13) Tips on Softness, the Nervous System, and Horse Behavior
Before we go any further with the Techniques I want to start to go back over what we’ve covered so far, and to touch on some things that may be relevant at this point in your practice. As you may have noticed, just as there are layers of tension that the horse reveals to us with this type of bodywork, there are layers of knowledge that the horse reveals to us as we practice more. One level builds on the previous level. So here we go.
Early on we talked about “Less is More” (Educational Friday 1), and “How does this work?” (Educational Friday 5). These have to do with the horse’s incredible sensitivity to its environment as a prey animal, and why he holds on to tension. Although the tension that builds in the horse’s body can be quite hard, how you release it is by by-passing that part of the nervous system that is holding on to tension (sympathetic), and working with that part of the nervous system (parasympathetic; see below) that allows it to let go. And you do that by using levels of touch and movement that “stay under the radar” of the sympathetic nervous system. Meaning super-light, and super-soft.
So here are some tips that may help you with the next level of effectiveness in this work:
You can do “air gap” with a soft hand or a hard hand and the horse will feel the difference. Keep your whole hand, arm, shoulder and body consciously soft while doing not only air gap, but ALL of the techniques. Bend slightly at the knees. Every once in a while exhale as you’re waiting, and you may notice the horse do the same. The horse is a herd animal, and if the herd let’s go it helps him let go.
While you’re waiting for a release response during, for example, the Bladder Meridian, no matter how soft or “air gap” you think your hand is, watch the horse’s eye and soften or “air gap” even more, and notice if the horse’s eye softens. If his eyelid twitches, he blinks or softens even more, then he was bracing a little on some level. That’s how subtle and survival oriented the horse is.
One more. In handling the horse in general it’s important to be soft, calm and gentle, but it’s equally important to be sure and confident. Be calm, but don’t approach the horse tentatively like something’s wrong, or like something’s about to explode. The horse will wonder why you’re so worried and start to become the same.
At the other end of the spectrum I don’t mean that the horse is looking for someone to “show him who’s the Boss”. In order to let go the horse needs to feel safe and he’s looking for a leader who is sure and confident.
As long as I’m giving my opinion on horse behavior I might as well throw in one more. In MY OPINION, it may be (ie, is usually the case) that when the horse is being pushy, bossy or dominant it’s not because he wants to be the boss*. It’s because someone needs to be in charge of security, and if you’re not going to be in charge of security then he’s going to need to be. And he’ll keep testing you until he feels that you’re the calm, confident one. (Or, she… which may even be more often the case.) If you react to a pushy horse with force or intimidation you’re jumping into the sympathetic nervous system mode. For safety’s sake that may be needed sometimes, but keep in mind that there’s another part nervous system that you can be aware of and start practicing working with.
(*other than when hormones are involved)