Horses and Body Listening

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Intro: Reason for Writing this Post

This post is about a specific area of bodywork that I like to call “Body Listening,” or sometimes just “Listening”. This involves gentle touches and listening to the horse’s body, and also encouraging and guiding the horse to listen to his own body and release tension. I use other methods that involve more movement and are more obvious to the observer, as well… but I have found that these less obvious methods can sometimes be the most perplexing to others who are watching, and also sometimes most beneficial to those who are receiving. Because of this, I wanted to explain it in writing.


Beginning of the Session

When I’m approaching a horse, I do so in loving-kindness and relaxation. The horse sees and comes to understand that my intention is to help, there is no need to worry, and that they can relax in my presence.

Before I get started, I often stand near the horse in silence. I am grounding myself, relaxing more deeply, and softly noticing the horse and his reactions. I then encourage the horse to mirror me–to relax with me, to join me in deeper breathing. Sometimes I am touching at this point, and sometimes I am just taking more of a step toward the horse or offering a hand, somehow making it clear that I am trying to communicate and connect with him.

Regardless of what the horse does, I do not get offended or worried. I just stay quiet and loving and patient, an open pool of relaxation. I do not push past his boundaries. If the horse doesn’t want to be touched, I don’t touch him.

I then begin either with touching the horse, or facing my palm toward the horse’s body but some distance from his skin. I am noticing any sensations I have in my body and any reactions that the horse is having. At the very least, I am asking the horse for permission. If he gives it to me, I am then asking him if he can notice anything about this area of his body.

In some instances, I might “scan”, slowly moving my hand over his skin or next to his body some distance away, looking for when he responds. I then wait there, and relax deeply, asking him again if he can relax with me and follow my breath.

I find deeper relaxation in myself, continuing to notice myself and the horse. I encourage and praise as the horse finds deeper relaxation, letting him know that he’s on the right track.

The horse is coming more into the parasympathetic nervous system at this point, finding a state of calm, a state that he can heal in and release in. The further he comes into this state, the more attentive he is to me and my movements, and the more he can think about releasing tension.


Continuing the Session in Listening

I can continue in this pattern, scanning or pointing out different areas, and then melting into relaxation with the horse. I encourage the horse to let go. I treat him kindly, like he is the most special individual I have ever met. He becomes more open and willing to try to connect with me.

Through this connection and through gradually showing him that he can release, he begins to learn for himself how to release his tension. The horse learns through feel and through the pattern how to release with me.


Sometimes there’s more to it.

This is not always all that I am doing though. Sometimes I am softly feeling the pulsing rhythms in his body, noticing and adjusting for them as they change. I feel the quality of the tissue, and also the movement of it, often following the movement of the tissue and encouraging it to soften as it releases through the motion of my hand. I often slightly pulse into the tissue, or I’ll place two hands on different parts of the body and pulse in toward the other hand, or toward a meeting point. I feel for the tissue as I pulse, and follow its movement here as well. Sometimes I move the tissue into the easiest position or movement for it and wait for it to release itself. Sometimes I softly expand into an easy or difficult direction, and softly expand back toward neutral. Sometimes I shorten muscles and fascia, allowing them space to relax and soften. Sometimes I touch multiple areas in a sequence, and then pick one or two of them to leave my hand on, occasionally highlighting the others, so that the horse pays attention to and releases a pattern together. Sometimes I rock my weight into the horse, causing them to shift their weight and find a different position. Sometimes I ask the horse to move, sometimes showing me the way they want to move, and sometimes me asking them to move in a certain way that encourages a release, while touching an area on their body and feeling for some of these things, or simply asking them to notice and release.

Any more technical maneuvers like this are matched with the continuing connection with the horse, the mirroring of relaxation and deepening into the parasympathetic nervous system state. I encourage, thank, and praise the horse as they release further.


It’s Simple, Really…

Through these patterns of touching, feeling, following, connecting, and gradually releasing together, the horse learns to connect and to release, often with some help from me with very subtle movement of the tissue or of a body part. It is really as simple as connecting and learning, as complicated as you want to make it, and maybe sometimes, it can be seen as pretty magical because it’s truly a beautiful thing to watch and experience.

Published by Kara Cumberton

Wellness and horses are my things. I'm a rider, a bodyworker, and a college student studying integrative health and wellness. I also love nature, yoga, my dog, art, writing, and cooking.

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