The end of the competition season and autumn in general makes me pause and take note on what the year has had to say to me. What have the horses been saying and where are the similarities?
Trying to have a positive attitude when working on horses can sometimes be a struggle. If the horse truly isn't doing well in their current situation or if they are in a lot of pain but need to "carry on" anyways, it can get to me. It can really make me take a second and wonder where the correlations are with these animals and how much is too much.
At a recent show, I realized that there are many stressors our horses go through, but simply hide from us and push to the side. Horses are empaths and really good at taking on other peoples and horses emotional pain and trauma. A little too good.
One theme I have noticed, especially with show horses, is the lack of sleep these animals are getting. Sleep is one of the three pillars of health for human and animal. Sleep recharges us and gets us through the day. It helps our brains develop and restore. At a show or endurance ride or any event, there are about a million distractions. And at night, when the people go home, or to sleep in their RV's, the horse is left with these many distractions. Lights, braiding, other hyped-up horses, and weird sounds they aren't always used to. This can make for a very unpleasant sleeping environment.
One thing we can do to help with this, is to make sure your horse has a lot of sleepy time at home. Give them a pasture or stall they enjoy with neighbors they get along with. You can spread out their classes at shows so they get time to rest in between a hectic day. Another is bodywork. Giving them an equine bodywork session with some cranial sacral can be relaxing and also "gives them permission" to unwind if necessary. Using certain acupressure points can help the body deal with the few days of constant "go, go, go".
Something I have seen a lot of this year with the horses is extremely tight tissue around the hamstring, stifle and pelvic area. This could be a holding pattern of the Psoas muscle. This muscle group also tends to hold the lower back in spasm as well. Perhaps I have been seeing a trend with this because of the over bridling and over compression horses tend to go through now. The equine world has also seen a huge trend towards synthetic footing which will change horses over time and the way they move and compensate.
Another thought as to why the hind end tightness seems to stay even with great bodywork, is that the body can have an emotional holding pattern. If you do not assess this holding pattern, the physical ailment can continue to come back. When dealing with the sacrum or ilium, a lot emotional issues have to do with grounding, purpose and compensating. A horse will compensate all day long and hide their true issues from their owner.
There also seems to be an upward trend of pituitary issues which can affect the horses internal health. The pituitary gland is a great player in the equine body. This gland plays a huge role in the metabolism and metabolic functions in the horse from ATCH release to wasting of the muscle. Even temperament can be influenced. The most commonly known side effect of a pituitary gland in dysfunction is PPID or Cushings disease.
Psychologically there are a few commonalities in horses that I seem to come across on an above-average rate. There are a lot of horses that are frustrated. Plain and simple, they have a ton of anger and resentment. This emotion is usually located in the liver. Frustration can come at the end of a competition season plainly from the horse having to compensate and "deal" for so many months. Frustration can be from pain that is being masked. It can even come from constant lack of proper communication between the horse and his rider.
Frustrated horses tend to have small ways that they try to "speak up". But most people see these tendencies as "bad behavior". A lot of times a bad behavior is linked to a sore area or a pain that is just down right annoying. Can you imagine being in pain and not being able to tell anyone? And then you do try and they shut you down and tell you you are bad? This is an uphill battle for the horse and one of the most common things I come across when working on them.
So how can we learn from this and what should we do differently for next time? Healing is a process. For horse and human. It takes time, compassion and knowledge. If your horse doesn't necessarily need healing but a necessary wind-down from months and months of working hard, winter is the perfect time to "lay dormant". A horse can keep his fitness for up to 6 weeks. If your horse has been competing, is physically strong and has no injuries- you can ease up on your workout routine for your equine athlete for up to 6 weeks and you should not lose fitness. This can allow any micro tears to heal, their stress level come down and your bond to increase.
I challenge everyone who is going into this Holiday season 2019 to think about improving themselves as a rider physically, and letting their horse have a break. Come back to the drawing board and make a plan for next year. Get your equine bodywork done. Do your no stirrup November. Work on your ground work and give your horse a lot of Holiday love. Stop and ask what they really need. Is it more pasture turnout? Is it a couple of hoof x-rays to make sure their angles are in good shape? Maybe they need to you rebalance their diet.
Use your Holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Years) to step back, reevaluate and relax. I encourage this for all the hardworking horses who need a little less stress and a little more horsin' around.
We as humans have so much to learn from our furry partners in crime. You can work on you while they just do what they do best: be a horse! Help yourself and help your horse by turning the pressure onto yourself instead of on them for 6 weeks. 6 weeks to go to the gym, challenge your body, take those stirrups away.
Help yourself and your horse for the next big challenge which is next season. What did you learn this year? How can you improve your horses overall well being. Is anything that you read in this blog ringing any bells? Has your horse been a little more bitter and resentful? Maybe they aren't striding out like they used to. Take note and take action.
Get them assessed and rework your plan for success.