EMHH 47: Why You Should Lead Your Horse From the Wrong Side

#equinemind #equinemovement #humanmind #humanmovement Jan 23, 2023

In this episode, you’ll learn how horses and humans get stuck in “habit ruts” that contribute to stiffness, soreness and general unhappiness. Mary will explain how to use small changes to your everyday routine to break out of that rut and help you and your horse become more flexible, focused and enthusiastic.  

You’ll discover how to use novelty and variation to improve balance, confidence and body awareness.

Ultimately, you’ll understand that breaking out of your routine not only improves your body, but your mind as well. After you listen to this episode, I hope your newfound awareness gives you the confidence to reach for your dreams!      

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Mentioned in this episode:

A Common Cause of Back Pain in Horses and Humans (Episode #46):  https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h46

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

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


Hello, would you like to know why a lot of the stuff you've learned about how to lead a horse mount, a horse, dismount your horse, all that stuff might be actually increasing your horse's stiffness, even the reluctance to do things with you and could lead to a lot of just discomfort for you and your horse. Well, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement,

Happier Horses podcast. So thank you for being here. And let me explain by sharing a little story with you. So sometime ago I was working with a client woman. She had a number of horses, she had couple of horses at home, at her facility at home, and she also was at a boarding stable. And she was loving the work.

She was feeling so much more balanced in her own body and mind, you know, from from the, the work I was doing with her. And her horses were responding so incredibly well also. So she was super excited. So I was discussing ways for her to help keep the changes going, to keep these improvements, and to just continue to build on what we had done together.

And one of the things I recommended was that she start to get into this idea of sometimes leading her horse from the off side. So if you think about how you normally lead your horse, the way, like the traditional way, the way most people learn is that your horse is to the right of you so that you know your horse is to your right.

It's, it was always horse to the right dog to the left. So your dog is here, your horse is here, and you most people mount and dismount from the left side of their horse. So, so the horse basically has to kind of organize everything out of his or her left eye, and they're always kind of, they might even be bent around you a little bit.

So it's very much a one-sided thing and for you as well. So one of the big things I do in my work here is I help you interrupt your habits that are no longer serving you. Okay? And we talked about this last week in the podcast. I talked about the common cause of back pain in horses and rider and I, we talked about this idea of we have movement habits,

and a lot of times these movement habits are not serving us. They're actually causing us harm. And our horses have movement habits that can be harmful for them as well. And it's a major cause of back pain in humans and in horses. So just like very, like what you think is an innocuous thing, oh, I lead my horse this way.

I mount from this side, this is how I've always done it. I've been riding since I was a little kid. But if you think about that, that really gets you into a very inflexible, very habitual way of doing things. And again, this, this affects you directly, directly, it also affects your horse directly. So back to this woman,

so her name is Pam. And so as explaining this, she intellectually got it, she totally got it intellectually. And she said to me, okay, I will never do that at the boarding stable. And that's where she had her competitive horses. She said, if I bring, if I bring one of the horses home from there, I'll do it,

but I'll never do that at the boarding stable. And I said, why not? And she said, I don't want people thinking I don't know how to lead a horse. So she was so locked into this persona that she had that, you know, that instead of someone saying, oh, Pam, why are you leading from that side now? Or Why are you mounting from the offside?

Or whatever, she just, she, she didn't want to be judged as a novice. She didn't want people to think, oh look, Pam doesn't know what she's doing. So I thought that was really interesting because that brings up another habit. And that habit is our self image, our self concept, if you will, how we view ourselves, our identity,

and how fragile that can be when we have this habit that we worry about constantly being judged by people, you know, at the barn or wherever. And we're probably always judging them as well, right? Because oftentimes if you fear being judged, you're maybe judging others as well. And, and by the way, no judgment been there, done that,

got the t-shirt, so I I totally get it right. It's a lifelong journey to, to keep improving ourselves. Okay? So, but back to the physical reasons. So again, you, when you're always leading your horse from one side, now maybe you always lead from the other side. That's still a habit, right? It's a habit. So it's really good for your nervous system to feel novelty,

to feel things that are non habitual, to have these experiences because this is what gets our attention, the attention of the nervous system. If you think about it this way, most of us anyway, we wear clothes every day. So your brain very early on, right, probably when you're a baby, starts to tune out the sensation of wearing clothes because it's like,

it's a very familiar thing. Now, maybe you have a fra you put on an out outfit with a fabric that is scratchy or somehow uncomfortable that will get the attention of your nervous system. Maybe you'll be irritated by it. But normally just our everyday clothes, we're very familiar with them and our brain tunes out those sensations. By the way, there are some people that the brain does not tune out those sensations,

and they can be really irritated by minor things like tags in their clothes or things like that. But for most people, we tune that out. So it takes something. And that's a good reason, right? Cuz your brain starts to say, okay, this is a sensation I'm going to feel it's normal. I'm not gonna put any energy on it.

I'm not gonna keep alerting to it because your your nervous system, your brain wants to keep you safe, right? So this is true whether you're a human or a horse. So things that are familiar, we normalize them. We don't, we don't raise any red flags in our nervous system. But that can lead us into complacency, into this idea that these habits that we have the way we're moving is good enough,

right? We know that the brain has said, all right, that's how we do it. It's served a purpose. It's good enough, okay? The, the nervous system doesn't necessarily want to introduce change on its own because it's, that's, there's a uncertainty there. We don't know if that's going to help or hurt. So when you safely introduce a sensation of novelty,

something like you're leading now from the different side, that's gonna feel different to you, it's gonna feel different to your horse. And as long as you can do that safely, your brain is gonna say, oh, so this is a little different. Now I have to organize myself a little differently with how I hold the lead rope, right? If you want to mount and dismount,

right? That will also require you to pay more attention. So now your brain is more, is in a heightened state in a good way. It's paying more attention. You're becoming more mindful, right? There's more awareness. And so suddenly you're interrupting those habits that may not have been so good for you, right? So maybe there was certain habits of the way you walk.

Maybe you side bend a certain way as you're walking the way you hold the, the rope or whatever you're doing, right? We want to help interrupt those habits and create more choice in your life. Because what happens is these habits we have, and again, you can apply this to you and to your horse, they may start as a good solution to something,

but over time they just become a compulsion, they're an unconscious habit. And many times they're damaging and even damaging in a, even in sometimes a kind of a benign way, it's just so routine that life gets kind of dull, right? That you just feel, eh. So a lot of times horses kind of get dull, they tune out, they might not really want to participate in what you want to do.

So there's resistance there. And very often there's, there's soreness, there's wear and tear on the body. So there's all kinds of both physical and mental negatives. We'll just say so. So you know, things that we'd rather not have, okay? For both horse and human. And I, I wanna say something before you just jump on and start mounting your horse.

From the off side, from the right side, I would say please, please prepare your horse so you make sure you do it safely and, and wear the appropriate safety gear, you know, helmet, whatever else you need, the right boots, all the stuff. And it might be a really good idea to work with a really good trainer to make sure that your horse is prepared for you to mount from a different side than normal and to dismount.

Cuz it could be very different for the horse. The horse suddenly is experiencing something very unusual for the most part. Some horses, they won't even bat an eye, but men, but many horses will be a bit alarmed. So you wanna be careful. Okay? So I wanna really be clear on that, that if you do decide to do that,

that's at your own risk and you're taking all the safety precautions first to train your horse and yourself really be maybe even practice with something that's not a horse. Like just even swinging your leg that way. Think about that. Like maybe go up on a mounting block and just think of just swinging your leg over. What would that be like? You can do it over like a fence,

a solid fence or something like that as well. Cause a lot of times you have like no idea of how to do that. Worked with a lot of people with this and you know, especially if they spent a long time riding over their lifetimes, over their lifetime, I should say. It's really different to do it from the other side. It can just feel very strange.

But again, that strangeness gets the attention of the nervous system and you start to pay more attention. Now you come out of that rut, that habit rut that you are in and your, your brain starts to wake up. You can start to choose different ways of using your body. And this is a really cool thing too. What I love about it,

it's not just physical, like I mentioned earlier. You have more mental flexibility as well. More behavioral flexibility. It's like you start to just open up to this, these choices you get out of this compulsion. So, and again, this is true for the horses as well. Many people have told me over the years as I've worked with their horses,

how their horses' behavior changed for the better. And, and they just were much more enthusiastic and more wanted to participate more because things just opened up in a new way. So when we improve the movements of the body and we get out of those habit ruts, everything feels better. Moshe Feldenkrais, as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, he was the man who originated the Feldenkrais Method.

I'm a Feldenkrais practitioner. The work I do with horses and dogs, et cetera, is, is informed greatly by the Feldenkrais Method. I call it Debono Moves because I adapted it to animals. But one thing he said, cuz his work helps humans feel so much more flexible in their body. So, you know, more powerful, more flexible,

all that good stuff. But that wasn't his main intent. He has a famous quote that says, what I'm not after is flexible bodies, but flexible minds. So he wanted to restore people to their human dignity. Is is how he put it. And I feel the same way. It's very much that I want for you to feel mentally flexible as well.

That you're not stuck in the same habits of thinking. So the movement, the, the improvement in your physical flexibility drives the improvement in your mental flexibility. And again, this is, I I've seen this be true for the horses as well, at least it seems to be true. I haven't done any, any scientific studies on it, but it seems to be the case that there's huge changes,

sometimes huge changes, sometimes more subtle ones in the horse's behavior. After they've got these incredible changes in their body and their movement potential, suddenly things have just opened up for them. So again, this is getting you out of these, these unhealthy habits, let's call them inefficient habits and opening up more choice. So some other ways you can do this.

So besides, you know, things with your hor well, let's go through some few more things with your horse. So if you can do it safely, you might try leading your horse from the offside mounting dismounting. Also, when you're grooming, is there a particular habit that you do like a, like a routine? You do this first, you do this,

you always start on this side. You always groom in this location, change it up, add some novelty, add some variation to it, okay? Get the attention of your nervous system and your horse's nervous system. It's gonna improve both of you. Even like how you literally put your tack on your horse. There's often a very kind of routine way we do it habitual way we do it,

we don't think about it. So you might wanna change that up. Or you know, you're picking up your horse's hooves. Maybe you always start at the left front and kind of work your way around, change it up. You don't have to do them in order, right? So simple things like that can actually yield big results. So there's so many different things.

You know, maybe the way you, you're riding, maybe you have a particular routine, maybe you warm up, you know, riding around your, your farm, maybe do something different or start in the other direction. Or if you go out on trail, maybe you always turn right, will this time turn left? You know, take some different trails,

you know, do things differently. Okay? And then, so there's so many things you can do differently with your horse and I'm sure you can come up with many of them as long as they're safe. And then things that you can do in other parts of your life, like simply the way we sit, we have very strong habits about how we sit.

So whether you're sitting in at, you know, at a desk, at your kitchen table, in your truck, whatever, whatever, wherever you're sitting right in the saddle, right? We have strong habits. And you can start to just bring your intention to change that. Like to think about it, be more mindful. So pay attention more to how you're sitting,

how your weight, how your weight is distributed on your seat bones, for example. So there's all things like that. And then in my free rider masterclass, which I hope you've done recently, and if you haven't, please go to MaryDebono.com/rider and that will help you sit in a more balanced way among other, other benefits. So those are some things you can think about.

And then simple things like using your non-dominant hand more often because we are so habituated, you know, if you're right-handed right, you, we, we use our, our right hand so much. If you're left-handed, you use your left-hand a lot. So maybe eat with a non-dominant hand, stir your oatmeal with a non-dominant hand open the key to your front door with your non-dominant hand.

Maybe move your mouse to the other side, your computer mouse. You know, so many different things. If you, if you wear a watch an apple, watch, a Fitbit, whatever, maybe put it on the other wrist. So there's, just think about in your day, you know, brushing your teeth with a non-dominant hand, combing your hair,

all those things. And even when you're grooming a horse, you are probably very specific about when you use your dominant hand and when you don't. So you might wanna play with that as well. All of that will get the attention of the nervous system. You'll start to create new neural connections and really light up your brain in very positive ways. So again,

this affects your physical abilities as well as your mental abilities. Your thinking helps you get out of that rut of those unconscious thoughts, which many of them are negative that we often have. And helping your horse experience things safely and and non habitually will be very powerful for them. Very positive for them as well. Really help them, them be more flexible.

So the, these are some things to remember, you know, even the way you cross your legs. If you find that you cross your legs a lot, first of all, pay attention to how you do it. Try it the other way and then maybe don't cross them so much. So when you find yourself with that urge to get into a habit,

you know, and, and a lot of times you'll just do it, you won't even realize it. And, but have an intention, maybe put some post-it notes up or whatever. Have the intention to pay more attention to your habits, to what you do without thinking, okay? And then you'll start to change them. Even something like, you know,

turning on light switches. You know, use your dom a non-dominant hand or use your foot, you know, all kinds of things you can do differently, right? Maybe use your shoulder to do it. Just do things differently. Start to break out of the, of the ruts. Maybe the way you walk your dog is your dog always on one side,

you hold the leash a certain way. Maybe change that up as well. So one of the things that, getting back to Dr. Feldenkrais, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, you know, he said, as I mentioned a little bit ago, what I'm not after is flexible bodies, but flexible minds. He really, his, his, his dream was to help other people realize their dreams.

And that is what I wish for people as well. And, and what happens is, if you think about the way society kind of conditions us in all these ways, and we put expectations, maybe we pick them up from, from our family, from friends, from colleagues, we put them on ourselves, unconsciously, whatever it is, we often get stuck.

So I wanna bring this back to that woman Pam, that I started the podcast talking about. You know, she was so stuck in her way of the way she felt that people viewed her. Like she was so worried about that. And that was definitely a habit of thinking. And I really helped her see that that might be holding her back. That that might be actually interfering with her enjoyment of her horses,

just her, her general enjoyment of life. Cuz it didn't only happen at the barn, right? She felt that way in other areas of her life. So helping her to, to, you know, encouraging her to do these non habitual things and to say, well, what is the worst that would happen if someone sees me and they see I'm walking my horse from the wrong side?

Because really doing it from the quote unquote correct side, the way you maybe were taught to do it is the thing that can be very damaging, right? Because if, if it becomes a compulsion, a habit that that's the only thing you can do. So doing it from the wrong side. So say someone sees her do it, oh, they think,

oh look, Pam's walking her horse from the wrong side. Doesn't she even know how to walk her horse? So what if they say that? It's like, so what? Wayne Dyer, who, who is a, a very prolific author, kind of one of those, you know, really like a a an influencer, I guess you'd call him maybe,

but had really some really great ideas. He was a spiritual teacher. He used to say what other people think of me as none of my business. So it's like the worst that would happen is that somebody, or maybe a few people thought Pam didn't know the correct way to lead her horse. So would that, would that really change anything in her life?

Probably not. But what would change in her life was a feeling of freedom that she didn't have to be stuck in the, in the, that threat, if you will, of the judgment of others. Okay? So again, that's a habit, that's a habit rut that she was in. And I am happy to say she got out of that and she was able to lead her horse mount,

her horse dismount her horse from the quote unquote wrong side. And it was really fun to see her blossom because she ended up really expanding her life in really fun ways. And she had a very big dream and she did it. And I was so happy for her because it was a real stretch. And I don't know how much this played into it,

but it was shortly after our sessions and her really making those breakthroughs that she went ahead and, and, and, and took the, the risk, if you will, of embarking on this dream of hers. So I felt really good about that and very excited. And her horses improved and she improved. And it was, it was all really, really positive.

So something so small as walking your horse from the offside can be huge if you let it be huge. If you use that as the first stepping stone to greater awareness, more mindfulness, right? Even a deeper connection with you and your horse. You'll pay more attention to how your horse is responding to you walking on that side or mounting or dismounting from that side.

And you'll start to bring this into other parts of your life with horses and even outside of your horse life. So anyway, I just want to leave you with that. I do want you to realize your dreams, okay? This is a big mission of mine. It's something I've thought about. I remember from a pretty young age, I thought that so many people get stuck not Realizing their dreams.

So it's always been part of my mission to help you physically as well as mentally so you can live the life you dream of. So thank you so much for joining me here. I love sharing this info with you and I can't wait to see you again. Bye for now.