Relaxation Is The KeyBy Jeffrey Rolo
Relaxation. It's just one simple word, yet it holds the very secret to success for not only horse-handler relationships, but also life in general. Most people would agree with this sentiment on its surface, but fail to truly understand its importance when faced with hectic schedules or life's annoyances. Let's look at why it's essential for both horses and handlers to be relaxed before undergoing training or a trail ride.
Nowadays a month can't go by without national news shows sharing studies about the devastating effects of stress on the body. Stress breaks down the immune system, leads to obesity, causes sleeplessness, can provoke hair loss and much, much more. Although stress is a natural human and horse reaction to negative stimuli, it is not a natural or healthy state to remain in! It is essential that you provide an easy-going, calm and happy lifestyle and atmosphere for your horse in order to ensure positive health and longevity.
But It's A Stressful World!
Yes, it often is, but your horse doesn't need to know that. As long as a horse's basic needs (food, grazing, productive exercise and companionship) are met, he will live a relatively stress-free life. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to avoid stress, but a properly cared for horse really has little to no reason to experience life's anxieties.
Customer service personnel are often told to "check their attitude at the door," and while such advice is fairly blunt and candid, it's 100% true. Just as no customer service representative has a right to mouth off at a customer because they are having a bad day, no horse owner has a right to lash out verbally, emotionally or physically at their horse to make their horse as miserable as they are. Horse owners, like CS representatives, must learn to suppress their stress and negative feelings so that they can provide suitable care and respect to their charges.
If you cannot provide for a horse's basic needs, you shouldn't own a horse until you can. If you cannot suppress your negative emotions, try not to work with your equine partner until you're a bit more relaxed. Ultimately there is little reason for a horse to live in a stressed state.
How Do I Know If My Horse Is Relaxed?
This may seem like a flippant answer, but if your horse is relaxed he will look and act in a relaxed manner; it's really that simple. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when gauging a horse's comfort level:
Does my horse enjoy my presence, or would he rather evade me or find companionship with the herd?
When I pet my horse does he tighten his muscles and brace himself, or does he loosen up even further?
When I lead my horse, do I have to tug on my line to get him to move, or does he gladly walk by my side?
Does my horse seem to enjoy his riding or exercise sessions, or does he begrudgingly follow instructions?
Does my horse pass a lot of gas or manure (particularly the loose variety) when working with me?
Horses really aren't that different from us when it comes to dealing with stressful situations. When we anticipate something dreadful we tend to tighten up, hold our breath or assess the area to scope out potential routes of escape. When we're not happy we sometimes slump our shoulders and appear downcast rather than alert and perky. When we're unhappy or stressed we have a hard time focusing on the goal at hand since our mind wanders constantly to that that distresses us.
Although the verbal queues such as vocal tones aren't available with horses, the above physical cues do indeed exist. Watching your horse's body language and mental clarity will go a far way to assess his state of mind and take the appropriate corrective actions to lessen the stress in your horse's life. Remember, relaxation is the key to your horse's health, attention span and ease of learning during lessons.