The Perfect Ride
Think about the times you just stepped out of the saddle all invigorated and thought, I just had the most perfect ride on my horse today. It was amazing, like the two of us were one! All I had to do was think it and my horse was right there with me. Those rides I call The Perfect Ride.
If you have ridden long enough I would believe you have felt that perfect ride. I live for those moments of great joy with my horse. To me, thats worth all the money spent on my horses for hay, hoof care, vet visits, then we have to have the truck, trailer, a beautiful saddle, several blankets, bridles and did I mention the acreage to keep it all on? Well, you get the idea. We dont spend our lifetime with these wonderful creatures without good reason. We love the communion, the partnership, freedom and spirit of the horse when all the elements come together and the magic just seems to set the stage for the perfect ride and we are dancing together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Grace in motion.
We know this takes spending hours together practicing making the connection of communication with each other and wanting the partnership to be perfect. That is why we seek out good trainers to help us understand horses and the way they think and trainers to help us see where our riding needs improvement. We make sure the saddle fits, the bridle fits, the feet are correct and the nutrition is balanced (along with our checkbook). Then we can rest assured the perfect ride inevitable. Right? Discouragingly not always, sometimes something feels amiss, your horse wont pick up a lead, she is short striding, cant bend properly through the neck or just aint doin right.
Theres help. I am going to add into your budget one more essential ingredient that is of the utmost importance for your horses well being whether you are riding endurance, reining, a dressage, hunter/jumper, or on the trails (the list is a lot longer but again you get the idea). A few sessions with a talented equine massage therapist can often help your partner move with suppleness, ease and greater range of motion in all of the joints then you are back to enjoying your ride. Regardless of your riding discipline, equine massage is essential to keep your horse dancing like a pro.
I am going to assume here that most of you have read at least one article on the benefits of massage therapy for your horse. I would guess some of you have had a massage therapist work on your horse. But this is not just another: good for circulation, good for lymph drainage, good for the digestion article about the benefits of massage because the truth is how would you know all of those things are true? Your horse is not transparent and you cannot possibly see if the circulation did or did not improve. I believe what you really would like to know and dont want to have to guess about is this: Did my horse improve in the way he moves? When asked does he feel willing and able to laterally flex left and right? Can she now pick up that right or left lead with grace and agility where she could not before? Can he lift and step through with that hind leg or stop wearing his toes off the back feet? These are problems that can be addressed by a skillful massage therapist.
Problems in the way your horse moves most times are a result of restrictions caused by trauma to the soft tissues of muscle and fascia. A slip, a fall, pulling back on the halter, wrestling with other horses in the paddock and other such nonsense in which they love to engage all are causes for trauma and anomalies in the way they carry themselves which affect their ability to perform with ease. Injuries seem to heal and you go on but they dont necessarily go away. After a time these old traumas can become chronic restrictions, which create compensation patterns and habits of movement that are asymmetrical, tense and tight throughout the body. Muscle torque inhibits free motion of joints and sometimes behavior problems arise from low-level pain and discomfort. A skillful therapist can assist in solving those restrictive patterns. How freely your horse moves and responds after a massage is a great measure of a really effective equine bodywork session.
As an equine massage and body worker I strive to create efficiency in the horses ability for self-carriage. The structure must line up with itself, each element being in the proper position for peak performance. When the skeletal alignment is correct, there is flexibility and full range of motion of all the joints. Supple muscles pull equally on the bones, have the ability to move with ease, and are not susceptible to being twisted out of position. When the muscles are doing their job correctly they are not burning vital energy or creating pain. Symmetry, suppleness, strength, stamina, rhythm, balance, and relaxation are all results of a bio-mechanically efficient system.
I used to think rehabilitate first, fix what is broken, but I have changed my approach over the years to encouraging equestrians to first think enhance what the horse has, then prevent injury by keeping bio-mechanics in their proper place and when trauma happens, rehabilitate through massage and body work.
I believe it to be another essential ingredient for your horses wellbeing and grace in movement and performance. When all elements are in their place and doing the job they were designed to do your horse will move with ease, comfort, joy, spirit and vitality. Who knows you just might see him kicking up his heels again and offering up to you that Perfect Ride.
Sara Stenson, CEMT owns Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork where she teaches dedicated equestrians equine massage therapy. She can be reached through www.artofequinemassage.com