Well, I'll tell you why, because they actually talk with the brain through the emotional part of the brain.

Now that's not usually where we process tactile information. So when you get touched, right, that often goes through a different pathway, a different part of the brain gets that, right? The part that again, normally produces processes, tactile stimulation, but this goes to a more emotional part of the brain that what, what seems to happen. And they've done lots of research on this.

Okay. Is that what seems to happen is that it improves, so the individual being touched in this case, the horse, it improves their emotional state, right? It helps them feel calmer, more at peace, right. Which is really, really cool. Okay. And again, it's something we do instinctively and there's a good reason that we do that,

right. It feels very pleasant. And the other thing that I love about this is that it seems at least in my experience, and I've been doing this professionally for more than 30 years and really paying attention to the responses of my animal clients, is that both the human and the animal feel better afterwards. Okay. And that it, it feels very pleasant and again,

puts them into a more positive state. Okay. The other really important thing. And again, this has been proven scientifically with different species of animals is that they are stimulating these particular receptors. So again, the slow gentle moves with your hand, encourage the individual being touched to be more interactive with you. Okay. So again, that's a deeper connection with your horse.

Your horse wants to be with you. I often wonder if this is why my horse Breeze who I've now he's been my partner for many years, but when I first adopted him, he was not really cool around people. I mean, he liked people in many ways, but he had a lot of anxiety, a lot of anxiety, and he had a very abusive background,

very nasty things happen to him previous to me getting him. And he would do all this anxiety stuff with his mouth. I would say about 95% of the time he was around people. He was doing that. And you know, one of the things I do, I do all the time, right. Is I know how to touch in a way that's soothing is slow,

it's gentle and can improve the horse's emotional state. And so breeze went from being a horse that virtually everybody called stubborn, stubborn belligerent, you know, and all these other negative terms to people saying to me, how is your horse? So enthusiastic? I can tell yours, always wants to be with you always wants to do things together with you. And he really did like a complete 180.

And I think at least part of the reason, although I think there's other reasons too, including I do positive reinforcement training and other things. But I think a big part of it was he learned to really bond in a very safe way, like in a way that felt very safe to him. And a lot of it had to do with this slow gentle touch.

Now I might add that when I first met Breeze, he did not want to be groomed at all. Like the softest gentlest brush he would dance away from because he had always equated anytime a human touched him, you know, most of the time anyway, it wasn't going to feel good. Okay. So I had to help him relearn that, and this is one way to do it.

So I'm really excited. I'm going to do a little series, like probably three episodes where we're going to really dive into how to use your hands in very particular ways that will help again, improve your horses mood. That means if they're anxious, if they're distracted, it will help them be in a better place where they can be more responsive with you more,

you know, more focused, more peaceful, if you will, and also to be, have a deeper connection with you. And, and, and there's more, these moves that I've been doing for the past 30 plus years also because they're done very, very particular help relieve the horses, neuromuscular tension, help them have even more flexible joins and do all these other wonderful things,

improve body awareness and coordination of movement. And again, they're done in a very particular way. So you get this full buffet if you will, of benefits. Okay. But you know, if you think of starting with where you're, you're able to use gentle slow movements done at room temperature, of course, which means you don't use a, an ice cube to do them and you use something hot,

use your hands, okay. That's room temperature. That's, what's going to stimulate these CLTMs. And that will help then set the stage for even greater benefits. But you start out with the horse then can, can be in a state where they can be responsive to you. They can be more focused with you and they want to interact with you. You have that deeper bond.

Okay. So just to, just to wrap up is just a short episode, but just to wrap up, right, we know that gentle light movements will help your horse enter into more positive state, K, where they feel better, you feel better and you both have this deeper connection. And this happens by the way, even with horses that I have just met,

for example, I can often get a feeling of deep rapport with them through this. And so I like to think about the science behind it. It's, it's really kind of exciting. Oh, and, and very importantly, there's been a number of studies done about these particular receptors in mammals and one study that involves rats. And, and by the way,

I don't advocate animal studies, but this one was done and it was done very well in the fact that they had a lot of control groups and they really monitored how things were done. In other words, they use faster touch. They use slower touch, they use touch. That was the optimal speed to stimulate these particular receptors. And they found that the rats were much more resilient to stress than the other groups of rats.

So this is really important because for us and for our horses, right? What, what, what does health mean? Moshe Feldenkrais used to always say that his definition of health basically was the ability to, to recover from either an accident, injury, illness, whatever. So the ability to recover emotionally, physically, and I often think about that.

So you want resilience, you want to be more resilient, right? We're all gonna have stress. This is part of life, right? We're all going to have stuff happen. Same thing with our horses. We want to be resilient. So this type of touch, and again, what I've seen over the years is when I teach this to my students,

the human benefits, as well as the horse. And I know for myself, when I do this work with others, when I'm the one doing the hand movements, you know, I'm working with the horse with the dog or the human, whatever. I feel better too. Okay. I get the benefits. So I, this is all, you know,

my work is all about this win-win approach, where you feel better and your horse feels better or, or other animal. So the other thing I want to say before we, we do a little summary is that you can't force horse to accept this. So just say you have a horse that does not like being touched, like the way Breeze didn't like to be touched in the beginning.

Right. He didn't like to be groomed or anything like that. If you force it, it will not have the positive benefits. Okay. Will not. You will not get the benefits of it. If you think about this, it's like, just say, you're, you're on a public bus. Okay. And some stranger comes over and stroke your arm.

You probably won't like that. You probably won't feel better because of it. Even if the, if the stroking was very nice and soft and gentle and slow, right. But that's not going to put you into a positive, emotional state. You're probably not going to feel deeply connected with that stranger. Right. You might scream and call 9 1 1. So we want to remember that this is not something that can be forced.

It does not have the same. You won't get the flood of positive hormones, right. Of those hormones that help you feel good, or the animal feel good if it's forced. Okay. Very, very important. So you really have to take your time and we can talk about that in a different time about how you work with animals that are resistant in the beginning to being touched at all.

Okay. Because many are, but you really have to take your time and respect your, your horses responses. Very, very important. So remember too, that when you use slow gentle movements, both you and your horse will be able to feel more. Okay. So this will improve your feel, allow you to, again, be more in tune with your horse.

And you know, the more you feel, the more you can improve your body awareness and functioning. So like I said, we're going to go into a deeper dive with this in the next couple of episodes. So I'm super excited to give you some real actionable hands-on moves that you can do with your horse. But in the meantime, think about this,

like, think about, you know, when you do touch your horse in this gentle soft way, think about these, these mechanoreceptors, if you want these bundle of nerve fibers. And if you want to imagine how that information from your hand to your horses brain is being transmitted and how was it affecting your horse? Both physically and emotionally. Okay.

Just, I like to just have like the image of the little neural highways and all that. You're creating new neural connections. You're deepening, you know, your relationship, your bond with your horse. So super fun. And I like a quote that's Moshe used to say when people would ask him, I'm when I say Moshe, for those of you who don't know Dr.

Moshe Feldenkrais was the originator of the Feldenkrais Method of which I'm a practitioner. And he would instruct his students, you know, when they would ask about, you know, how should I touch this? You know, how should I use my hands? He'd say, "Touch as a mother touches her child." So think about that. Maybe hold that image in your head.

You know, you can use that same idea with your horse. Okay. So the next time, if you are tempted to give your horse, one of those like hard pats that you see, people do know that that's probably not as pleasurable and beneficial to your horse as a slow, soft, you know, more of a caress, some more of a stroking would be okay.

So thank you so much for being here. I love sharing this work with you again, the next couple of episodes, we'll take a deeper dive into very particular hands-on things you can do very easily, that will help improve your horses, body awareness and coordination, help put them into this nice, like relaxed readiness state, deep in your bond with them even improve joint flexibility.

I mean, all kinds of good stuff. So can't wait to talk to you again. Thank you so much. Bye for now. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Easier Movement. Happier Horses. Remember to grab your free video masterclass for a riders at You get three easy effective exercises to improve your back, hips, position and posture. People love these videos. It's important for riders and non-riders alike.

I'm Mary Debono. Go have fun with your horses. Bye for now.