EMHH Episode 27: What Do You Feel When You Touch Your Horse?

Aug 17, 2022

What do you feel when you touch your horse?

Maybe you notice that your horse is itchy. Or that a certain spot is tight or sore.

These observations, while important, only tell a very small part of your horse’s story.

Would you like to learn a lot more about your horse? Like why she moves and behaves the way she does?

I’ll give you a simple, powerful exercise you can do to improve this ability to feel your horse on a deeper level.

When you educate your touch, your hands will naturally pick up more information about your horse. You may even start to sense WHY your horse is stiff, resistant, or sore

And very importantly, your improved attention to detail will deepen your connection with your horse.

Want to get expert coaching on putting this into practice to help your horse - and yourself - have more flexible, balanced, and confident movement?

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 some valuable bonuses!

FREE resources:

Easily improve your movement and position in our FREE rider masterclass.

Feldenkrais® for Riders videos: https://www.marydebono.com/rider

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Hello, and welcome to Easier Movement, Happier Horses. I'm Mary Debono. And I'm so glad you're here because today we're going to talk about how you can touch your horse in a new way, right? A different way than what you usually do and how that ability to make contact with your horse can improve your horse, body awareness, movement, and overall wellbeing, as well as improve your connection with your horse, which is pretty cool, too. 

So let me start by asking you this. What do you notice? What do you feel when you touch your horse? Maybe you just stroke your horse, neck, or shoulder. What do you feel? Maybe you feel like the softness of their hair. Maybe you notice that there's a slight swelling like maybe there was a bug bite and you notice that maybe your horse tells you that there's an itchy spot. Right?

And you notice that, or maybe you notice some tension in her muscles or uneven development of the muscles. Okay. Those are all important things to notice, right? Maybe you notice that your horse is sore or is anticipating soreness in certain areas. Okay. So those are all really helpful things to notice. Okay.

But they only tell you a small part of your horse's story. Hey, there's a lot more information you can get by really paying attention to how you make contact with your horse, how you touch it, and how you sense your horse. So let me give you an example. There was a horse I worked with several years ago and there was a beautiful Chestnut gelding.

And he had just been purchased for a very large sum of money for a particular dressage trainer to train and compete for this horse. Okay. So he was bought by a sponsor. He was already showing Grand Prix. So he was, you know, quite upper-level. He was international, the whole deal, a really nice horse. Like I said, the really big price tag to match.

He had passed the pre-purchase exam. Right. And the transaction was complete. Okay. So the dressage trainer knew my work because I had worked with quite a number of horses at her barn. And so she asked me if I would come and give this new horse a session. So, you know, I'd said, yes, I came. And there were a few things that I noticed when I started working with the horse.

But the one that concerned me the most was actually the one that was most subtle. And that was when I was fairly, very gently and delicately exploring how his rib cage moved. K. And this is important. A lot of people don't know how to do this. I noticed that there seemed to be a restriction in his right upper ribs.

In other words, the ribs on The side, near the right shoulder. And I could see that that restriction was actually causing movement to be restricted in his neck. Okay. So there was, again, it was subtle. It didn't show up in a pre-purchase, it didn't show up when he was working, you know, he had beautiful movement, all of that.

But by doing this, by feeling to that degree to really get in there, and again, these movements are super, super delicate, and that's how you can feel more when you use less pressure. They're very light. I noticed that wasn't on the left side. It was only on the right side. So, you know, I talked to the trainer of course about this.

And so she consulted with the owner because I've worked with a number, quite a number of horses over the past 30-plus years that had a similar thing. Sometimes it's the left side, sometimes it's right. Sometimes it's both, sometimes it's, you know, all different restrictions can show up and I invariably help these horses have freer movement there and the restriction can go away.

The movement is no longer impeded in the ribs or the knack or anything. And the horse, you know, goes on to have, you know, beautiful, healthy movement. And I wanted to say something else. This is not at all like chiropractic or massage. Okay. They can be very useful modalities, but they focus on structure. Right. We're focusing here on function.

Okay. So I'm helping the horse, always helping the horses feel how they can function, how they could move more freely, how they can coordinate their parts more, more freely. Okay. That's important. And this work, you know, I call it DeBono moves. It's based on the work of Dr. Moshe Feldon Christ who created the Feldon Christ method for human scale and DeBono moves and the Feldon Christ method fall under the umbrella of somatic education.

Okay. And that just means like learning through the body, because what we're doing is we're retraining the brain, the nervous system. Because if you think about it, coordination or control, you know, movement happens at the level of the nervous system, not the muscles. It's like the head honcho. If you will, calling all the shots is the nervous system.

So that's the level that we work on. Okay. We work with communicating and connecting with the nervous system. So, this is how we can help the horses, let go of old restrictive movement habits and learn to create new, healthier options. Right. They can create new neural connections around, for example, moving the rib cage more freely, which will impact the back neck, and shoulders.

I mean virtually every part of the horse, pelvis hind in the whole, the whole thing. So let's get back to that expensive dressage. I'd love to tell you event. I was able to work with the horse and he got over that and everyone lived happily ever after, but unfortunately, that's not what happened.

What happened was the trainer consulted the owner and he just could not wrap his head around the fact that anything could possibly be wrong with this horse. His horse was very expensive and had passed a very rigorous pre-purchase exam. So he's like, no, like that can't be there can't be anything wrong. So, okay. So I didn't get to work with him, but I was still working with quite a number of horses at her barn.

So I got to see this horse and the trainer now in a very short period of time, the trainer slash rider who was fairly soft and elegant, she started having problems with his horse and he didn't like the contact on the right rain. She started noticing that he started resisting. Okay.

Anytime she picked up the right rain, you know, started asking for more contact on the right rain, he would get resistant and it started getting worse. So he'd get more and more resistant about this only the right rain. Okay. So eventually both the owner and the trainer admitted that there was a problem. So they had that's flown in, you know, to diagnose the horse and do all this stuff, came up with a treatment plan.

And the horse got a series of steroid injections in his neck. And that seemed to help for a short while. And then things went further south and he started resisting more and more strongly. And you know, you can see, I had seen this before the steroid injections started, the horse had pain.

You can see that resistance was born out of pain. Okay. So his resistance got worse. And then he started rearing straight up in the air. The second she would pick up the right rain. So they finally decided that the horse needed to be retired. Now the good news, which is very good news is that the horse had a soft place to land.

Many horses are not that lucky. Right? They get sent down the road. Different things can happen to them. Their future is, can be quite bleak, but that's not what happened here. They didn't try to pass them off to someone else or do anything like that. They were able to retire him to a comfortable life. So that was, that was the good news.

But now you might wonder what did I notice that others very experienced professionals did not feel. And they had all kinds of therapists that worked with the horse. Okay. What did I notice from that very first day that they didn't feel and why did I notice it? Okay, well, I'll tell you why. So when I touch a horse or when my students, and this is a shout out, by the way, to my move with your horse students.

That's my online group coaching program. When we touch horses, we're sensing a lot more than just the superficial stuff. And we're touching horses, not with the intent to manipulate them, not at all, not to manipulate muscles or joints or anything like that. We're touching them to really sense all the layers from this hair all the way down to the skeleton, and then to feel how the different body parts work together, how they coordinate with each other because that is the foundation for a healthy movement.

It's this coordination of the parts. And you, you can sense that by paying such close attention to different, very gentle movements that you do through these layers. Okay. So, you know, again, it's the coordination that controls how a horse moves and how a horse feels, you know, a horse can feel stiff or supple.

They can feel fatigued or powerful, right? They can feel resistant or enthusiastic about working with you. Okay. About being written about doing different movements with you. So this is key. So to improve the horses, comfort, to improve their performance, and very importantly, improve their well-being, it's important to be able to recognize when the movement is not as coordinated as it can be.

And then having the tools to be able to help them regain their body awareness and learn how to coordinate those parts. Okay. So the way we do it is we use very gentle, pleasurable hands-on moves. I call them moves. Okay. And it's a way to help the horse experience this like being passively moved in ways that are non-habitual, which gets the attention of the nervous system.

And that helps release these old restrictive habits that they may have and learn how to create new ones, new ones that are healthier and feel better. Okay. So again, this is all about retraining, the nervous system. Okay. So the way we do it is again, by teaching, I teach people how to sense the different layers so that when they put their hands on a horse, they're not just feeling hair or skin or that first little layer of muscle.

But they're learning how to kind of softly deepen their touch and, and then lighten it again and feel again, how different parts of the horse, for example, the rib cage and shoulder, the pelvis and rib cage, you know, the sternum and the back, how all these different parts work together, how they can be better coordinated.

Okay. So in addition to our, to help improve your horse's movement, what's so great about this is when you learn how to sense your horse at this deep level, with this high quality of attention, your connection with your horse really, really deepens because it relies on you having a very clear sense of yourself first and sensing whether your feeling strain or ease in your movements as you work with your horse.

Okay? So it all, it's like this two-way thing, you sense how your breathing, you sense how your horse is breathing. You learn how to recognize all these at first seemingly very subtle signs, but you find out how, how obvious they can be and how powerful they can be. And you work within this framework of helping your horse associate movement with pleasure and ease and doing the same for yourself, which by the way, will improve your movement and your riding, as well.

Okay. So again, when, when I or my students touch horses, we're touching a lot more than the superficial layer. We're not just thinking about muscles and fascia, other soft tissues. We're sensing more of the coordination and how the horse feels and even feels emotional. It's amazing what kind of information you can get when you learn how to do this.

So let me give you something practical to take as a takeaway from this episode, there's a little exercise I call sensing in layers. Okay. And what it involves is that you learn how to touch your horse, like at these different layers. So let me tell you what the layers are. The first layer is air, which means you're not even touching your horse.

Your hands are kind of hovering above your horse, just slightly away from your horse, maybe an inch or less away, and believe it or not, some horses will react to that because they might be anticipating that it's going to be uncomfortable or something else. So it's actually a strategies strategy we use a lot if a horse is not too keen on being touched in a certain area, you can actually do the moves in the air, above the horse.

We call it working off the body or whatnot, but it's a way for you to just basically move the air over the horse. Okay. And the horse gradually realizes, oh, nothing hurts. And you can get closer and closer. So a lot of it is about changing the horses, reflexive reactions to you. Okay. Being in a certain area. So that's one thing we do.

So there was, so there's air, the next layer is hair. Okay. Just touching the horse's hair, then there's skin. Of course. And then there's muscle. And then there's bone. Now we don't get into all the... when I'm doing this particular exercise.

We don't get into whether you're touching fascia or fat or any of those other things. We just keep it really simple. Okay. We're just going to keep it simple, super, super easy for you to do. So I would pick an area that hopefully, your horse is comfortable with, like maybe on the shoulder blade. Okay. On your horse's shoulder.

And just stand there quietly. You can use one or two hands, maybe start with one and just have your hand again, maybe half an inch or an inch away from the horse. And just think of moving your hand up an inch or two, like as if you were just going to push the air up a little bit. Just think of it that way.

You're pushing the air a little bit. Okay. So that's your first layer? That's air then. Can you actually feel your horse's hair, but not move the skin? Just it's super light. It's super, super light. So you're just like moving the hair and again, just think of moving the hair upwards and injure to, okay. Just a little bit.

Now don't tickle your horse when you do this. Okay. But do it in such a way that you're just feeling the hair move a little bit. You're feeling the sensation of the hair on your fingers. And then from there, you can go to the skin. Right? So in the skin of course is a little bit lower down, right? A little deeper.

So can you just move the skin? You could try this by the way, if you're, if you're listening to this podcast and you're just sitting in a chair at home or standing or whatever, not driving, you could do this with yourself on your arm. And if you have a long sleeve on or something, either do it where on your hand or do it over the clothes, because it's actually nice to think of.

You can think of the shirt sleeve as the hair. Okay. So you can touch the air and then if you have a shirtsleeve on that's your hair, then you go a teeny bit deeper. And can you move just the skin of your forearm, for example, or your horse's shoulder, then can you go a little bit deeper still and just move the nice and just of course you're moving everything else in addition to the muscle.

So we're going to go deeper and then can you go somewhere? So again, you're going to be on a part of the horse's anatomy where you can clearly feel a bone. Okay. So it's not like super deep muscles. You don't want to do this over like certain parts of the horse have very thick muscling, and it's not going to be at all easy to feel skeleton under there.

Right? But you're going to go somewhere where there's a layer of muscle, but then you can also feel the bone. If you go a little bit deeper and then touch the bone. So again, play with this on your own forearm. Okay. And you can feel the bone. So then you start moving out a layer.

So now you're touched your, your say your forearm, the bone in your forearm, one of the bones. Now, can you just move the muscle, then the skin, then the hair, then the air? So you're going in and out of these layers. And this is what educates your touch. This is what teaches you, how to be really, really sensitive with your horse and really will educate your ability to attend to these different layers and to be able to gently move them.

And then of course we build on this. So this is just a very basic exercise, but it's really powerful. And my students have gotten a lot of value out of this because they say, wow, it just makes me realize one just the other day told me, it just makes me realize how different this work is.

You know, they, we usually think of just putting our hands on to either, you know, stroke or horse scratch or whores, maybe massage the whores or move like parts around, but not, you know, even when you're riding, right? People use their legs, they use their different body parts, right? To move the horse.

But when you attend to this level of detail, it also informs how, how much feel you have when you're riding. Cause you really learned fuel with this. And so this exercise not only helps you develop this, feel, this ability to really sense your horse, but it also improves your horse's body awareness. If you do it in various parts because you're helping wake up the different parts. Okay. Cause that's what we do with our nonhabitual moves, right?

We're retraining the nervous system. We're waking up parts and we're helping the horse learn to let go of parts that have been overworked. Okay. So again, this attention to detail to how you feel and how your horse feels is what creates that quality of the connection between you okay between you and your horse. So super important. So I hope you go and try this and then come over to my free Facebook group.

It's called a happy, healthy horse. Women. Love to talk about all this kind of stuff you can come in there and tell me, you know, tell us, you know, that you try this and what you felt and how's, you know, how it was for you to go through the layers, maybe start on yourself first and then go to your horse and really play with this.

And get a sense that you can very, very quickly really start to develop your feel and improve your feel as a horse person and learn new ways of helping your horse improve his or her coordination, his freedom of movement, his quality of life, and very importantly, your quality of connection with your horse. So thank you so much for joining me here.

I so, so appreciate you listening to the episode I love sharing this info with you and I can't wait to talk to you again soon. Bye for now.