Relaxed. Round. Responsive.
These are the qualities that every rider strives for in their horse. “Relaxed” may not be the word you think of with regard to your particular sport--however, with regard to muscle tissue; a healthy, hydrated muscle should have a certain degree of give to it. Rock hard muscles are the opposite of flexible, soft and healthy muscles, and can mean the difference between winning and being left behind, or worse yet, injured.
Round. Regardless of your chosen sport, be it Dressage, Hunter/Jumpers, Western Pleasure, Racing, Barrels, Reining, Driving, Polo…. you want a horse that is “round,” meaning they are engaged through the hind end, lifting through the back, and have an active posture.
Responsive. A horse that is not constantly distracted by pain or discomfort is much more likely to enjoy their work and be an engaged partner. Our horses are big and strong and so we people generally believe that they won’t notice pain, or even consider how our activities might be causing them to hurt. Take a moment to recall a time when you may have gone hiking or camping and had a heavy pack to carry. After a while, did you become acutely aware of how heavy it was? Could you feel how it seemed tighter on one shoulder than the other? Was it leaning to one side? Was it driving you nuts? Now, imagine you are the horse and the backpack is your rider. When we think about just how many imbalances are usually present in our own bodies, that backpack just keeps getting more unbalanced. Plus, you haven't been able to work out because you've barely left your stall all winter long, but suddenly it’s spring and it’s time to go back to work and your body feels stiff and tired but there’s just not much you can do about it. As you move into competition season the work only gets harder, and you have to keep running faster, jumping higher and being polite about how exhausting it is. Does this story sound familiar?
As riders, we are constantly striving to move as one with our horses, and the presence of dysfunction or imbalance in one party will absolutely have an effect on the other. Do you ever find that your back, or maybe one arm in particular is sore after a ride? Your horse may be pulling to one side in response to your own imbalances that he has to compensate for. It's a vicious cycle, but regular bodywork can help you to break out of that pattern and bring new body awareness for you and your horse. Consistency in treatment means that each session will build on the one before, and lasting benefits become suddenly very obvious. Your horse may have a smoother, more forward gait; behavioral issues may start to soften or even disappear; or maybe your horse just seems like he’s enjoying his work more and able to push through to new levels of performance. Either way, you both win!