The Mind-Body Connection

In order to become a great rider, it is necessary to find balance in all areas of your life, your horse, and your goals. I was born a perfectionist, which has been a driving force in my riding in that I always try to achieve more, improve more, and help others (horses and humans alike) to do the same. As Bob Proctor said, “You’re either growing or dying”, so I have made growth a never-ending goal in my life. The struggle for me was always to balance my desire for growth and perfectionism with the natural progression of learning. Riding is like life; it is not about the end goal, it is about the journey. As the old saying goes, it is not about getting “there” because as soon as you do, “there” moves. I had to learn to be happy and grateful for where I was at, while maintaining my excitement for getting to the next level.

Horses do not operate on timelines the way people do. One of the biggest struggles I see people having with their horses is trying to fit their development into a timeline. Riding and training horses requires an incredible amount of patience and flexibility, not to mention a sense of humor, because things rarely go as scheduled or even as planned! While I am a very goal oriented individual myself, I believe that our goal-oriented society which drives our desire to ride faster, jump higher, and get there sooner ends up causing many horses emotional (and sometimes even physical) trauma. We often try to push our horses the way we push ourselves, and unfortunately this pressure frequently ends up causing the exact opposite of the results we were hoping for in our horses.

Natural horsemanship has fascinated me since my youth. The idea of developing the mind as well the body resonated with me. I always dreamt of having the ultimate partnership with my horse, and working together in complete harmony. As a youth, I saw natural horsemanship as the way to achieve that goal, but it was not until many years later that I was actually exposed to and began to study and partake in this growing movement. I believe that there are many other people out there who have the same dream that I have, but may not know what the missing ingredient is. It took me over twenty years to discover the full impact that developing the mind through natural horsemanship could have on solving so many basic problems people encounter while training their horses, and I am quite certain that there are more epiphanies to come! If one is open to learning, every horse becomes a teacher and enlightens us further.

Another component that I have found to strongly affect all aspects of riding is maintenance of the equine body. We ask our horses to do many things that are not altogether natural for them, and we create a lot of stress on their bodies as we do with our own when we perform various sports and activities. No matter how connected a person becomes to a horse through developing the mind, if there is pain it becomes a barrier to learning and happiness. This negatively impacts not only our relationship with one another, but also our training and growth. I have used a massage therapist on my horse for many years, on top of routine health maintenance, and found it to be extremely beneficial. Early in 2012 I crossed paths for the first time with veterinarian Jodie Santarossa, who had recently switched to holistic equine health care specializing in acupuncture, myofascial release, and energy-based intuitive healing. Working with Jodie to help my horse and many of my students’ horses through holistic health brought equine health care and body maintenance into a whole new light for me. I started to realize the multitude of things our horses have to cope with that often go unnoticed as a root cause of so-called training or behavioral issues.

Being a prey animal, horses do their best to compensate and hide their weaknesses. The weakest herd member is the one the predators will go after, so survival is dependent on their ability to mask pain. The result is that many small issues often go unnoticed for great lengths of time, and compensations start to pile up until the small issues turn into apparent lameness. I am eternally grateful to Jodie for bringing this to light for me, and changing the life of not only my horse, but many of my students’ horses. Through Jodie, I have met a variety of professionals focused on alternative methods of promoting soundness and well-being in horses that have also positively impacted me and the horses I work with. This is where balance comes back into the equation; there is not one magic solution but a multitude of smaller factors that combine to maximize potential in our horses. I feel Jodie describes this best with her “Six Pillars”: feet, teeth, tack, feed, training, and maintenance.

While the various pillars were coming together with the horses, I also started to meet professionals who brought the same elements into care and maintenance of the human athlete. The impact of the holistic health program on my horse and client horses sparked new interest in furthering my knowledge on these same subjects but pertaining to the rider. I started with myself, including changes in diet (eating raw foods), regular acupuncture, chiropractor, and massage, rider physiotherapy, proper saddle fit, and a training program to build strength and ability. The difference I feel in my own body has been shocking, and further cements my belief in the positive impact the six pillars are having on our horses. Now these rider pillars are starting to filter to my students as well, and they are as excited as I am about the difference it is making in themselves as well as their horses.

For true balance to be achieved, I believe these factors must all be taken into account. So often the root cause goes unnoticed, and unintentionally we simply band-aid the problem instead of solving it altogether. We have many good intentions that fall through simply due to lack of knowledge and understanding. Thankfully for our horses, there is a growing awareness of these principles, and many people are now working to spread these teachings. As we bring together many specialists in multiple areas, our general knowledge and understanding will increase collectively. By using specialists to target each area, we will cover more ground and find more solutions than we could alone. My focus will be on training the equine mind, developing the equine body through proper training including a strong foundation of dressage, and teaching these principles to my students thus building rider/owner awareness.

One step at a time, new ideas will begin to revolutionize our industry. As the pieces of the puzzle are appearing, I cannot begin to describe how my excitement and enthusiasm for teaching, training, and riding grows daily. It is incredible to watch the growth and development in horses and people as the obstacles are removed one by one. I feel extremely grateful for every horse and person in my life that I have learned from and have made it a goal to help as many others as I can, on their own timeline.