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Fall from Brace

Break the habit of reacting with instinct to find the softness in your ride!

What is it about being in a sticky situation with a horse that causes us humans to tense up, and in turn, making the situation much worse? Or if something just isn't going quite right with our horses and we get more and more physical? Evolution!


We cannot overlook the fact that we are what we are in this very moment because of how we have evolved and adapted to our environment over millennia. Respectively, our brains and bodies are actually much more accustomed to dealing with the natural world and elements than they are to our modern world. We have been surviving and problem solving in nature incomparably more than the couple hundred years that it took for society to become what it is today. For this reason we react in situations quite similarly to how humans would have reacted 500 years ago. When our nervous system senses that we may be in danger, it alerts the body and sends out adrenaline and we react almost involuntarily. When we think about it, it is quite an incredible design!! But unfortunately can get us in a bit of trouble when it comes to working with and riding horses.


Lets paint a picture...

You are a young and confident equestrian. You have been on countless horses and had taken lessons since childhood, maybe even leased a horse for some time and are ready for your own! You are in your early 20's and so have a bit of a limited budget but still want the horse of your dreams. This leads you to looking at younger, greener horses. Since you have never been in a serious accident with a horse you are 150% confident that you can handle whatever so its no big deal if the horse is green. Then you find it, your dream horse! There is no doubting it, this is your horse. The horse may have been lightly started with about 10 rides, but is sweet, kind and had no ill behaviors so it all seems perfect. So you take the horse home, you've bought a pretty new halter, saddle pad, grooming box and the horse is set up in a lovely pasture. In your mind it will all be magical because this horse is just so special. For the most part it is! You both enjoy spending time grooming, playing on the ground and going for nice walks on the farm. You feel now that its a good time to start riding, you've taken the time to find the right saddle for you and the horse and so you decide to tack up before doing ground work and are so excited for this moment! We humans can be quite creative when imagining perfect moments, and boy was your imagination a far stretch from the truth! You sit on your horse and think lets keep it simple. Somewhere between your butt touching the saddle and you thought process you end up on the ground! How in the world did that happen? What did my sweet loving 4 year old spook at?! Through your experience you learned that you should always get back on if you come off. So you gather your horse and proceed to the mounting block. But this time you a bracing. Your body and brain are more than aware of the fact that you were just in a potentially dangerous situation and against all logic you are putting yourself right back in the same situation. But this time you will be ready for it you think to yourself. Before getting back on you already start out setting yourself up for failure. Your energy is different, your body is defensive, you are tight, you are slightly braced before even getting on. Your horse, though green, is a kind soul and allows for a second mounting, this time though they can feel the tension in your body even though you are not aware of it. It causes your horse to move off in tension, to brace against your brace. You end up having a decent ride, though your horse seems a bit hollow and avoids your hands the whole time, but you stayed on so yay progress! The end!


This of course is a hypothetical situation and every situation is different, every accident is different but every potentially dangerous situation we are in with horses causes us to brace, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we think we are or not. Now add a injury to the accident and your body becomes guarded. Our nervous system is screaming at us! You are hurt we need to be careful, we need to be safe. But in your mind its not serious enough ad so you get back on. At this point our bodies are holding so much tension and are bracing so much in an attempt to protect a compromised area that we are straining and pushing to work. Our horses feel all of this and will always respond, whether it is something minor like bracing against a rein, or severe like rearing or bolting. Then of course the more a horse reacts, the more we tend to hold and brace, our bodies attempt to protect itself when we put ourselves in a situation that we know may really really hurt!


Something that is so incredibly important to remember, and I have to remind myself of as well! Is that the older we get the more we carry. The more injuries we have sustained, surgeries, and the more and longer our bodies have had to compensate for imbalances and poor habits. For myself I know that pretty much my entire left side is locked up from injuring my left elbow, shoulder, jaw and rib cage! So if I am riding a horse and they are trying to compensate for my bodies natural brace then we are not going to have a perfect ride. For someone like myself who focuses on helping the horse through their imbalance and tension, its super important to me to not make the job harder for them. Therefore (in my opinion) it is so important for us riders to help ourselves to help the horse. This may include stretching daily, yoga, massage therapy, balancing exercises, physical therapy, etc to help our brains relay to our bodies to quit bracing!!


So often this is something that we don't even think about and so we scratch our heads and wonder why the horse is reactive or not being soft. Our bodies are such big influences of the horse. It is something incredible that makes riding incomparable to most things done with animals. And so we must remember that for all of the wonderful things we share with horses under saddle, we share all the not so great things as well.



It may not look like it, but so much work on my end went into this lovely canter departure!! And even with the work I had to do in myself, there is still much room for improvement on my end!



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