As some of you may know, I went to a clinic a few weeks ago with the wonderful and talented Amber Lydic. I learned so much from her in such a short time, but what has stuck with me the most is about my release. If you know me or have ever worked with me, I’ve always put an emphasis on releasing. In lessons I teach that the release needs to be big enough to make up for the effort that the horse put forth.
However, when I’ve talked about the release and thought about the release it has always been physical. You release your hand forward when the horse gives to pressure or you step back when the horse successfully moves forward.
One thing I learned when I was at Amber’s is that the release is also a state of release in your own body. If you release physically, but still hold the pressure in your mind, you aren’t really releasing. Intention is everything and that matters in the release as well.
So often we are distracted or thinking about too many things when we work with horses. The exercises become mechanical and mindless. We physically give a release, but our tension and preoccupation with what happens next prevents us from fully releasing.
Since horses read intention better than physical cues, the horses pick up on these “fake” releases. In turn they still hold tension and continue to seek a release. Often this leads to confusion and frustration because the horse isn’t getting the affirmation that they are on the right track. The horse will begin to exhibit stress and anxiety when too much tension is present, even if you are giving big physical releases.
To fix this, we as horsemen need to learn to wholly release. A good start is exhaling through the mouth every time you release. This helps you physically release tension. Your more relaxed posture in turn helps calm your mind and provides a better release. Your horse will pick up on your intentional relaxation and believe your release a little bit better.
The bigger issue we need to address is our lack of presence. When working with horses we should throw out time, goals, and ideals. We should get ourselves wholly in the moment so that we are more aware of our horses and ourselves. When you are in the moment you can release with your whole self. Maybe you even want to mentally tell your horse, “yes, good job!”. All of those cues your body gives that your horse is safe and doing what you want will result in a happier, more eager to please horse.
Next time you work with a horse try this out. Have your release come through your whole body and mind. It is incredible the difference it makes even when you are physically performing the exact same maneuvers. This clearer intention leads to clearer communication, which is our biggest roadblock with horses. After all, how are they supposed to understand what we want when we aren’t even sure?
When we are confident in what we want and release through our whole body the horses becomes more confident that he understands us and happier to work with us. Being present and intentional about every little part of our horsemanship allows us to have the relationship and communication with our horses that we strive for. Releasing through your whole body and mind is just one more step towards that goal.