Research Project Involving Equestrian Jumping for 2016

In April, I take my second out of three modules of Equine Hanna Somatics training. I’m so blessed to have the opportunity to learn this amazing technique and also to have the ability to share it with horses and their owners. This spring is very exciting for me, as I will now be able to offer Hanna Somatics to both equestrians (certified in 2008) and their horses as well. And if you know me, you know I’m always testing something…  After recently viewing a YouTube video of “NAL – Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping – Valle de Bravo – Qualifier” I was captivated with how the horse and rider move before, during and after jumping! In talking with one of my equestrian clients later, she recommended that I look up George Morris, who is considered the “founding father” of Hunt Seat Equitation. She said that Morris advises riders to relax their body when he teaches them to jump. After hearing that, I thought, my work with equestrians has just that effect but the learning takes before they ride. Then, once they’re on their horse, their brain can operate them with greater ease and natural strength without having to “think” about it (which is fairly impossible for anyone mounted on a moving horse).

So, I’m launching 2016 with a research study in which I teach Hanna Somatic movements to help equestrians and their horses operate in a more natural, relaxed mode to see what effect this has on their jumping. Of course, the equestrian’s riding instructor will be invited and will be the jumping instructor. I will provide on-site somatics for rider and horse (short session). Comprehensive Equine Hanna Somatics sessions will need to occur 1-2 days prior to the arena session, so the horse has time to integrate that session before jumping. I’m located in San Jose, CA. If you are interested in participating in this study or would like more information (there is no cost to you for my time, other than what your riding instructor charges), please contact me at 408-858-2960. Happy 2016 and may you ride like the wind!

Christmas treats for your horse!

I know how much my Equine Hanna Somatics clients (aka, horses) love their owners to offer them treats! For those of you looking for something to “make” for your horse, like a Christmas cookie-type snack, I went online looking for some ideas. This site looks interesting and the treats don’t look unhealthy to me (though I’m in no way an expert on that!). May you and your equine friend have a thoroughly enjoyable and yummy Christmas!

Pony Trekking Along Scotland’s Loch Lomond

OK, I totally get it now. Many of my equestrian clients have tightness in their legs, backs and issues with their knees. After a 2-hour pony trek while on our recent vacation, I felt first-hand what my equestrian clients must feel after a long ride!

Even though I love horses and also do Equine Hanna Somatics, I don’t ride often. So, it was a great surprise as I dismounted to find that my knees were sore, really sore. My sister, who used to take riding lessons when she was younger, temporarily lost control of her legs as she dismounted and actually fell onto her knees! All four of us felt discomfort in our knees in varying degrees. This post-riding experience really got my attention and helped me realize, perhaps, what my equestrian clients might need help with.

What really surprised me though was the way my knees were hurting. They were sore in a complete circle around the top of them. I thought that was odd, as I’ve never experienced that with mountain biking, even after several hour rides. Although when you think about it, it makes sense, as riding a horse is completely different.

To sit on a horse, first you must drape your legs around that wide back of the horse, which can really stretch your adductors (the muscles that pull your legs together) while at the same time tightening your abductors (the muscles that pull your legs apart from one another). Then, you hold your feet in the stirrups, heels down, and hug the side-belly of the horse with your lower legs. Imagine the pressure that puts on your hips and knees from all of that pulling, stretching and contracting! If you ride several times a week for many years, all that tension builds up.

Luckily for me, the discomfort was only temporary. Just walking back to the office to get a few of my things, helped a bit. And, then when I got into the car, I quickly got to business, releasing all those tight muscles and holding patterns I know so well after having worked with so many equestrians.

Interestingly, I felt no knee pain during the ride. And, that’s a good thing, it would have been terrible to be distracted by pain and miss all that was happening around me and all the amazing views of the forest, Loch, etc. Part of our trek was an uphill climb which offered some of the most spectacular views of the highlands and the water below. It was a great somatic learning experience for me and it was one of the highlights of my entire trip.

Relax Your Back!

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times from your riding instructor, relax your back! You try and try to relax, and still you hear about it. It is not easy to relax your back on demand and probably impossible for most of us! If you look at the statistics of back pain in this country, it’s not out of line to say that most people over the age of 25 have chronically-tight back muscles.
Check your own back. Gently press with flat fingers on your back just above and below the waist area, all across your back. Chances are, it’s not exactly soft to the touch. Most of us are somewhere between hardened clay and steel. There should be some give when you press lightly, as if you’re pressing on Jello. When muscles are this tight, they are not under your voluntary control. The brain stem is sending contraction orders to those muscles 24/7. But there is a way out of this! And, I’ve been trying a new approach with my equestrian clients that appears to have some promise.
In most of our Somatic movements, we focus on doing movements in a sequence of 3 moves before going to the next one. Here’s something to try for yourself before your next riding lesson. And, I might add, doing this routine several times a day helps a lot too!
It’s a three-part movement sequence designed to bring suppleness and voluntary control to the low back area. I recommend that you do 5 sets of this sequence. Please move slowly and mindfully. Not only will you begin to unravel your back muscles with these movements, but it also feels great!
Here are the 3 moves, if you’ve taken classes or sessions with me, you probably already know them. If not, here you go!
1) Somatic Bridge
2) Arch and Release
3) Arch and Curl
Somatic Bridge 
Lie on your back, with your knees bent, arms alongside your body. As you inhale, slowly push down with your feet and gently use your legs/belly to lift your hips off the floor, just a bit at first, start with 1” to test your comfort for doing this move. Try to keep your lower body straight as you lift. When you reach your limit, exhale and slowly release your hips down to full rest, try to come down one vertebra at a time, unraveling your back as you release. As you continue, you might notice that you can lift a bit higher with each move, while using less energy (as the muscles relax, natural strength returns).
When you touch down, take a breath and then move into an Arch and Release move (next).
Arch and Release
Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms alongside your body. Inhale and slowly let your belly come up toward the ceiling, gently arching your back. Once you reach your movement limit, exhale and let your back slowly lower to the floor (one vertebrae at a time), releasing all tension.
When you touch, down take a breath and then move into an Arch and Curl move (next).
Arch and Curl
Lying on your back with knees bent and both hands behind your head, first do an Arch & Release. Once your back is flat on the floor, bring your elbows up near your ears and tuck your chin, gently lift your head in a curl (lift only 1-2” at first). Bring your attention to using your abdominal muscles to lift rather than your arms.  Then, slowly lower your head/shoulders to full rest, relaxing your belly muscles. You might find it simpler (when doing these in a sequence) to curl your head up without putting your hands behind your head, leaving them alongside your body. Either way will work to release the abdominal muscles.
When you touch, down take a breath and then move into sequence #2, beginning with the Somatic Bridge.

A Conference

This photo was taken after an Equine Hanna Somatics session with Jack (the dark horse with his hind facing the camera). After completing about half of the protocol, his buddies gathered and started talking with him, as if to say, “What are you up to?” He couldn’t resist after a certain amount of pestering, and let me know he was going to have to go over and talk with his friends. But before he walked over, he did some prancing around, as if to test out his new level of muscular freedom. Below is the horsey conference that they all joined in on. Oh, if we only knew what all the fuss was about!

Dancing Jack

Today, I was reminded that while you may have goals for your Somatics session with a horse, nature can change things mighty quick! So here we are having a wonderful Equine Hanna Somatics session and Jack the Thoroughbred sees something quite distant from the round pen and becomes alert! Good thing we got some really good releases completed first before he revved up and started running around the round pen. We saw a sheep in the distance in the general direction he was looking, but you never know. As he pranced around the round pen, it was wonderful to see him move with grace and strength!