They Love It, Even if You Do a Lousy Job.


WMHands onLast week I complained about bi-polar February riding weather. I suggested ground-play as a positive alternative to riding some days. (Horses tell me that ground-play is every bit as important as mounted work.)

I want to talk about another kind of ground-play, it’s the itty-bitty, teeny-tiny kind of ground-play. It isn’t exactly grooming and it isn’t professional body work, but somewhere between.

Do you dawdle with the curry? Those new jelly curries are the equine favorite. Or maybe like me, you have more curries than brushes.

Horses appreciate a curry any time, but now especially. It’s dry and they’re itchy. There’s old hair to shed off and new hair to grow in. It’s cold at night and muscles get tight, not to mention, they are all one year older. But I think horses appreciate it most of all because it’s an acknowledgement of trust.

Grooming isn’t something we do to please the judge, it’s the first step of the ride. It’s a way to practice breathing and presence with our horses on the ground, as well as give an inch by inch physical check-up. And if you do it consciously, grooming is therapeutic body work.

Want to hear the science? A curry will increase blood flow and oxygen, help reduce inflammation and relieve swelling and discomfort in horses. It creates therapeutic warmth in the muscles. But we knew that, didn’t we? We get in such a hurry to ride, or put them up after, that we rarely take the extra time.

What my horses tell me is that you can do a lousy, even half-hearted job, and they still really like it.

From the ground-play standpoint, therapeutic grooming affirms that you are a source of good and giving, that your hands can warm and ease his body. It affirms your half of the partnership in such a positive way; you are the reward- better than a sweet. He literally feels you are a compassionate leader.

Last year our barn had a great clinic by Nickole with Knotty Horse Equine Massage. We spent a few hours learning about massage, hands on. Our horses had the best day ever, they highly recommend the clinic. One horse was a little nervous to start, and Nickole demonstrated a very simple, non-invasive hand position. She called it sweating and it was simply laying a hand softly on the horse. No pressure or movement, just the heat within the hand, nothing more. It seemed almost insignificant, but it changed everything.

I recognized this sweating hand. I make a point of starting every lesson I give with this sort of hand greeting for the horse, as I verbally greet the rider. It’s a conscious part of the pre-lesson join up. Sometimes I use it for nervous horses I’m working with, but mostly I do it because it feels good to me. In other words, I hadn’t considered it therapeutic, so much as self-indulgent on my part.

Have you tried it? Sometimes it almost feels like a magnetic quality exists between the hand and the horse, pulling them together. It’s bit spooky, the more conscious the touch, the stronger the pull. We don’t give simple touch the therapeutic credit it deserves.

Maybe this touch is mutually therapeutic, and that’s enough. Or maybe this is how two entities can grow past the sum of their parts and synergy begins with this simple touch.

It’s easy to bring to mind a hundred images of this sort of warm and supportive touch, especially moms with babies, and elders of all species. Lots of us actually hear better if touch is part of the communication. Have you experienced that? Dogs clearly ask for touch all the time, maybe they are more blunt that the rest of us. (Down, Boy!)

Do we use touch as consciously as we could to help those around us?

In the dressage world, there is so much talk about riding position and defining the correct seat: a driving seat, a following seat, an independent seat, a balanced seat. The list is endless in the desire to give the horse the best ride possible.

I think the correct seat, the one that benefits horse and rider the most, is the seat most like this sweating hand. I just can’t think of a polite way to say it.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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