Have you ever had someone tell you to “relax” while placing a firm hand on your shoulder saying, “Relax, will you?” Or a mentor put their hand on your knee as you sit upon the back of a horse and say, “Take a deep breath.” What’s up with that? I believe that to enjoy and be successful in riding, the rider must be taught to relax and release tension. In this relaxation the rider puts himself in a position to bring leadership to the horse while teaching the horse how to relax and release tension.
A simple reminder in the role of “teacher” is that one cannot teach long without going back to learning.
Let’s look at the word REIGN. This word means “a period of influence or to be in power.” The word REIN refers to a bridle with straps that connect to a bit and is held in the rider’s hands. It can mean to lead or to restrict. How interesting. A rider’s hands are powerful tools. A saying I heard at the HORSE & SOUL Tour in January was, “We are either an ambassador of yes or a minister of no to our horse.” The manner in which the rider interacts and communicates with the horse brings a response of relaxation to obtain flexibility and strength, or a restriction to balance and movement.
A respected Native American horseman reminds us in sundry ways the importance of laying a foundation in our relationship with our horse, to keep it simple and to stick to the basics. If we will be committed to understand how the horse thinks and moves, we will build bridges that invite the horse to have a boldness to place their feet on those bridges, yet have the courage and trust to stand aside as they attempt to cross over in the relaxation of “respond” rather than “react”.
Relaxation of the horse starts at the front. The jaw is the key that unlocks the body and opens the mind to accept relaxation. Since my last writing, I invited an equine dentist to come out and look at my stallion’s mouth. The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and the teeth interact OR interfere with jaw movement and when this union is “off,” it can affect the horse’s willingness to relax, flex and come forward through his back and through the bit. Seek out an equine dentist who understands how to achieve proper release to the TMJ and the tension that comes from hooks and ramps. I just met one I highly recommend. You can use my email address to contact me and I will give you this information.
Remember, RELAX. Be balanced. Don’t expect the horse to stay in balance if you are an unbalanced rider. When the horse has the strength to balance himself, the rider has no need to hold tension in the rein. The balance lies within the horse.
Do you pull on the reins when you ride? Be conscious of this the next time you ride. Count how many times you pull back on the rein for any reason. This is what mastery looks like. Awareness! Being aware of your weaknesses allows you to focus on improvement. A pulling hand positions the horse to resist. It is a fixed hand that teaches the horse to look for a way out. Use the fixed rein instead of pulling and your ride will improve.
Relax. Relax the shoulders, relax the elbows close to the body and relax the knee.
Reign on! Rein with the thumb. If your fingers are tight around the rein, the whole arm tightens, creating tension. Use your thumb.