This past week I did my third session with two very different horses, Lydia and Jimmy. Both chestnuts, they are older, and living in the same area, the contrasts between them vividly illustrates how different individual horses can be.
Lydia, a 22-year old Morgan mare is a former eventing horse. Her deep processing video was the subject of my November 7th post. She came to Chris’s barn a couple of years ago after getting passed around a bit, none for the better it seems. Not because Lydia was abused, but because she is quite reserved, guarded. I worked with Lydia when she first arrived on lease. Unsure of her status, she was worried, but she also knew she had landed somewhere really good, and she wanted to stay.
At Chris’s 10-Morgan barn, a group of old friends ride and show English and Western together at breed shows. They enjoy and support each other. The horses receive wonderful care—excellent food, chiropractic, massage, beautiful turnout. Chris’s horses have a voice in what they do, talking with them through an animal communicator, they are allowed to express themselves. I’ve told Chris that if I were a horse, I’d want to live in her barn. It is quiet and calm, clean and orderly, the care is wonderful, but best of all, it feels safe.
Arriving on a lease, not entirely sound, Chris wasn’t sure what to do with Lydia, but Lydia knew from the day she arrived that she wanted to stay. The mare tried her heart out with her riders—Chris’s adult daughter and the trainer’s 4-year old. She tried to be so good so that she would stay.
When I met her 2 years ago, she was protective of her right hindquarters during bodywork. Today, Lydia is a permanent family member, still off sometimes behind, and still guarded in her way of being.
Three weeks ago, I offered her a few simple, light touch craniosacral releases. After a few minutes, Lydia went into a deep, internal unwinding process as illustrated in the video “When less is more.”
Horses naturally track their environment for threats, so for any horse, going into a deep place where the focus is internal takes a certain level of trust. Even more so for a self-contained mare like Lydia.
In each session Lydia has processed and processed. She checks in with me periodically—my being there is part of the healing. She rides the waves in and out. A couple of times she has snapped at me, never making contact, and staying relaxed. This too is part of the old movie being released. Week 3, I walk out of the barn and call, “Lydia!” She looks up and walks to the pasture gate to meet me. Not typical for her, I am told.
Something is happening when Lydia does this inside work, but I can’t tell you what beyond the general words ‘healing,’ ‘processing,’ ‘unwinding.’ Our tissue stores not only physical stress and trauma, but mental and emotional as well. I trust the wisdom of her body to do what is needed with what is being offered, and feel honored that she trusts the space enough to do so.
Jimmy is a big Tennessee Walking Horse gelding, a true ‘husband horse,’ a steady Eddie, used for trail riding. Over the 10 years they’ve had him, Julie has done a number of things to help him. He is now happily barefoot and ridden in a hackamore bridle. Still, his movement was hard to ride. “He works really hard to trot, and it looks as if he is picking up his front legs with his neck,” Julie said when we talked on the phone. So I went out to see him and offer bodywork.
Sometimes horses tell me things when I am with them. When I met Jimmy and stood talking about him with Julie, I had some strong impressions of him, as if he wanted me to know who he was before I worked with him.
“It seems like he has a strong work ethic and really wants to do a good job,” I told Julie. “I get the feeling that he is quite sensitive, though quiet and stoic—like your husband.” She agreed with both.
Bodywork with Jimmy has been more deep structural integration work than anything, and he loves it. Leaning into pressure, releasing with big yawns and stretches. Tui-na and craniosacral have also played a role in offering his body different ways to let go and open, to be more relaxed and flexible.
After 2 sessions, Julie said, “He moves fluidly at the walk with huge overstride—9 inches. He has never overstepped before.”
Such a solid citizen that Jimmy. I’m so happy to have helped his body find more ease of movement.
His shoulders were pretty mobile, so my efforts focused on the connection between his back end and his front, especially the lumbar area or loin. It can be very powerful to remind a horse’s body that its back and front are connected and work together. In working all over his body, his body stocking of fascia got bigger, giving him more room, more comfort to move.
Since movement begins in the hindquarters, it makes sense that a disconnection or stiffness there would make it harder to move in front. Julie’s report that he is really overstepping tells us that his lumbar spine and pelvis are now comfortable enough to tuck when he steps forward. Good boy, Jimmy!
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