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© Elizabeth Graves 2002
What is relaxation?
It is the relaxed state in which you are less tense or rigid. It is a lengthening that characterizes inactive muscle fibers or muscles. It is a way of being less severe or stringent and to make one soft through out the body. This does not mean to the point of being sloppy and /or sagging in the saddle.
Why do we need to be relaxed?
Your body (not a bit, spurs or whip) is the most important element of
communication one has with a horse. Think of your body as the energy source
that sends signals:
To achieve maximum communication with the horse you must understand and be aware of your own body and what you're doing with it. Riders who maintain what I call “the unconscious state” yet still expect a horse to do everything they want, will never get the top performance from a horse. And this expectation will keep a rider from advancing in their skills.
Learning and understanding how your own body works will lead to understanding how your horse’s does as well. In both our bodies and the horses, the skeletal system is the frames work. The joints are connectors, shock absorbers or linkages. The tendons and ligaments work as connectors and cords. The muscles are the source of energy. All of this is governed by the central nervous system.
Tightening and relaxing muscles through out our bodies also does the same to the horse. When we ride tense and un-relaxed our horse becomes tense and when we relax so will the horse.
Another example of our muscle use affecting the horse's muscle use, is when a horse responds to various signals we may apply. When we tighten our legs muscles to signal a horse to go forward it causes the horse to engage it's muscles to respond. When we relax body muscles to settle in the seat as when asking for a halt the horse also relaxes its muscle to achieve the signaled response.
It is also very common to see horses react in two other ways in regards to misuse of our body muscles, without us realizing why it is happening.
Getting a grip of that nervous system!
As a teacher I see the biggest blockage from achieving relaxation is a rider over coming a mental state that keeps them from relaxing.
Most Common Possible Elements:
Our life and experiences can affect how we use and transfer energy to our bodies and this affects how we ride a horse. It can be these very issues that keep one from being an effective rider. I’m not saying to change who you are. But be aware of these issues, find some understanding, control or overcome them when working with our horses if it is interfering. It is possible for each and every rider to do so, if they so choose. I finf that often fear is also the reason for the other elements of insecurity, ego and controlling behavior. These issues can be what affect the very nervous system that controls our body movements. Transferring this energy to our horse’s, often causes them to react incorrectly to the signals one may be trying give. It is a delight for me to witness students learning to overcome personal issues (and grow by way of learning), relax and properly communicate through their bodies to a horse. In many instances this also has helped them to better communicate in their everyday lives with other people.
What can relaxation do for your horse?
First it will help your horse to relax. A relaxed horse becomes more
responsive to your signals. This makes for a lighter, softer horse to work
with and one that becomes much more responsive instead of defensive. When
a horse will relax under a rider it says that a horse is trusting and confident
in the rider to have control and be willing to follow whatever instructions
a rider communicates. Even in a horse with brio such as a Peruvian Paso,
or at a gait of speed in a racking horse, there is an element in those
top horses that shows confidence and yet relaxation while performing at
peak speeds and energy levels. It shows in how they move, with confidence
and easy in their carriage and gait. Relaxation is the key in finding
the “looseness element” of a running walk. It is also paramount for achieving
collection from the back to front of any horse. Again relaxation varies
in degree for the horse as well as the rider. Relaxation is also a very
important tool in re-training a problem horse.
Exercises to Help a Rider Learn to Relax and/or
Chances are many of you have either already worked with some of these exercises or seen them elsewhere. I often find that they are being executed incorrectly. Some of the most advanced riders I know still utilize these exercises from time to time just to reconnect with their bodies while astride and relieve any tension that can come with an intense training schedule. These are also very helpful in leaning to find and maintain balance astride (while not relying on the reins or saddle for balance).
Using the right horse is important, a quiet horse that is familiar with
working on a longe line quietly and controlled. It is important that you
choose a time when all is calm and not distracting with dogs or children
around , machinery running or distractions of any kind. One’s first needs
to learn to relax in a relaxing environment, so when you have mastered
it within your own body you can utilize it in any situation that may arise.
When a horse gets comfortable and understands that you are asking for
them to relax and drop the head they actually will start to stretch and
also reach to the bit. As in photo 3 D. The last is the total drop. I do
not advise doing this in a grassy area, they would not be utilizing the
exercise but taking the opportunity for a snack!
Utilizing relaxation to it’s many uses will take you and your horse
to the best possible performance, be it on the trail or in the show ring.
Relaxing will make you a better and more effective rider. It will open
the horse up to you for understanding and accepting communication through
signals. They will rely on your maintaining a relaxed energy when they
are confronted in an uncomfortable situation for them. It is also the answer
in helping so many troubled and problem horses. Relaxing is also a great
tool in teaching ground work. Use it as body language from the ground when
engaging and disengaging your own muscles to move a horse forward or asking
them to slow down or ask for a halt in hand. Relaxing teaches us to use
our whole body as an aid correctly and efficiently.
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