EMHH Ep 57 - Mindful Movements: True Flexibility for You and Your Horse

#equinemind #equinemovement #horsehumanconnection #humanmind #humanmovement anxiety confidence debono moves feldenkrais method girthy tacking up Jan 25, 2024

Host Mary Debono, Feldenkrais Method Practitioner, shares insightful stories and practical wisdom on the profound impact of cultivating flexibility of body and mind for horses and riders.

Mary describes real-life examples, showcasing how gentle, mindful movements can lead to remarkable changes in posture and physical comfort as well as the emotional well-being of both humans and horses.

  • Learn how flexibility of body and mind can be a solution to common challenges
  • Mary shares examples of how she has helped riders improve their posture, leg position, and confidence - effortlessly
  • Flexibility in body and mind allows for improved posture, reduced tension, and increased confidence
  • Hear why your underlying sense of ease or effort impacts your interactions with others, including your horse
  • Mary provides examples of how she has helped horses with various issues, leading to improved behavior and well-being

💥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 educational purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice.


Hello. If you're like most people, you have some kind of challenge you're working with, like maybe your hips are too tight or your back sometimes aches or your neck is stiff or your shoulders are up around your ears. Or maybe you kind of slump because so many of us are looking at our phones so often. So maybe you find yourself that your posture isn't as good as you'd like it to be. And maybe you've tried different programs to stretch or strengthen, and you've really tried to correct these issues that you're dealing with.

Well, I am here to give you a different approach and to help you see the value in having what I call flexibility of body and mind. and to have just more options rather than trying to shut something down. And you'll see, so stick with me here. You'll see that your hips will get looser. Your posture will be naturally elegant. You know, your shoulders won't be up around your ears. You know, your back won't hurt. All kinds of good things can happen when you approach this in a different way.

So, and by the way, in case we're just getting to know each other, I'm Mary Debono, and this is the Easier Movement, Happier Horses podcast, and I'm so glad you're here. So let me give you an example. So some time ago, a gentleman came to see me. Now, I'm a Feldenkrais Method practitioner, so I work with humans. I also work with horses using an approach called Debono Moves that I created. I work with dogs, cats, etc., And I've been doing this work for over 30 years.

And this gentleman came to see me and he was a rider. He was a hunter jumper rider. And he said that his wife, who's also a rider, she was always nagging him because he was, he didn't have good posture. And his riding instructor was always yelling at him to sit up straight and do all these things. And he said, I try, I try. And he said, I do it for a while. but then I get really tired, you know, cause he was trying to force himself to sit upright and to pull his shoulders back and all that.

So I said, okay, you know, and so he, he, so he laid on my table. I was seeing him in person and I did a session with him and the entire session actually consisted of me emphasizing the his rounded posture. You know, I used my hands in very specific ways to actually help him be more rounded, to be more flexed forward. Now you might be thinking, why would I do that? Like that seems, you know, counterintuitive. We want the guy to stand up straight.

And by the way, he had a, he had a job that required him to be in front of a computer all day. And he told me, I know I have bad posture at work too, that he was always, you know, in this slumped posture. So here I am actually helping him get better at slouching, which again seems really strange. But what I was doing was very strategic. What I was doing was I was using my hands to take over the work of his muscles that, you know, that have caused him to slouch.

Like, so he was slouching in a way that there were certain muscles that were very engaged in his body and other ones that were very flaccid from being like this. So all I was doing was saying, oh, here, I'll do this for you. I mean, not out loud. He probably would have thought I was nuts. But just with my hands, same thing that we do with the horses. And I teach this in my Move With Your Horse program. I teach you how to use your hands to take over the work of these habits that your horse has, you have, et cetera.

So here I am. I'm doing this with him. We do a whole session together. He gets up and he's immediately standing straighter. And he said to me, I can't believe this. I don't feel like I'm forcing it. It's just I'm taller. I feel so much taller. And he was. He was like literally taller. The reason that works is, again, because I'm doing something that's crucial. I'm relieving the effort, that habitual effort. His brain had been so convinced it needed to pull him in this forward posture because it was a habit. I said, okay, I'm not going to contradict you. I'm silently talking to his nervous system. I'm actually going to support what you're doing so you can let it go.

And that's what happens. When you take over the work of the muscles in these very particular ways, the muscles actually get a chance to let go. And so the person or the horse experiences something different. So in this gentleman's case, he stood up and he was immediately taller. He looked around, he was like, this is so weird, I'm not forcing it. So anyway, he paid me, we said our goodbyes and he went down to his car. And a few minutes later, I got a knock on my office door and I happened to be having a break then, so it was okay. And he comes back in and I'm thinking he must've forgotten something or something.

And he said, I just had to come back and tell you what happened. He said, I was walking out to my car and he said, it was incredible. He said, I can hear the birds singing differently. I'm looking at things differently. He said that everything seems so different. He said, I like what I'm seeing and hearing is just amazing. different than it was before, before I walked in your office. And now that might sound strange to you because what did I do? I helped him learn how to be upright without effort. This is effortless improvement, but it's so much more than that because if you think about it, right? So now that he's standing more upright and his eyes are going to take in information differently, his ears are gonna take in information differently, right? So all the senses, right, can actually process information differently.

But even more important than that, I was giving his nervous system the ability to experience life differently. This is huge. And this is what I want for you and for your horses is to get a chance to experience something that feels so different. So this is, and again, we do this with the horses and it's so wonderful because Just like us, horses have strong habits about how they do things, how they react to being tacked up, how they react to being ridden, quite frankly, or certain activities that you do together and all different things. different things, how they react within their paddock situation, the pasture situation or whatever. They have very strong habits.

So by giving an individual, horse or human, this ability to experience life differently. Now their nervous system says, wow, like there are options out here. And what I love about it is you can take something that's very familiar. Like in other words, okay, this gentleman walked from my office to his car, walking down the sidewalk or whatever. That's a familiar thing. right? But he experienced

 it differently. And that totally changed him, totally changed him. And I see this with the horses too. And it's so wonderful because you can have a horse, again, maybe it's a horse, this is a common thing, that doesn't like to be saddled. That they maybe don't make a big fuss about when you tighten up the girth, even no matter how gently and slowly you do it. But they have that tension in the abdominal muscles that some people think they're blowing up with air.

It's actually they're tensing their abdominals in an effort to kind of protect themselves from the tension of the girth. And I have a whole system I call tension-free tacking up that you can do to help your horse not only tolerate tacking up, because I think it should be much more than tolerate, but they actually end up enjoying the process and it benefits their movement and their wellbeing. They feel better actually. It's too much to get into in this episode, but that's in my Move With Your Horse program.

But the idea is you give the horse the ability to experience something familiar, but in a completely different way, a new way. And that really is wonderful for their nervous system to experience that because now the nervous system has more choice. It doesn't have to keep going back to that old habit that was actually a maladaptive habit. So, and let me back up a little bit too. I got so excited telling you this story. A big part of the reason why we wouldn't correct someone, like sit up straight or something like that, is because their nervous system has created that habit usually from a good place.

In other words, it was a solution to some problem. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was a compensation for an injury. Who knows? It doesn't matter. All we know is that person or that horse's nervous system thought that was a good idea. So trying to you know, change that in a contradictory way, like saying don't do that or trying to force the horse with gadgets or with your hands to do something different is not a good approach.

But instead, if you look at it like, okay, how can I relieve the effort of that? How can I kind of quiet the nervous system, again, horse or human, so that they can experience life differently and Now we have options opening up. Now things can change. Okay. This is super, super important. And I'll give you one other example too. A woman came to me, she also happened to be a jumper rider and she had a lot of difficulty with her legs, you know, keeping her legs in position on her horse, especially one of her legs, but both of them had, had, she had issues with,

And so that, because of that, first of all, you know, she wanted to do more with her horse and she wanted to show more and things like that. And so that was suffering because of this. And her trainer, she had a good trainer, but the trainer was always trying to get her to do it. And it was, she didn't understand in her body how to do it. But I led her through a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson, and it totally changed her riding.

So she happened to be riding right after doing the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson. And she texted me afterwards, and she could not believe the difference in herself. She said she had the best ride of her life. Her legs stayed on. And this was really cool too. She just felt so much more at ease and confident. And of course that makes sense, right? When you can use your body in this more harmonious, more coordinated way, you will naturally feel more confident and less stressed, less anxious.

And something to remember, something to remember. I know I've said this before, but how you move, breathe and direct your attention is That they're all felt by your horse. They all play a role in shaping your interactions with your horse. So think about that. How you breathe, how you move, and how you direct your attention. In other words, what you're thinking about. All of that is felt by your horse. And that all shapes the interactions with your horse.

And your underlying sense of ease or effort has a direct, direct impact on how you and your horse experience each other. Okay, I'm going to say that again. Your underlying sense of ease or effort has a direct impact on how you and your horse experience each other. And I'm even going to go so far as to say, it's not even just your horse. It's your family. It's your friends. It's your coworkers. It's the, you know, barista at Starbucks. It's whoever you're interacting with, your dog, your cat.

Nervous system to nervous system, it's like you're always communicating. And when you have that underlying sense of ease, you're going to be sending out certain signals, let's call them, from your nervous system. And when you have that underlying sense of effort or tension or stress, there are other quite different signals that are gonna be sent out that other nervous systems will pick up on. And I've heard it explained this way. It's either welcoming signals or warning signals that you're sending out.

So think about that. Are you sending out welcoming signals to your horse or to your coworkers or your family and friends or warning ones? And by the way, that's not to say, yeah, sometimes you're stressed and it's certainly legitimate, but it's that ability to regulate, to come back from that is what creates a healthy individual. It's that resilience. Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of the Feldenkrais Method, he used to talk about the definition of health for him was... health was resilience, the ability to bounce back, like things happen, injuries happen, stress happens, whatever.

But it's having that resilience to bounce back from it is what defines health. And I agree. So, okay. So now you're thinking maybe, maybe you're thinking, okay, that's great, Mary. You help these people, you work with writers, you do all this, but How in the world do you do that with horses? Because this is just as important for them as it is for us. Again, I want to emphasize this is about being flexible, excuse me, flexible in body and mind, right? To have that ability to, you know, be resilient.

And very, very important that we have this again for our own benefit as well as for our horses. So now with the horses, okay, let me give you a couple of examples. I mentioned about tacking up. That's a big one for me because I see that that reduces the quality of life for so many riding horses, so many, you know, and again, even if your horse is like, okay with being tacked up, but they still do the thing where they're tensing their muscles, that's actually going to negatively impact their athletic performance.

It's gonna actually increase the risk of injury because they're going to be overusing some muscles and kind of shutting down the ability of the rib cage to be flexible, to be part of certain movements. We're gonna talk about that more in another episode. So that's another example. But what about this? Say your horse has a tight back. Again, this is a really common thing that I see with horses, that the backs are sore, they're tight. 

Giving your horse that experience of having a relaxed back when they're being ridden, that's a total game changer because that horse may have been so used to compensating for that tight back Now, again, you're giving them a new feeling in a familiar activity. Okay. So you're taking something new, like this new way of being right. Changing their state really in a very profound way, body and mind, And now coupling that with something familiar. So again, the brain really likes that, right? And now that horse now has more options. 

They don't always have to be, you know, pinning their ears, not wanting to go in the arena, not wanting to get, you know, to go out on trail with you or whatever it is, right? Now they have more options, but it really comes down to helping them really experience life differently, feeling different in body and mind. So this is a core, core, you know, the foundational principle, if you will, or concept in this work is having that experience of choice of feeling different. And then you usually do, or that your horse usually does. Okay. 

Another quick horse examples. A horse I worked with, I've actually worked with many horses that have this issue. So I was called to work with a horse who happened to have, he had a lot of, you know, orthopedic things, you know, joint things and whatnot. But he also had months and months and months of diarrhea. He had like, he just had very loose manure for a long time. And he was, the vet was treating him. They were trying all different things and it wasn't getting better. So I worked with the horse, not, that was not the reason they called me. They called me more for the neuromuscular stuff.  

And I worked with the horse, and later on that day, I got a call, and actually the next day too, I got a call, one from the owner and one from the trainer. So it was a couple of days in a row I got calls saying that the horse had no more loose stools after that, that the horse's manure firmed up. like magic, they thought. Now it could have been a massive coincidence, could have been a massive coincidence. So I'm going to give it that. There was no hard studies done on this, but it's happened quite a number of times with me where horses that have had things like chronic diarrhea, you know, that loose watery manure have, you know, firmed up the manure. after I've worked with them. 

And the way I look at it is that one of my big jobs is calming the nervous system. It's quieting the nervous system. And that then allows me to help the horse in all these other wonderful ways. The horse can be, you know, have more comfortable movement, more athletic movement, you know, can bend easier, can round the back easier, can, you know, do all the things we want. But it has to start with having that flexibility of body and mind. And that requires the quieting of the nervous system. 

So one last example, and then I'll let you go. 

Another horse I'm thinking about, he was an import from Europe. He was not a happy horse. He was very, very unhappy. Whatever kind of training he had, at his original barn was not good. He was stressed 24 seven. This horse was constantly stressed. And the people who had him in the States were very kind to him, but he just was a stressed horse. He hated being tacked up. He hated anyone putting blankets on him or taking them off, or he hated contact with humans. He didn't want any contact with other horses. He wasn't even very interested in his food. I mean, he would eat, but he never got excited about it. He just was like really shut down. 

So again, the trainer asked me to work with this horse, not because of that, but more she wanted his, you know, back to be supple and, you know, for him to feel as good as possible while he was working. And I did that. And by the way, I totally, totally changed his response to tacking up. He got to, he ended up loving being tacked up. And again, that's a subject for a whole nother episode. But a big thing happened in his behavior. And again, he wasn't the only one. I've had many instances where behavior changes after I've worked with horses or my students. And what happened with him is he once I really helped him quiet his nervous system. Right. And we helped him. 

I helped him feel differently. Like, in other words, he started to experience life differently. He was in a different state, different physical and emotional state. Right. he started becoming interested in other horses. He was interested. He started knickering at feeding time. He wasn't stuck in the back of a stall. You know, he wanted to go out more. He wanted to do things and interact. It was really pretty remarkable. And then, by the way, then I really worked on also getting him out of the stall completely, which was really awesome. Big boost to his quality of life as well. 

So those are just some examples. But again, I want you to think about this, that flexibility, you know, we think of flexibility as someone who can like bend down and touch their toes easily or something like that. And that's a very small way of thinking about flexibility. I'd like you to really start to consider that having a more flexible mind is so important. Moshe Feldenkrais used to say, what I'm not after is flexible bodies, but flexible minds. And I find that they go hand in hand. When you help the individual, the horse or the human, feel more flexible, more supple, have more options in their physical body, they automatically start having more options in their mind. They start directing their attention differently, right? The emotional state is different. So many wonderful things can open up.

 So thank you so much for joining me here today. This went a little bit longer than I thought it was going to be actually, but I'm really glad you're here. I really appreciate you.

And for those of you who've listened to me before, I just want to make a quick little note. So I did take some time off from the podcast. So thank you. Thank you for coming back. I really appreciate it.

And, yeah, there's been a lot of changes, very good ones, and also one very sad one.

My beloved horse, Breeze, who you may have heard me talk about many times on the podcast, we were together for 18 years. He was over 28 years old. He unfortunately passed away a few months ago. So that was a big shift in my life. because of that. I'm still working very happily with horses.

I also taught a couple of in-person workshops for the first time in a long time. So across the country in North Carolina, they were fabulous. The people were amazing. We had people come from all over, from Australia, from Europe, from Canada, from different states in the U S I mean, it was just fabulous. So I'm looking forward to doing more of those kinds of things as well. So just wanted to give you a little personal update. Um, so again, I want to thank everyone for being here and I look forward to seeing you again very soon. Bye for now.