Release Tension and Increase Flexibility by Rocking Your Horse #68

#debono moves #equinemind #equinemovement #horsehumanconnection rocking Apr 08, 2024

Rocking your horse can have positive effects on horse's muscles, nervous system, and overall movement. Rocking should be done with lightness, effortlessness, and pleasure for both horse and rider. Being well-organized and coordinated is important for effective communication with the horse. 

Key Takeaways from this episode:

- Dressage rider realizes that her horse isn't "stubborn" and "lazy" after all. 


- Learns to rock her horse from different parts of its body to initiate movement


- Develops real feel for her horse and recognizes its innate desire to move


- Discovers horse needs connection and congruency, not laziness or stubbornness

- Rocking can have positive effects on horse's muscles, nervous system, and overall movement


- Rocking should be done with lightness, effortlessness, and pleasure for both horse and rider


- Being well-organized and coordinated is important for effective communication with the horse


- Rocking should be done slowly and small to notice subtle differences and allow for nervous system improvements


- Creating a learning environment where the horse chooses better options is crucial, rather than forcing or manipulating



CLICK HERE FOR A SNEAK PEEK VIDEO of how I introduce Rocking with a horse,  which can lead to more comfortable, balanced, and athletic movement for the horse.

And if that piques your interest, please check out the details for the Move with Your Horse online program. We'd love to have you join us!

Free rider masterclass:

Have a question? Email [email protected].

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


Hi, today I have an interesting story to tell you about how a woman overcame the idea that her big warm blood was lazy, and how she was able to transition from someone who used to use spurs and a dressage whip all the time, and just constantly be getting after a horse to someone who developed a real feel for her horse and recognized that she could tap into her horse's innate desire to move.

So in case we're meeting for the first time, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier Horse's podcast. And I'd like to tell you about this, this client of mine, her name is Kay, and she was always complaining about her 17 hand warm blood who was just stubborn. The trainer used to say he was lazy and stubborn.

She would say he was lazy and stubborn, and they were constantly like having to get out after him. And that, that hurts my heart. I mean, that's not fair. And you know, compassionate people in many other ways, but they just felt like that was the only way to deal with a quote unquote lazy horse. And so what I explored with Kay actually was something very unusual.

What I did was on the ground, so this is not in the saddle, I taught her how she could rock her horse, you know, from different parts of his body and using different parts of her body do it like, in other words, not just her hands, but maybe her forearm or leaning a certain way, whatever. But what I did was I helped her feel how little effort it takes to initiate movement through a horse.

Okay? It takes very, very little if you do it really well and you're well organized yourself. So what ended up happening with Kay was she, because I worked with her with this and I taught her how to rock her horse in these very, very subtle ways, and she could start to really feel the nuances of the movement. And we got to the point,

and this was just in one session by the way, we got to the point where just her breath, just, if she took a breath, she could initiate her hands were on the horse as well, but she could initiate this sense of movement through his body and it was really pretty exciting. So then we, we gently tacked him up all the while kind of keeping this whole flow going.

She got in the saddle and I taught her how she could take that same idea of how her breath could initiate movement to her horse when she was in the saddle. And it was really amazing because she just had to think, you know, of, of Changing her breath and like kind of lightening herself a little bit. And her horse would start to walk off before that was always,

believe it or not, a struggle. And then the same thing to move into a trot and a canner, et cetera. So she really learned that if she, if slowed down and if she really organized herself first and really paid attention to subtleties, to tiny things that her horse was doing, she could build on that. And that her horse was not lazy.

Her horse was not stubborn, as they say. Her horse just needed to feel that connection with her and for them to, to come to a place of congruency. And this, this, this whole idea of rocking is something I have taught for many, many years. And you know, you may have seen other people doing rocking with their horses. Like they might put a hand on the withers and kind of shake the horse back and forth a little bit.

I'll be honest, most of the way I see other people teach it and do it makes me cringe because I don't see much positive coming out of that. And I actually see a lot of negative that you're just throwing the horse off balance and the horse is kind of bracing. Some people will, will even say, oh, you should, you should rock them or shake them before you mount because it helps readjust their balance.

Well, usually that's not the way it's done correctly. In other words, just to just kind of randomly shake the horse from the withers, move them around. And again, that could actually lead to bracing. But let's think about why that's even done in the first place. Like why would you, why would you put your hand on a horse's withers and do a little rocking motion?

Well, I'll tell you why. There's a number of reasons, but we'll start with this one. When you touch a more bony part of the horse, and it doesn't have to be the withers, there's other places as well, and you start to initiate a sense of movement, what's really great is that it's like you're, you're letting the muscles go along for the ride.

So the muscles actually get passively moved and they don't it. The nervous system doesn't, doesn't think that, oh, this is, this is dangerous, okay? Like, in other words, you're trying to soften the muscles, but you're doing it, you know, like maybe you're doing it with manual pressure and the nervous system might want to protect against that.

But instead, if you are moving through the horse's skeleton, and again, there's many different ways I, I teach this, I teach it through the isum. We teach the crew. There's many, many ways, but we'll take rocking as a simple example. If you do that in a way that you're just moving the, from the skeleton, again,

your horse's muscles get this passive movement that happens. And so the nervous system doesn't have a defense against That. The nervous system is not trying to protect against that. And so the muscles will often release a lot of tension. The muscles will get softer, right? Even, you know, the horse's whole state can change. It's a great way to soothe and calm the nervous system.

And one of my students years ago said it best, she said, the muscles aren't used to the bones telling them what to do, which is a good way of putting it. So I'll explain that a little bit. When you move or your horse Moves, generally what happens is muscles contract. So the nervous system sends out signals to contract certain muscles and they pull on parts of the skeleton and you move or your horse Moves.

Instead, we're reversing that relationship and you're saying, Hey muscles, you can just hang out and relax and we're gonna in introduce movement through the skeleton. So whenever you reverse a relationship like that, the nervous system tends not to have a defense against it. And so it's a great way to help interrupt some maladaptive or inefficient habits of movement that your horse may have or you may have and help provide this idea of new possibilities.

So, but, but again, I wanna come back to how you rock your horse. So if you rock your horse where, and we'll start with a super simple way at first. So I'm going, going to pretend you're on the left side of your horse. Your right hand is on your horse withers, and you just kind of move, you know,

shift your horse's weight side to side. Now if you're doing that in a way that your arm isn't really functionally connected to your trunk, for example, you're not coming through your whole skeleton, you know, you're just moving from your arm and your hand, that's gonna feel very disjointed to your horse. You're not transmitting a sense of ease and new possibilities to your horse.

You're just kind of screwing with your horse's balance for that moment and maybe even annoying. But instead, if you take the time, and this is what I teach in my move with your horse program, if you take the time to actually feel how before you touch your horse, how you can shift your weight from all different places, you can initiate shifting your weight from your feet,

right, from your knees, from your hips, from your pelvis, from your lower belly, from your chest, from your head, you know, however you do it. You can just start to play with this. And then you can find, you can kind of tap in to your, really, your power center as they call it. And you can move from a place of,

you know, that, that you can, you can function very efficiently, right? It's not just shoving a horse around by moving your arm, but you're connected, you're connected to yourself. That's the first thing you have to do before you touch your horse is you really have to connect to yourself mentally and physically, right? You have to be in the moment and you have to come from that central place where it's very easy for you to shift and change direction if you needed to,

right? So you're, you're kind of like a martial artist that you're very well organized and this allows you to do a very light movement with your horse. 'cause this is the other thing, the way we, we do rocking, the way that it's can be helpful for your horse is to think about what is the smallest movement I can make with my horse?

And I still feel like there was a movement. In other words, instead of looking for the biggest movement, which is just throwing your horse off balance and probably creating some brace in your horse, 'cause they'll kind of guard against it. What you're doing is you're thinking, what is the smallest movement I can make where I just barely feel my horse shift his weight?

And maybe if I, if I look down and I peek at the flocks, the front flocks, for instance, if I'm on the left side and I'm gently rocking my horse to the right, do I see that right front fetlock sink down a tiny bit? We're looking for small, we're not looking for big. And then come back to center again.

So you see the, you'll see the left one actually raise up a little bit. The right one goes down as the horse accepts weight more onto the right front and then comes back and evens out. But if you do it hard, if you do it fast, if you're rocking your horse hard or fast, you are not gonna feel those differences. So now you,

you rock the other way you rock towards the left, is it easier or is it more challenging? This is key. This is how you start to ferre it out. You start to, to find out if your horse has a habit of weightbearing heavier on one side or the other, because that can lead to wear and tear damage down the road. It could lead to actually a pretty big injury if they had been,

you know, compensating and overusing one part more than the other, one side more than the other. I wrote a whole big blog post about this, about a horse named Sweet Pea who had a chronic dispensary ligament injury and it was not healing despite all the wonderful veterinary care. And three different vets said she will never be sound because it's just not healing.

It's calcifying, it's there's like, she's just not, not progressing. And what I noticed was that sweet pea had a habit of weight-bearing heavier, believe it or not, on the injured side. And even though she, when she trotted, she was off and it showed that she was off to protect the, the suspensory ligament injury, but when she was at rest,

she always would weight bare heavier on that leg, that injure leg. Now that doesn't make sense, does it? Well, it kind does because five years before, turns out she had injured the other front leg and when the brain figures out that something worked, it often will hold onto it even though it's no longer appropriate. So this is where you have to get clever,

and this is what I teach in my move with your horse program, how to help horses like that feel that they could actually be on any leg. And I wanna say it is definitely not just pushing them onto the other leg that will actually cause a reaction of defensiveness and get them actually more ingrained into that bad habit or maladaptive habit of weightbearing heavier on that side.

So don't wanna do that. There's a whole thing I go into where it's a more of a circular approach, et cetera, but the only way you can really find out if your horse has these habits, if you will, of weightbearing heavier on one side, is to do it really small, really slow and small. And you can feel subtleties that way.

Okay? So again, I wanna just backtrack a little bit. When you rock a horse or move a horse in any way through the skeleton, it can have an effect of lowering the tone. In other words, reducing tension in the muscles because they're being passively moved. So skeletal connections like this can be very, very powerful. Another thing is, many horses that don't,

they're sore or just defensive about being touched on the soft tissue, like on muscular areas, are okay with you touching the skeleton because they're not associating that with soreness. So that can also be a plus. There's a lot of horses I've worked with, you couldn't touch them anywhere at first, except on really bony areas that I could touch lightly. And then I helped generalize that feeling of ease and pleasure.

And then you can do, you can touch them anywhere. So that's another thing. So there's, and then obviously too, what I mentioned was when you're rocking, it can serve to soothe and quiet the horse's nervous system. So that's, that's pretty cool too. And you could generalize that feeling through the whole horse. But also this is very important,

again, coming back to you when you've organized yourself really well and you are rocking right, you're improving your own organization as you do it with the horse as well. And you, you come into this feeling of like a dance, like you're allowing the horse to, to move and respond and you can move and respond and you then become that beautiful horse human system or h squared as I call it,

where each one is just subtly influencing the other, and you listen to each other on a very deep level so you can refine your communication. You feel like, wow, it doesn't take much at all to do this. And you can kind of start playing with it. And then we expand out from that. So that's like a super, super basic way of doing it.

Then we add a hand on the croup as well. And, and actually we start with just a, after the withers, you go to the croup, you have your hand on top of the cro if you can reach it. We also have strategies. If you have a very big horse and you're not so big, so don't worry, there's always a workaround and that works.

But then you notice, well how does my horse shift the weight in the hind? It, it may be different 'cause your horse may have like a diagonal pair that, that she wants to weight bear heavier. You're on. It's not always one side or the other. So it could be all different combinations. So then you check that, then you check withers and croup at the same time,

kind of speeding you along. Just to give you a very basic overview of this, I actually do have a, a video though I can send you, you'll have to email me though, you'll have to email support at mary Debono dot com and just put rocking in the subject line and I'll send you a link to this video, but it, it actually demonstrates this.

So then you can put your hands, you know, on your horse on both the withers and the croup and play with that. But then we go a little bit, we go a step further, and this is where it gets really interesting. You can do what I call opposing rocking, where you're taking the cro away from you, the withers towards you,

and then you reverse that. So you know, in, in one instance the withers are going away, the CRO is towards, and then vice versa. Now that tells me a lot about the horse, about how the horse is organized through the back and the rib cage and also about you because for you to do that well, right, it requires you to use yourself in a very particular way,

right? There's this free flowing movement through your pelvis, through your hips, through your, you know, through your spine, right? Allowing you to be, to do that easily with the least amount of tension in the neck and the shoulders, the arms, et cetera. So when you start doing opposing rocking, what I always, you know, encourage my students to really do it slowly and small and pay attention to what's happening in the middle of the horse's.

Back. Some horses, you'll see them kind of drop the back a little bit and tense it. And that tells you that they need a lot o other attention. They need a lot of work with muscle lifts that I teach ribcage slide. I mean so many other things to help them have more mobility and flexibility in the middle of themselves, okay? Because that opposing movement requires that,

you know, a lot of flexibility and mobility in the middle of the horse and this will play, will pay all kinds of dividends for the horse's overall movement and their performance and just their, their total wellbeing to feel that feeling of ease as opposed to having a tense tight back. So again, these are things that I'm just giving you a very, very,

you know, high level overview of rocking. So I'm not expecting you to run out and do it with your horse based on this. What I would say though, number one, it's very, very important that you not rock a horse that's in pain. So if you know your horse has a problem pl you know, there's soreness in the feet, anything like that,

please do not rock them. Okay? You can, we can talk about other things you can do, but please don't rock them. So, again, just wanted to give you a little overview if you are interested in that video again, you can, I'll, I'll tell you two things because to communicate, you know, the algorithm, the email algorithms got so screwy lately,

excuse me, that if you're not on my list, sometimes it doesn't want me to communicate with you, they'll, it'll send it to spam or whatever. So if you haven't signed up for the Free Rider masterclass, that's the easiest way to get on my list. So go to mary Debono dot com slash rider. So get on the list first, okay?

Then email support at mary Debono dot com and, and both of those will be in the description of wherever you're listening or watching this, okay? But go sign up for that free masterclass, this is all free. Then email me [email protected] and we'll get that link out to you. But again, if you're not on the list, it's something screwy with the algorithms.

Don't want me to talk to you 'cause they're worried about spam, okay? So you have to kind of like say, yes, I wanna hear from this person. And you do that by joining the list. And again, it's all free. So I just wanna give you again, a, a couple of quick things to remember when you're doing any of the work with your horse,

okay? Any of the hands on work, the less effort you use, the more you're going to feel. So the more useful information you'll get. But also your horse's nervous system can pick up those nuances, can pick up those differences when the movements are small and slow at first. So this is really important because we learn, we improve by noticing differences.

So even if you are not aware, you're not conscious of the differences yourself. If you do it very intentionally, slowly, you know, carefully, you are, you're giving your horse the opportunity to notice differences and for their nervous system to make changes, to make improvements. And that's what this work is all about. It's about just setting up the environment for your horse to learn,

for your horse to improve. Okay? It's not in about ever forcing or manipulating the horse into changing, it's setting up the environment, a learning environment where your horse chooses better options. Okay? So remember you're asking questions with your hands. We're always saying, how does this feel? Can it feel easier? And you're always asking questions, you're never forcing anything and you're asking questions and making subtle suggestions.

You're inviting movement, never forcing it. Which again is another point of the more org well organized. You are in your body and the Feldenkrais method that I teach, oh, you get really well organized from doing it, but the more you know the, the more well organized you are, right? The more that movement feels like an invitation to the horse rather than pushing the horse around.

And this translates to in the saddle as well, that you get a sense of yourself that you can just invite the movement with your horse. It's not like, 'cause you're coordinating yourself better, right? You're, you're, when I say organization, it's like the coordination of all your parts that you're, you're better coordinated, you have more awareness of your body as well and how to use it effectively,

okay? To communicate with your horse. So your level of communication with your horse can be very, very deep and, and you can really refine it through very simple hands-on work if you slow down and really choose to listen to notice things, okay? So again, you wanna make sure if you're doing rocking or anything else like that, that you're doing it light,

light, you know, very lightly that there's a sense of effortlessness to it, both from you and from the horse. And of course that horse human system, it should feel effortless, okay? You're both breathing in a relaxed way. Your position and your movements are comfortable, right and efficient. Your arms and hands are soft and light and you're transmitting a sense of ease,

pleasure, and new possibilities to your horse. Because that's the key thing. We want to associate ease and pleasure with movement. Okay? So thank you so much for joining me. Look into that. And again, if you're not already on my list, if you're sure you're not on my list, you know, or if you think you might not be on my list,

'cause it doesn't hurt to do it again, sign up Mary Debono dot com slash rider and then if you're interested in that rocking video and you're not on the list before, if you hadn't been on before then just, just email me support at mary Debono dot com, put rocking in the subject line and I'll get that out to you. So thank you so,

so much for listening and I'd love it if you subscribed and if you enjoyed the podcast, please leave a nice review. It helps the podcast get in front of more and more people so that more horses and their humans can benefit. So I look forward to talking to you again soon. Bye for now.