EMHH Ep 54 Unlocking Your Potential: The 4 Pillars of Healthy Movement

#equinemind #equinemovement #horsehumanconnection #humanmind #humanmovement feldenkrais method Apr 24, 2023


Many of us move in ways that lead to injury, strain and pain.  That's a recipe for resistance and frustration - for both you and your horse! 

In this episode, you'll discover how to use the 4 pillars of healthy movement to improve your athletic ability and be a better partner for your horse.   

1. The Four Hallmarks of Healthy and Efficient Movement (00:00 - 05:59)
2. What Your Posture Can Indicate (05:59 - 11:48)
3. Moving with Ease and Pleasure: Why Your Horse's Posture Matters (11:48 - 17:32)
4. Harnessing the Power of Connected Breathing to Influence a Horse's Physical and Emotional State (17:32 - 22:54)
5. Four Hallmarks of Healthy Equine Movement (22:54 - 28:10)

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


Hello, would you like to know what the four hallmarks of healthy movement are? And these apply not only just to you, but to your horse as well. So today I'd like to share these with you and help you discover how to help you and your horse move through life with more ease. My name is Mary Debono and this is a Easier Movement,

Happier Horses podcast, and I'm so glad you're here. So what I'm about to share with you is work that's, that I developed that's inspired by the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, who was the originator of the Feldenkrais Method, may have heard about it. It's very popular for equestrians. It can help you ride with greater ease. And I've also adapted it to do to actually help your horses as well.

So let's get started. I want the four hallmarks of healthy efficient movement are, now, these are not in any particular order, they're all important, but the first one is that movement feels effortless. Okay? So there's this sense of effortlessness. Now it doesn't mean that you're not expending energy. You might be really expending a lot of energy. Maybe you're running a marathon or whatever,

you know, lifting weights or riding your horse, whatever you're doing, you might be expending quite a bit of energy, but there's a sense of effortlessness to it. Okay? So that's number one. Number two, and we're gonna go into all of these and what they can signify and how you can refine them. But number two is you are breathing.

Now what's funny about this, not funny, but a lot of us, when we're learning something new or you know, you're just like trying too hard. What do you do? You hold your breath. Well, that doesn't help anything does it? That actually really can take away from healthy movement, okay? And cause a lot of stress and strain on your body and,

and your mind. So you might find that like maybe you're, you're working with your trainer in a lesson and suddenly she says, wait a minute, are you even breathing? And you realize, oh no, I haven't been cuz I'm so like focused on like, perfecting this movement or whatever you're doing with your horse, you forget to breathe, okay?

That doesn't help you, it doesn't help your horse. The third one is your movement is reversible, okay? It's reversible. That means that you're not just using momentum, okay? You, you can start or stop the movement at any point of the movement. Okay? So that's really important too. And the fourth one is your posture like naturally allows for efficient movement through your skeleton.

Okay? So that means that your head isn't way forward. You know, like you're not walking around like that or, you know, it's, it's not really alignment so much, but that idea that when force travels through your skeleton, like every time you take a step or whether you're riding or whatever you're doing, it's you're doing in a way that's harmonious.

That your, your posture is lending a sense of elegance and ease to the movement. Okay? So it's the feeling of lessness your breathing, okay? The movement is reversible and your posture naturally allows for a sense of ease and elegance. Okay? That and healthy movement. So let's go, go through these a little bit more. These not only affect,

so these not only actually give you indications of your physical inefficiency or efficiency of movement, okay? They also can be like a window into your emotional state. So these are, these are both body and mind stuff. You know, we can talk about the sensation of effortlessness. That means that all your, your muscular work, et cetera, is going for the intended action.

That's why it feels, you know, that there's this sense of effortlessness, okay? Feels easy. So that's a good thing. You know, it tells you that you're using yourself in this efficient way. But now let's think about this from a, from a emotional or mental point of view when something doesn't feel effortless. Okay? So there's a feeling of strain or resistance.

What does that tell you? Well, you might have mental resistance to doing whatever that activity is, okay? So you could, might maybe think like there's a part of you that wants to do it and a part of you doesn't. So you're actually like fighting yourself. So we find this certainly in your physical body, that a lot of times we're doing things we call co contracting muscles.

So one muscle's pulling you this way, another one this way. That's why things feel hard. That's why you get a lot of wear and tear damage. But if you think about it from a mental point of view, maybe you're actually not really a hundred percent committed to that activity. Maybe there's a sense of, hmm, I'm doing it because maybe you are,

you think you're supposed to, it's been a part of your identity for a while to be, you know, this way you feel some kind of pressure. You know, I see this at barns a lot of times that like if a person is at a show barn, they might feel compelled to show their horse, you know, to compete and they don't want to.

So there's that, well, I kind of do cuz everyone's doing it and I feel pressured and I have a nice horse. I should, you know, that kind of stuff. You know, the, the shoulding all over yourself. So be mindful of that. If you're feeling that an activity, a movement doesn't, you know, it doesn't feel effortless,

right? That there, there is a feeling of resistance. You might want to investigate whether you're really on board with that or not. That maybe you are, there's a part of you that really doesn't wanna do it and you might wanna examine that and decide if that's something you wanna do or you wanna change it. Okay? So on the other hand,

if things do feel, you know, effortless, then probably your why, your motivation is really clear and it's strong. Okay? So that goes, and again, that goes along with the physical aspect of it. You know, your, all your, your muscular effort is going towards the intended action. So it feels so easy and pleasurable. Okay?

And that's really important cuz we want to associate ease and pleasure with our movements. Okay? So, okay, so breathing, so not breathing right is not a good thing, right? That's definitely going to interfere with your ease of movement and create strain and struggle in yourself. And it may indicate, now these are all, these, these aren't set in stone.

This isn't, doesn't mean you're definitely this way, but if you find that you're not breathing, you know, when you're doing an activity, it's very possible that there's anxiety about that activity. And this can also, this can also apply to if you're breathing, but just in a shallow way or a quick way, you know, not in an optimal way for that activity.

It could indicate, it could indicate that there's anxiety about that activity, that you're maybe worried about something that you're, you know, again, there, there could be that mental resistance going on. So, or I see this in a lot of people, they're so focused on getting it quote unquote right, that they forget to breathe. So there's that,

you know, mental efforting all the time. That trying too hard, maybe you're a perfectionist. So this is all, you know, the, so noticing your breath can help you, you know, bring yourself back to what you're doing, okay? And why you're doing it. And to, to relay a sense of ease about it and relay that to your horse as well.

When it comes to, to working with your horse, right? You want to have that sense of easy breathing, okay? So, you know, when you are breathing in this easy way, you know, to me it often signals that there's, that you're, you're using what I call compassionate curiosity. You're not judging yourself, you're not judging your horse or others,

but you're curious about how you can do this well. And you're having fun, you're having fun, you're enjoying the process, okay? So again, these hallmarks tell us a lot about the emotional state as well as the physical state. So by improving them, you're ch you're improving both your body and your mind. Cuz you know, there is no separation,

okay? There is no separation. So you're improving yourself in all aspects. So these are really important. And then the third one we talked about was this idea of reversibility. Now, okay, you can understand that from a physical point of view, right? That when you're just like powering through and you're using momentum, that's not reversible, that's not healthy movement.

Now what about mentally? How does that apply? Well, if you think about it, when you are, when your activity, your movements, they're not reversible. There's a sense that, okay, we're going in no matter what, this is what we're doing. So there's a lack of mental flexibility, okay? It's like, for example, I see this a lot.

Like maybe someone is preparing for an event with their horse, a show or a special trail ride with a group of friends or whatever it is. And maybe their horse comes up lame and they are like bent out of shape over it. It's, there's no flexibility there. Like, they had committed themselves to doing this and they were looking forward to it,

and they, they don't, they're not comfortable with reversing that decision, okay? With changing course a little bit or a lot. So think about that, right? So, you know, changing course is often something we have to do in the real world, right? We have to adjust, we have to adapt. And it really shows a high level of respect and appreciation for your horse when you put your horses' welfare first.

And I'm guessing if you're listening to this podcast, you already do that, but maybe in other aspects of your life, you're harder on yourself and you're not allowing for this flexibility in your goals and things like that. So look at, you know, look at that, investigate that a little bit, ask yourself about that. Are you doing that? Do you have a sense that you can reverse,

you can change your mind about things. Okay? It's important. So if you, if you do find yourself like able to adapt and change and you feel like it is, you are rever doing reversible things, right? That can indicate you do have that mental flexibility at least in that area of your life. So these are, these are important things to think about and apply in many circumstances,

not just related to your horse life. Okay? Okay. So the fourth one we talked about is posture. Like this idea of having this sense of ease and elegance through, through your skeletal system. Now if you have what we would call like inefficient posture, for example, like maybe you have this habit of really arching your back a lot sometimes, and again,

this is sometimes doesn't mean it really is applying to you or not, but it can indicate that you're trying too hard. It's like you're trying to be perfect. Maybe you're thinking that's good posture, or you're not even thinking that. It's just like that's your mo through life is to, you know, kind of brace your back, right? You, you maybe end up getting a sore back or a stiff back,

right? So you're just like trying too hard. I see this a lot in like real perfectionist people that that's the posture and that's not efficient. That can create a lot of damage over time, okay? As well as it's just not a sense of ease through that. And remember, your horse picks up on all of this. So now if the opposite,

like constantly being slouching, you know, like, just like rounded posture, that can also indicate maybe a lack of ease. Maybe you are worried you're anxious about something. Maybe you're just playing tired, right? Maybe you've been pushing so much in your life trying so hard to do everything right, that now you're just simply fatigued. And so you go into that rounded posture.

So there's a lot of reasons for this, but you might wanna think about that. Like what could you do to make it a little easier on yourself so that you can walk, you can move through life with a sense of ease and elegance. So by the way, we, we go through all of this in my, my online programs about helping you move with this sense of ease and elegance.

Okay? So we do particular Feldenkrais movement lessons that you just spontaneously have, you know, an easier posture, for example, you know, more optimal breathing, sense of ease, you know, all of the things get addressed in the, in there. So let's talk now about your horse, because these also apply to equine movement. So just say,

you know, we're, let's go to the first one, a sense of effortlessness. So ask yourself, is your horse moving with a sense of effortlessness? Okay? Now again, that doesn't mean that your horse is not expending energy, of course they are, but is there a sense of ease and just, you know, no strain just, and so think about that.

If you're not getting that feel right, if you feel that no, they're kind of like, I have to really, you know, make this happen or there's just not that ease. You might wanna ask yourself, is your horse on board with this activity? You know, does your horse want to participate in this with you? And then of course you're gonna look at the physical aspects too.

And the hands on work that I also teach in my online programs helps the horse move with a sense of effortlessness, okay? And improves their, their athletic performance and all that good stuff. But, but ask yourself about that, you know, how, how excited, enthusiastic is your horse about doing this activity, whatever that activity is. And then also ask yourself about what I call the horse human system,

right? You and your horse. Is it combined? Is there a sense of effortlessness or do you feel like you have to kind of like get your horse to do things? This is really, really important and it's really near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons. Cuz I just feel like we, we want to partner with horses because we love that feeling of,

of oneness with them and that sense of ease and pleasure and just like power and all that good stuff. My horse breeze, who I adopted a number of years ago, and he was a, a rescue situation, long story, but he was always, even when the nice people had him, you know, after he got rescued, he was considered a very stubborn,

belligerent horse. That's how, that's how he was described constantly by, by many people. And he was always saying, no, no, no. And I was, you know, I partnered with him in a different way and I listened to him and we started doing things that we both enjoyed. And now it's so funny because shortly after I got him when we started this,

people would say, he's so enthusiastic, he's so enthusiastic. And he always looked so happy. And I thought that was really interesting. He's the same horse, right? But it was a, the difference was in my approach. Okay? So think about that. What is that sense of ease and effortlessness that you as a horse human system that means you,

you and your horse when you're interacting with each other, what does that feel? Okay? So it's more than just you and your horse, like when you're together, right? It's a horse human system or each squared as I call it. And you want to really develop that sense of ease and joy and, you know, pleasure in the activities. Okay?

So now let's talk about breathing. Notice how your horse is breathing, right? Is your horse breathing in a shallow quick way? And again, whether you're, you know, working your horse or grooming or whatever you're doing hanging out in the pasture, how is your horse breathing? Because that will indicate physical and emotional state of your horse. So maybe your horse is breathing in a way that indicates your horse isn't fit for the activity you're doing,

right? So there breathing really hard or maybe your horse is just really anxious. So I'm gonna tell you another story about my horse. I remember it was actually the first time I rode him, it was before I adopted him. And I was riding him actually in a round pen. And the poor guy, he was going a hundred miles an hour,

like at the trot, just totally anxious, totally freaked. And in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have even have gotten on him. I was told just get go, just write 'em. Just write 'em. Just write 'em. But you know, in retrospect, I, I wouldn't do that today. This was quite a number of years ago. But anyway,

I, I rodee him and he was very anxious. I mean, and so what I started doing was I started thinking about my breath. I do this thing with horses and dogs, et cetera. I call connected breathing. And it usually involves putting your hands on the animal. So you're on the ground, you're not doing this usually in the saddle.

And it's a whole process I go through. It's kind of like a breathing meditation that does all this wonderful stuff. But anyway, what I did with Bree, cause I was riding him and like I said, he was super anxious, a hundred miles an hour trotting around. I just started, you know, focusing on my breath. And I had this image I was holding in my mind of like my breath going through him and then his breath coming through me.

And it was like, it actually, I was, I was thinking about like a figure eight type of thing. And I started doing that very intentionally and all of a sudden he started calming down. I mean, it was really pretty remarkable. So I felt like he, he probably felt the difference in my breath and it gave him a sense of security.

Anyway, so that was, that was pretty cool. So I, I've done a lot with the breath, with myself, with the horses, et cetera. There's all different things you can do to help change how they're breathing. Like in a, not just changing their emotional state directly, but helping them actually breathe differently by working with the ribcage. I'll tell you a quick story about a horse I worked with years ago.

He's really interesting. He was a, he was a young warm blood that had been pushed too hard as a three-year-old. They had taken him to jumper ur, they had like really pushed him. Then they decided he wasn't good for jumping and they sold him as a dressage prospect. And this woman bought him for a lot of money, by the way.

And he really had a lot of issues. He had a lot of issues. He was very aggressive to people, a lot of stuff. But one of the things she told me was you could never like see his breath. Like he's obviously breathing, he's alive and he also didn't like to be touched and many other things. But I started doing, you know,

I, I touched him in a way that he did not object to, and this is part of my connected breathing process. I had my hands on his ribcage and then I realized I could do it in such a way that he was comfortable with me doing that. And little by little I started taking, and again, it's a very light pressure to start with,

but I started really, really almost imperceptibly lightening my hands. I mean, this took quite a while. I mean, I stood there quite a while doing this, but he had gotten to the point that he enjoyed the contact. So feeling that I was lightening my contact, he started expanding his breath. And, and this, I've done this many times,

by the way, with dogs as well as, so he wasn't the first animal by any means that I was doing this with. And I've done it with other horses too. But it really takes a lot of patience and a lot of sensitivity to feel how to do that. You can't like disconnect and expect the horse to ma you know, to, to expand the ribs to meet you.

But it really totally changed his emotional state. And then I was able to work with him in all these other ways and touch him in all these other places because I had helped him get into a different emotional place. So that, that, that's, that's an example of that. So you can change the physical and emotional by helping the horse change the breath.

And again, like I said, there's other ways that we do this when I'm doing the hands on work with the horse, many, many other ways of doing it. But that's just one example. So really paying attention to how is your horse breathing and what is it saying about your horse's physical state? What is it saying about your horse's mental state at that moment?

Is your horse worried about what you're doing? Is there, is there a level of anxiety? Maybe your horse is worried about going in the arena or going down on the trailer, getting in the trailer, whatever it is. So that's one thing. Then the other thing is, again, let's talk about the horse human system. How is that system breathing?

Okay? So remember that, right? You, how you breathe, how you breathe, how you move, and even how you think, how you direct your attention. Those things are all felt by your horse and they all influence your interactions with your horse. Okay? So those, this is important. Okay, so let's go on to reversibility. So similar thing to yourself.

So we talked about reversible movements. You know, if your horse is just like breeze was in that round pen running around right at a hundred miles an hour, that movement wasn't reversible. You know, it would be very difficult for me to to tune into him, to get him to, to do something different. Although once we got the breathing dialed in,

oh man, he was amazing. I would put a little bit more weight in one seatbelt and he'd spin, you know, a little more on the other and he'd spin. He's a super sensitive horse. But that idea, is there a component of reversibility both in their, in their physical ability, like they can change direction, they can change their,

you know, the speed, the tempo, like all those things. And, and then mentally are they, are they able to to change or are they like totally stuck in a rut? Like, we have to go down the trail this way, we have to do this, we have to do that. Like, they don't want to adapt in any way.

So notice that, notice that, notice these elements of reversibility both physically in the movement. Now I'm not expecting if you're, if you're flying over a four foot fence, I'm not expecting that to be reversible. But yeah, I think you get the idea, you know the difference when movement is just kind of like momentum driven and we're gonna power through it.

And when there's that real connection and communication, right, where you can just make these minute little shifts and your horse responds. Okay, I think you get that. So notice what is the ability of the horse human system, you and your horse as a team to be reversible? And again, we can think about this both in physical movement and even in your emotional state.

Okay? Okay. And the last one, posture. Does your horse naturally adopt a, like a, you know, a posture that shows efficiency and movement? So for example, if your horse is just say, trotting around or caning around right at liberty in the arena or whatever, does your horse just naturally have that nice rounded top line, right?

That, that the movement can come through the back, can round easily, the hind end can engage. Or is your horse running around with the head up in the air, the back dropped, which we know isn't good. Or maybe you're riding your horse and your horse's chin is, is totally tucked to his chest. So those aren't good, right?

They're not going to allow for healthy, efficient movement. And they're also very often, not always, but very often tied to the emotional state of the horse. So they're not, they're not indicating that your horse is relaxed and happy to be doing what whatever activity that is that you're doing with, with her. So be mindful of that. How is your horse just and stand even standing still?

What kind of posture is your horse doing? Okay? How, how are they standing? How are they walking? Like, what is happening in the body that can indicate whether they're relaxed and enjoying the activity or if there's a level of stress and strain and maybe anxiety. Okay, so, alright, so these are the four hallmarks of healthy movement. Let's go over them one more time.

You want movement to feel effortless, okay, feel effortless. There's ease, there's elegance, there's joy, there's pleasure in it. Okay? Number two, you are breathing, your horse is breathing, okay? You're breathing in an optimal way for that activity. There's not one correct way to breathe. It's like, you know, context dependent, but you're breathing right?

You're breathing in an optimal way. The movement is reversible. Okay? Whatever you're doing, you can actually change course, you can change it, you can turn around, you can backtrack out of it, whatever, it's reversible. And finally, the posture naturally allows for healthy, efficient movement through the skeleton. Okay? So those are the four hallmarks.

Think about them in your own movement. Think about them in your horses movement, and then think about them in your horse human system, your h squared, you know, because you're, you're, again, you're both influencing each other. And this is stuff that we go over, we go over in detail in my programs. We're just starting a new cohort.

So the, the doors aren't open right now, but I often will do free classes just for people who sign up for the wait list. Cuz the, the program won't be open again for like about a month or so for, or more probably a month and a half from when we're, we're releasing this. So you might wanna join my wait list,

which is mary Debono dot com slash join horse. It's one word and it's all lowercase. So mary Debono dot com slash join horse. So sign up there and you'll be on the wait list. And so you'll get notified when I'm offering free classes so you can learn more about this, okay? Because these are really, really important. We want you and your horse to be able to move through life with ease and pleasure.

You know why? Because you and your horse deserve to feel great together. Thank you so much for joining me. I love sharing this work with you, and I can't wait to talk to you again. Bye for now.