Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Riding as a Therapeutic Activity

This is a follow up to my last post about visiting Beth Ness's facility with my instructor, Audrey last week.  In the previous post I talked about the change in Audrey's horse, Duvessa's back after a lesson with Beth where Beth had Audrey ride Duvessa in such a way as to help her work on using her body correctly for the upper level dressage moves they will be working on as Duvessa continues her training.   What had impressed me the most about watching this lesson was that I had checked Duvessa's back before the lesson and she had a stress point and quite a bit of tension in the left lumbar region of her back.  I mentioned this to Beth before the lesson and then left it at that.  After the lesson, I checked Duvessa's back again and the stress point was still there, but some of the surrounding muscles were less tight and a bit more hydrated and pliable.  These are the changes we aspire to as bodyworkers, and although I don't know enough about training (yet) to know the right physical exercises and drills to have the horse do in training to achieve those results, it is inspiring to see trainers like Beth who do.

I mentioned in the previous post how much it reminds me of myself and my pilates classes and how learning to use different muscles can feel like they don't actually exist when you're first learning how to use your body in a new way.  In the video you can see how Duvessa is struggling to figure out what Audrey is asking her to do at first, but near the end of the video you start to see how she's slowly starting to understand.  By the end of the lesson that day it was like someone had cut loose her hind end and it was moving in a much freer and more relaxed way.

So, it was very exciting to be able to see first hand how a professional trainer such as Beth can teach the rider how to tell the horse to do certain movements that are essentially acting as physical therapy - in that the movements themselves cause some of the same reaction as stretching and body work. I hope to always be learning about training throughout my career and it's always a pleasure to work on a horse who has such a good trainer working with her because the team of trainer/bodyworker can be a very beneficial one.  That said, it can also be challenging for bodyworkers when a horse is in training with someone who doesn't know how to help them use their body most efficiently.  But that is another post and luckily for me not something I've had to deal with yet.  It is a fine line because I know how a horse best moves for certain activities but I'm not a trainer myself, so it's a fine line to tread of what is appropriate for me to advise if I ever do have a client whose trainer's methods were hindering the client's horse's physical well-being. 

Luckily, so far in my experience I've met a lot of people who do things differently from each other but so far everyone has had the horse's best interest at heart and is doing everything to the best of their education and abilities.  For the most part (despite having volunteered at horse rescues and seen the worst of the worst of animal abusers - so I know they exist) the people I meet in the horse world may have different opinions, ideas and views on horse care, but they all appear to care a great deal about their horses and do the best they can for them whatever that looks like.  Whether it's the FEI level trainer with an amazing education on horse anatomy and movement and has a beautiful facility with wonderful comforts for both people and horses, or the backyard owner who knows her fuzzy little ponies are hearty enough not to need blankets in winter  (which is good because she can't afford them) and her fences are propped up and tenuous but her horses seem to be doing great despite her not being able to afford anything other than clean hay, a bareback pad and a decent bridle.  I think we all share a common bond of wanting the best for our horses and I think that's pretty cool.

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